Off the blocks

Although the start-up ecosystem has more men, women are not far behind in starting their own ventures

By Shipra Sharma

First things first—the face of the start-up space is predominantly male driven, but women are not far behind. The number of women willing to risk starting their own business is growing at a tremendous rate. According to Nasscom start-up report 2015, there was a sharp 50 per cent rise in share of female entrepreneurs in 2015 over 2014, driven by 4.5 times growth in funding to women-driven start-ups. The amount of funding has massively increased to Rs 1,142 crore in 2015 from just Rs 244 crore in 2014.

Be it e-commerce, education, investing, travel, fitness or retail, women today are proceeding with good sense and unconcealed passion to change the world around them, make a difference with their ideas, hunt for solutions, and run successful ventures.

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More and more women are taking the risk of running their own business because of the flexibility and autonomy it offers. From structuring successful business to performing their role as the caregivers at home, Indian women are successfully juggling work and family responsibilities to achieve the best of both worlds. All these things will easily fall in place if you have the desire and conviction to stick to your dreams.

New vistas

Chartering different landscapes and unknown territories unabashedly, women have started embarking on business early in their life with a high percentage striking out on their own, as early as 25 years of age. Take for instance Kalyani Khona (23), co-founder, Inclov.com, the first matchmaking app with focus on those with disabilities. It matches people on the basis of cure availability, medical condition, level of independence and lifestyle choices. The one of a kind app focuses on twirties, people with disability, and with health disorders to find love.

This promising young entrepreneur started the venture with as low as Rs 2 lakh from her personal savings in 2014 right after she completed her graduation in finance from H.R College of Commerce and Economics, Mumbai. She is one of the new breed of women who are adopting to the changing environment around them and giving flight to their entrepreneurial dreams.

Striving persistently and inspiring immensely, Kalyani decided not to look back. Last year, she raised funds for project loveability on Wishberry.in, a crowdsourcing platform which was backed by 143 backers. “I keep everyday track of finance to ensure we don't vary by more than 10 per cent each month to keep our runway and funds sustainable,” says Khona. Apart from working extensively on her venture, she also works with the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment as their consultant and is assisting Government of India with their Accessible India campaign. Such exposure helps her grasp a wider grip of the changing business environment, which acts as learning that can be used in her own business venture.

Let’s look at Shaifali Agarwal Holani, who set up EasyFix Solutions, India’s maintenance and repair service provider in 2011. She had to battle various issues to keep her start-up afloat. “I started looking for funding and realised people would not understand how could a woman, without a tech or IIT background be running the business alone?” recounts Agarwal. But she had the strength of mind to go against all critics and take EasyFix to where it stands today.

EasyFix was fostered out of personal needs of Shaifali, who had lost an extensive amount of her personal time waiting for technicians to fix her household problems. Born and brought up in a small town in Uttarakhand, Holani belongs to a traditional business family which is into a completely different line from what the family does. From ups and downs to achievements and failures, she has seen it all. “For initial four years I did not take any salary and was supported by my family to manage my personal expenses. Being financially dependent can become mentally torturous and can be demotivating but when we are optimistic about the future then the strength to adjust and figure it out comes automatically,” she recalls.

Another entrepreneur, Garima Tripathi, 28, Co-Founder, Care24, a rapidly growing home health care platform, took the plunge to move away from the shackles of corporate world to chase her dreams to start her own venture. “Initially, friends and family were sceptical of my plunging into the start-up world. Everyone advised to go for a comfortable corporate job but Care24 was a natural choice because of the idea as well as the founding team,” says Tripathi. The Healthcare space has several gaps, which are being filled by people like her who are riding on the technology wave which is being well-utilised in healthcare. In 2015, Tripathi raised first round of funding worth Rs 2.3 crore from India Quotient and has also raised Rs 27 crore from SAIF Partners in Series A funding.

Poster women

Success stories of these aspiring women bear out the fact that if you want to build a successful business, you have to understand what success means to you and be reliable in who you are. Such stories echo similar characteristics. Women are stepping out of their comfort zones and emerging as leaders and change makers. Take for instance Surabhi Dewra, Founder and CEO, CareerGuide.com, a one-stop destination for students to find answers to career-related questions, and someone who is a hardcore techie. From research and development of ideas for micro-processors to volunteering in NGOs to working as a part-time teacher, Dewra had worn many hats before CareerGuide.com. “I came to realise that most of the career choices of Indian students are based on placements it can provide rather than what kind of work they have to do in the said profession. That triggered me into action to do something in this space,” says Dewra.

Bootstrapping the venture for 18 months from her personal savings that she had set aside while working as a design engineer with a semiconductor company, Dewra raised angel investments from Ronnie Screwvala of Unilazer Ventures; Rajesh Tekriwal, a Hong Kong based businessman; and Vishal Gondal of GoQii & Indiagames. When asked how difficult it is for a woman to raise capital, she says it depends on how good your product is and believes that gender has no role to play. “Raising capital is not dependent on your gender but what is the X-factor your product or service brings to the table and the team executing it,” says Dewra.

With varied funding options available today, millions of women entrepreneurs are fulfilling their dreams. The technology-assisted pro start-up culture is helping many women break barriers and come to the forefront to run businesses. But yes, there remain several hiccups that they need to overcome throughout their enterprising journey in terms of cultural norms, to be short of credit to skill gaps.

Women still find it difficult to attract institutional funding as most VCs like to invest in longterm businesses, headed by a team who are in the fixture for a long period of time. And going by the convention, there is still a belief that women entrepreneurs find it difficult to manage their time between work and family and hence building a company becomes their second priority. “Investor and investee companies are skewed towards males as stereotypes on the investor side about scalability and long-term vision are still there. Therefore, there's a boys club which is sometimes hard to break into and there access to networking and expanding your professional connects becomes difficult,” says Ankita Saha, Founder & CEO, Saha Fund. That said; it’s high time to demystify the myth that women are a risky segment to give money to invest. Women-specific funds and platforms need to come in to the entreprenerial ecosystem to create awareness and support women-centric enterprises.

 

The story was first published in Empower, March 2016

shipra@outlookindia.com

 

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