Last week, in a panel discussion on Funding for Sustainable Growth: Let’s Cut to the Chase, organized by Yuukke, a leading platform for women, Sreedevi Devireddy, VP, Startup Ecosystem, highlighted the need to bringing women entrepreneurs from Tier II to Tier III cities ahead.
Sreedevi, also the founding CEO of SR Innovation Exchange, the technology business incubator at SR University, Warangal, said, “The intelligence quotient in small towns is high. We need better networking and communication, especially in regional languages, to unleash the power of Bharat.
He recommended that posters of entrepreneurship schemes and programs be placed in every panchayat to attract more talent, especially women.
Capital may be one of the top priorities for a female entrepreneur to start and scale, but there are other important factors at play. These include network channels, getting the right team, access to mentoring and training programs, ongoing capacity building sessions, the presence of strong role models, etc.
The role of incubators and accelerators is essential in building companies from scratch or scale, thus providing a strong ecosystem of all support.
Swati Bhargava, Co-founder of CashKaro and EarnKaro, believes that there is no difference in what founders expect from investors based on gender.
“While the most important thing is capital, providing the founders with business connections that enable productive partnerships for business growth is equally important. Similarly, invitations to events that promote connections can bring a lot of value. It would be very helpful if investors could plug us into the networks they are part of. Opportunities to help build our brand, including media coverage, speaking engagements, etc. are also important ,” he said.
On the other side of the equation is Ankita Vashistha, a venture capitalist and Founder of StrongHer Ventures who has worked with over 50 startups and managed many more.
He mentioned the example of two companies led by women from his portfolio, where he exceeded the funding to ensure growth.
J2W – JoulestoWatts is a multimillion-dollar HR tech and talent staffing platform led by Priti Sawant.
“We came in as the lead and first investor and are also on the board. We’ve supported the company’s scale with around 5,000 employees, including contract staff. We’ve also helped with global market connections as they expand from India to the Philippines, Dubai, Singapore, and the US through our global innovation network and bringing in Fortune 500 business clients. We unlock our networks and access around the world to help them scale . We help them think about their leadership, advisor board, investors, and going to market as they scale,” he said.
Ankita has also collaborated with Hena Mehta and Dipika Krishnan, Co-founders of Basis, a platform that empowers financial independence for Indian women.
“We have opened our global founder community to women so they can engage and launch their products. Through our corporate B2B partnerships we help them open B2B channels,” he added.
In 2021, Surbhi Jain launched Neend, a sleep management app that offers stories, soothing sleep sounds, meditations, and more in regional languages for relaxation and sleep. This year, it raised $700,000 in a pre-seed round led by Better Capital.
“We keep in touch with our investors wherever we are stuck. Our investors not only give us financial support but also become pillars of support. They provide valuable strategic guidance, help us to hire prospects, and most importantly it allows us to tap into their network,” says Surbhi.
However, she is of the opinion that women entrepreneurs do not need any additional help.
“As a society, we need to stop putting more barriers in their way. When allowed the freedom to tap into their potential, women are equally equipped to create value for everyone in the ecosystem. Indeed , I think a girl’s early socialization gives her an edge in a lot of things that are necessary to build and grow a business – like multitasking, building relationships, and having empathy,” she explained.
Ritika Amit Kumar, Co-founder & CEO, STEM Metaverse, is grateful for the opportunities and mentorship she has received from Startup India, IIT Delhi, the Wee Foundation, and many others.
“Entrepreneurship is a lonely road and I feel that constant support, guidance, and mentoring is important for all entrepreneurs, regardless of gender,” she said.
According to Deepthi Ravula, CEO of WE Hub, India’s first state-led incubator promoting and promoting women entrepreneurship from Telangana, women entrepreneurs can benefit from more structured learning support.
“They need support in financial literacy and money management, business development, building profitability and innovation in their business models, and information, knowledge, and use of business tools and technology to scale,” he explained.
She also emphasized the need to use technology so that women have better access to markets, finance, and knowledge.
“The barriers to access that many women face today can be reduced by using intuitive technology platforms that educate and empower women to learn, use tools, network, connect , and access to funding,” he said.
Divyanshi, a master’s student at women’s university Banasthali Vidyapith, has been selected for the WOMENpreneur program at AIC Banasthali. His startup, Ujore Nature, develops organic fish feed to reduce mortality rates in aquaculture.
“I received all kinds of support we needed for our startup, including mentoring, networking, exposure to other opportunities, and one-to-one sessions for specific mentoring during the incubation program,” said he.
After incubation, Divyanshi identified a specific market and customer size. “We are now connected with more than 250 fish farmers in Haryana and Rajasthan, and are expanding in southern India with customers in Hyderabad,” he said. HerStory.
Alina Alam of Mitti Café credits the continued support of NSRCEL at IIM-Bangalore, which has helped the chain of cafes run by people with physical and intellectual disabilities, especially during the pandemic.
Along with grant support, Alina shared that the NSRCEL network helped Mitti develop and implement a disability-friendly workplace design, standardized menus, and customized equipment in its cafes. .
Deshpande Startups recently onboarded 30 women-led startups in a 16-week cohort-driven, structured, high-touch market and investment-focused program, with the aim of helping them accelerate the their growth, improving existing processes, and exploring new business opportunities. It also involves intensive coaching, intervention in the prevention area, and provides access to resources to rapidly grow the business.
Swati points to a created narrative of how women-run businesses cannot be successful.
“People often think that polite women are weak and uncompetitive; strong women are cruel or disrespectful. A woman’s entire life in society is planned from the time of her birth to fulfill one purpose: marriage. Social barriers rarely stand still. These difficulties also translate to scaling your business, from partnerships to getting the right set of vendors,” he said.
Swati says that even though fighting it can be tough and tiring, it’s the strength you maintain that counts. His advice is to ignore these stereotypes; instead, concentrate on your core goals and keep moving forward.
Deepti believes that gender bias and social conditioning have also become obstacles.
“We need to create more models that constantly challenge the usual norms. WE Hub also works to create these mechanisms, so that women entrepreneurs receive the necessary advocacy from their ecosystem to become changemakers and champions,” he said.
Surbhi agrees with Swati and says that there was a lot of resistance from the family to choose a ‘dangerous’ path over a conventional career choice.
“I personally had to face many difficult conversations with some of my loved ones, who thought I should get married soon instead of rushing to Neend! If the woman is able to cross these barriers and start her entrepreneurial journey, she faces similar resistance within the professional ecosystem.
“Biases against women often result in them not being taken seriously – be it for hiring, fundraising, or selling a product,” she said.
Surbhi says it very succinctly.
“Change is coming, but the pace is slow. It’s only recently that female founders have joined in large numbers, and their stories are still alive.