Gambling on a dream and winning

Competition: A Rockville man will receive an award today for his fledgling business venture, a Web site.

June 23, 1999|By Rachel Sams | Rachel Sams,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

The corporate world had been good to U. K. Nambiar. Trained as an engineer in his native India, Nambiar came to the United States in 1995 to work as a manufacturing manager for Sonco Worldwide in Bladensburg. He quickly moved up to director of operations at Sonco.

For many people, it would have been more than enough. But Nambiar had been nursing a dream of owning a business for a decade, and that dream wouldn't go away. At age 34, Nambiar decided to quit his job to enter the University of Maryland's MBA program as a full-time student.

His gamble paid off -- twice. Nambiar received his MBA in May, and this month his fledgling business venture, www.mahabazaar.com, was named the winner of the Chief Executive Officers Club of Baltimore's fourth annual business plan competition. The competition is open to students at the University of Maryland's Michael D. Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship. Nambiar will receive his award today.

"Maha" is the Sanskrit word for "great," and "bazaar" is a marketplace. Through this "great marketplace," customers can order cosmetics, teas, spices and specialty foods from the Indian subcontinent online.

"With the knowledge I had of the Indian market, products and culture, I found that there is a gap which I can fill," said Nambiar, a resident of Rockville.

According to analyst David Zale at Sands Brothers & Co. in New York, the Internet is a particularly suitable medium for a venture like Nambiar's.

"Clearly on the Internet there are opportunities for people who have a specified market niche," Zale said. "It's a question of them being able to get their name out and have sticking power. They have to be able to deliver."

Doug Strouse, president of ALR Reporting Inc. in Baltimore and CEO Club president, said the combined experience of Nambiar and his business partner, P. M. Kutty, gave them an advantage over other contest entries.

"The key element is that both people have long-term experience in business, so they don't have expectations that are unrealistic in nature," Strouse said.

Nambiar and Kutty established Seawing Worldwide Inc. in 1996 and soon entered the world of automatic merchandising, providing snack foods to corporations. Mahabazaar.com is operating under the banner of Seawing Worldwide.

Last year's winner also was a Web site. Kyle Enger, who designed www.superbuild.com, an online resource for the purchase of home improvement products, is in the process of launching his venture, according to Rosel Halle, associate director of the Dingman Center at UM.

Initially, mahabazaar.com will offer about 200 Indian specialty food products. Over the next year, Nambiar wants to expand to about 1,000 products, including ethnic CDs and books, and expand into jewelry, leather and textiles. He intends to later add airline tickets and overseas health insurance to mahabazaar.com's offerings.

Nambiar has worked as marketing manager for an electronics manufacturer in India and as technical flight commander and captain in the Indian Air Force. During his studies at the University of Maryland, Nambiar worked in accounting at Govcon Inc. in Rockville and in business process analysis/engineering services for Synergy Networks Inc. in Vienna, Va.

The CEO Club of Baltimore consists of local chief executives who run businesses that have more than $2 million in annual sales. The 5-year-old organization is the largest Chief Executive Officers club in the nation.

Pub Date: 6/23/99

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