Variety is the spice of life for PhD student

Tuesday 15 August 2023

During the first COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, School of Management PhD student Nimeesha Odedra and mother Sobhna embarked on a venture that would captivate the tastebuds of their community.

PhD student Nimeesha Odedra and mother Sobhna.

Last updated: Thursday 23 November 2023

With farmers markets unable to open, the two decided to share their family recipes for authentic Indian curries through short videos to their 70-odd followers on Facebook. By the time lockdown lifted, their videos had garnered significant attention, amassing nearly 10,000 followers and creating a demand for Sobhna’s homemade curry paste.

This is how 'Sobhna’s' was born. In the following months, Sobhna crafted batches of her renowned curry paste, while Nimeesha drove all over Auckland to personally deliver it to customers. The surge in demand led to establishing an online presence, culminating in the launch of their website and online store in October 2020.

The growth of the business occurred while Nimeesha was in the final year of her PhD studies. She took eight months off and then returned to her PhD part-time.

“Massey has been really supportive in giving me time off during the last three years in order to balance having a start-up business and finishing off my PhD. It’s been a difficult journey, but I’ve been really lucky to have so many people supporting me, especially my supervisors Associate Professor Kaye Thorn, Dr Kate Blackwood and Professor Jo Bensemann,” she says.

Nimeesha’s PhD research is looking at the career experiences of skilled migrant workers in New Zealand, which she says fed into the business she created.

“I had the opportunity to teach a third-year entrepreneurship paper in 2019 and at the time my mum and I were just doing farmers markets and hadn’t thought about growing the business beyond that. But when I was teaching the paper, I started thinking about our business and how we could potentially grow it.”

Fast forward a few years and ‘Sobhna’s’ curry pastes and spice blends are sold in Farro Fresh and Countdown stores across Aotearoa New Zealand.

Nimeesha has won several awards for her PhD research, including the Mary Mallon Award for Outstanding Research, the Margaret Shields Research Award and the Graduate Women New Zealand Fellowship.

She is currently working on the final revisions of her thesis and will be graduating next year.

As for the business side of things, Nimeesha says undergoing the journey alongside her mother has made their relationship stronger.

“I feel blessed that I can do this with her, help build her legacy and give meaning and purpose to both of us through our business. She is the biggest inspiration to me. Throughout her life she’s faced many challenges and come through them all. Mum is in her 70s, I’m in my late 40s and for us to be achieving what we are at this stage of our lives is pretty unbelievable, even to us. We work well together and while we have different ways of doing things, we have learnt to trust and respect each other’s viewpoints.”

‘Sobhna’s’ has been nominated for the 2degrees Auckland Business Awards, in the People’s Choice, Best Emerging Business and Excellence in Customer Service Delivery categories.

You can vote for ‘Sobhna’s’ in the People’s Choice category here.

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