Bidding goodbye to successful jobs, they built up an enterprise right from scratch.

They turned away from high-paying corporate careers to plunge into the deep end of entrepreneurship, driven by an urge to create and nurture a venture all their own. Meet four women who followed their passion and carved a niche for themselves in the largely male-dominated world of business.

Ishween Anand was the Asia-Pacific head of Avon when she quit to make soaps. The 33-year-old businesswoman’s company, Nyssa, manufactures hand-made bath and body products, and mainly employs local underprivileged women in Santa Cruz, Mumbai.

“For me, getting finance was not a problem, neither did I have problems getting clients as I am a chartered accountant myself and have dealt with bigger financial transactions. The major challenge, then, was lack of ideation and mentorship. However, now there are several venture capital firms to address these issues,” says Ishween, who embarked on the business in 2008 along with a friend, who is a chemist.

With a seed capital of Rs 10 lakh, she started out at her small office in Santa Cruz. After approaching a few malls, she set up a kiosk at the Atria Mall in Worli.

“Consumers were not aware of handmade soaps back then,” she says, recalling how she initially struggled to find buyers. “We used to price it moderately and give away freebies to attract people.” Today, that small kiosk has grown into a Rs 1 crore business, with outlets at well-known malls in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai.

Vijayalaxmi Amrit Patsala’s calling card once flaunted the World Bank, German bank KFW and the European Union before she returned to India in 2004 and found her calling in efforts to uplift the socially backward tribal communities of India.

Forty-seven-year-old Vijayalaxmi runs a honey cooperative called Under the Mango Tree (UTMT), which seeks to utilise market forces to increase the livelihood of Indian farmers. She works with over 5,000 beekeepers in the country’s ten poorest districts, including Dang, Betul and Umaria, by providing market access for their honey. The company sells single-flower honey such as litchi, mango, eucalyptus and sunflower besides Himalayan Flora, desert bloom and wild forest.

The company’s unusual name was conceived way back in 1993, when she was working with the United Nation’s rehabilitation programme in the earthquake-hit Latur district of Maharashtra. “We were working under a tree when I thought of the name,” she says, mentally deciding to name her future venture just that.

The company now aims to create a national brand of organic, fairly-traded single-origin honey to enable the sale of nearly 70 tonnes a year, directly impacting the lives of 20,000 farmers by the end of 2015, according to its Web site.

Recalling the tough times she faced setting up the company in 2006, she says, “You have so many issues, starting from getting the right people to getting funds. I haven’t got a bank loan so far. Even opening an account was difficult.” In a lighter vein, she recalls how her middle name ‘Amrit’ created a problem of its own. “The bank employees were unable to open an account as Amrit was neither my husband’s name nor my father’s!”

Payal Kumar’s romance with the camera turned into a lucrative business opportunity. This candid wedding photographer captures the glitz and glitter of the big, fat Indian wedding.

After working in advertising companies for 13 years, she suddenly felt the urge to pick up the camera and embark into the world of professional photography, long seen as a male domain.

Her decision was driven mainly by a passion for photography since childhood and a deep-seated desire to start something on her own, but not before wrestling with feelings of anxiety.

“Leaving a safe and secure salaried job can be an unsettling feeling. But I wanted to take the plunge… and in 2011, I quit my job,” she says.

The first year proved very difficult. “There was the day when I walked up to the ATM and realised I didn’t have even Rs 1,000 in my savings account,” she recalls.

Gradually, business picked up and she bagged as many as nine wedding projects last year. Her speciality is candid photography. As a single woman, she faced a unique set of challenges in her chosen field. “My family was very apprehensive when I got into wedding photography as most weddings happen late in the night. But I am selective about my assignments,” she says with complete confidence.

Zabita Ayinikat was clear about one thing when her marriage of four years fell apart — she had to do what felt right to her. And, starting an advertising company, Mantrasz, was her answer. The journey was anything but smooth. First, she relocated to Bangalore from Mumbai. She started with an investment of Rs 25,000 and a team of three. After 10 years, her company has 12 employees and an annual turnover of Rs 2.5 crore, with clients that include corporate majors such as Bosch.

“My initial years after starting my venture were quite maddening,” recounts Zabita. There were days she spent 24 hours in her office, struggling to get clients. “But if you are clear about your ideas and have a passion for your work, every difficulty will find a solution,” she says with confidence.

At 38, Zabita today is not just a successful entrepreneur but also the mother of a three-year-old adopted girl child.

“My life has been all about taking risks. My world went upside down when my marriage fell apart. At that time, even my parents’ financial situation was not good. But in my heart, I knew I could take on the challenge, and I am glad I did,” she says.

(This article was published on March 14, 2013)
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