A post 80s inheritor of Tibetan incense tells his story of starting business

Tenzin Geshe was born in Nyemo County, Lhasa, Tibet in 1988. He is a 14th generation inheritor of Manzhong Manor Tibetan Incense and a famous young entrepreneur in Lhasa. He is also the Vice President of the Nyemo Tibetan Incense Association, Vice President of the Lhasa College Graduates Entrepreneurial Association, a 2017 Lhasa City Excellent Entrepreneur, and Chairman of the Lhasa City Manzhong Trade and Commerce Co., Ltd.

Inheritor of Intangible Cultural Heritage

Tenzin Geshe's family has been an aristocratic medical family. "My grandfather Sonam Rinchen was a famous master of Tibetan medicine. The incense he made was well sold in the upper class of old Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, and India. Although many of our medical materials were lost, some valuable resources were passed down orally, which has benefited us a lot, so the techniques of Tibetan incense production have been passed down to the present day," said Tenzin Geshe.

Photo shows Tibetan incense original design brand "Duobao Kaiwu".

"I've been interested in this skill since I was a child. If I could find an ancient record of Tibetan incense at home, I was very happy. I feel comfortable whenever I smell the fragrance of Tibetan incense," Tenzin Geshe said. "I hava always take the inheritance of my family's techniques as my responsibilit and I would never give up."

Young Entrepreneur

In 2012, after graduating from the Department of Tibetan Language and Literature at Northwest Minzu University, Tenzin Geshe did not take the civil service examination, which is very popular among his peers, but instead returned to his hometown to start his own business.

After investigating market demand and development prospects for Tibetan incense for more than a year, he returned to Tunba Township to set up his own Tibetan incense production team. In September 2014, he officially established a trading company with pure handmade Tibetan incense as his main business.

Tenzin Geshe pays careful attention to each step of the production process, from collecting raw materials to crushing the medicines and natural spices, proportioning the materials, rubbing the mixture, fermenting, pressing, drying in the sun, and packaging, striving to carry out the process in accordance with traditional techniques.

Photo shows Tenzin Geshe mixing Tibetan incense materials.

Tenzin Geshe thought he could go further with company development and brand building. "Tibetan incense is not only a fragrance; it is an inseparable part of Tibetan medicine and traditional culture. So we need to think how could we turn this traditional handicraft passed down by our ancestors into a real brand?"

Tenzin Geshe told reporters that they currently produce two main types of branded Tibetan incense. The first is a kind of traditional handmade incense crafted according to a secret recipe passed down by his ancestors. The other is an innovative one created according to needs of different customers.

"Production of the traditional incense is limited: we can only make 300 units per year," he said. But while the new incense doesn't have as strong a fragrance as the traditional kind, it is also very popular. "These products are not only sold locally in Lhasa, we also sell them to inland cities through e-commerce channels." 

Helping the Poor Out of Poverty

Tenzin Geshe recalls that in the early days of the business, they only hired 20 staff members, and the money he worked hard to raise would quickly run out. Today, Tenzin Geshe is committed to poverty alleviation in his hometown.

Photo shows Tenzin Geshe is awarded a prize at the Lhasa City Youth Innovation and Entrepreneurship Competition.

"During the farming offseason, I ask people from the village to come and work in my factory making Tibetan incense. On the one hand, this helps me deal with market demands, and on the other, it helps villagers find employment and increase their incomes." But he says that the most satisfying is that he has been able to change the way people think about some things through his own efforts.

Transforming the way young people think, whether for their own growth or for social development, is beneficial. "Right now, the atmosphere for entrepreneurs in Lhasa is particularly good. The government has given a great amount of support through its policies. Not all entrepreneurs will be successful. However, the capabilities learned through entrepreneurship will have a great impact on a person's life, such as persistence, patience, and interpersonal communication," Tenzin Geshe said.

"As an inheritor of Nyemo Tibetan incense, I have a responsibility and obligation to really explore the depth of the traditional culture within Tibetan incense and to lead my team to integrate modern needs, innovate, and pass down the cultural heritage."