BUSINESS student Jira Chana-boriboonchai put Bt100,000 in prizemoney from a university entrepreneurship competition to work in establishing a social enterprise to help blind people in 2015.
The venture is now generating average monthly sales of Bt300,000.
Jira, now 20 and a third-year student at the School of Entrepreneur-ship and Management at Bangkok University, had long been aware of the difficulties faced by people without sight, with an aunt and an uncle who are blind. They were the inspiration behind his decision to enter the Idea for a Million competition run by the business school.
“With my aunt and uncle in mind, they provided the motivation for me to put forward my proposal to compete in the Idea for a Million contest when I was in my first year at the Entrepreneurship and Management School,” Jira said.
“I knew how difficult it was for them to buy the things they need, when their disability means they can’t know about things such as the colour, size and style of clothing and other fashion items.
“I had been thinking about their difficulties and then the opportunity came while I was a student to propose an idea for innovative products that could help blind people.
“I decided to submit my idea for the competition and then went on to win the Bt100,000 prize. I was able to use this as the capital to produce the clothing products that I had in mind for blind people.”
He said that after winning the award he devoted a year to product research and development.
With that process concluded, he tested out the products on his aunt and uncle as well as 200 other blind people in Bangkok. The T-shirts featured the Braille tactile writing system at the back of the collar, providing information about the shirt’s colour and size, with such details making product selection easier for sight-impaired people.
“I had to make a number of changes based on these trials until I was satisfied that the product would make things easier for |blind people,” he said.
After the products passed sufficient testing, Jira spent Bt30,000 of his project budget to produce 100 T-shirts targeted for the blind. But the sales were disappointing as he found that most blind people do not have enough disposable income to buy a Bt490 shirt.
After that setback, Jira changed tack and focused on ordinary consumers who would like to support the disabled, particularly blind people, through their purchases of clothing.
The new target became the sale of 100 T-shirts to generate income of Bt49,000. This inspired him to further develop his products by collaborating with a friend who studies art at Silpakorn University. The friend helped him with the design for not only T-shirts, but also personal accessories including handbags and hats.
His marketing strategy now is directed at ordinary consumers who buy the products for themselves and also for blind people.
The main market channel is from the opening of a booth for sales at marketplace events in Bangkok, and he also set up Facebook and Instagram pages for online sales.
With this combination, Jira has achieved average monthly sales of Bt300,000, even reaching Bt500,000 for some months.
Jira’s business strategy is for a social enterprise that sees net profit from the operations split into two types.
The first 70 per cent of net earnings from the business will be spent on further developing the products to serve the needs of blind people, with 30 per cent spent directly on ways to help the blind.
“As I am doing the business for the benefit of blind people, I have thought of ways to put this into action,” he said. “As such, my first project is the construction of a building where blind people can enjoy listening to music at the Thailand Association of the Blind in Charan Snitwong district, Bangkok.’ Jira is also employing blind people to run the human resource management of the business, with a further 20 engaged part time in |handling the sales side for the products.
He said he planned to have as many as 50 shops supporting the enterprise in Bangkok by 2019, with each of them managed by blind people.
“I have been operating the business as an individual, but I am in the process of setting up a more formal company structure that may be finalised in the first quarter of next year,” Jira said.
“Then I will be able to expand the business in line with the business model with an investment budget of Bt70,000 per shop. These funds may come from bank borrowings.”