Women's Entrepreneurship Day: For businesswomen, the road ahead is still long

Annapurani V Chennai | Updated on November 19, 2019

Challenges galore   -  C.V.Subrahmanyam

Women make up only 14% of entrepreneurs in the country. But things are slowly changing

Varuna Anand, a Jammu-based textile designer, began her journey as an entrepreneur in 2011, when she was 42 years old. But things took a different turn when her husband passed away in 2012 and she had to single-handedly manage the handcrafted shawl company, called The Splendour of Kashmir, while taking care of her children. “I started with only two shows a year; but today, after seven years, I have at least 20 exhibits in a year,” she says. Anand sells her shawls through these exhibits and online. At least 300 people in the cottage industry are indirectly employed by her.

Bhavjot Kaur lost her father when she was just 24. The lack of primary medical facilities in Nagaon, Assam, where the family resided, forced them to move him to Chennai, but it was too late. Determined that others shouldn’t suffer in this manner, she became an entrepreneur in an effort to tackle such challenges, and co-founded Bengaluru-based startup Clinikk Healthcare.

Be it the housewife who makes pickles and sells them, or the seamstress who knits sweaters and crochets for her neighbours, women in India have always been entrepreneurs. Often they are from the lower-income group, with low education levels, and driven to start off on their own to support the family.

Yet, the numbers paint a different picture. According to data on the Startup India portal, women constitute only 14 per cent of the total number of entrepreneurs in India.

This could be because they eventually quit as they have to manage both the family and the business, says Swapna Sundar, a Chennai-based advocate and CEO of legal services firm IP Dome IP Strategy Advisors Pvt Ltd.

Male domination

Cultural challenges still prevail in many parts of the country, she adds. Unless there is an economic need to support the family, women are discouraged from venturing into business. “This problem isn’t just an Indian phenomenon; as they say, it’s a man’s world!” says Upasana Taku, COO and Co-founder of online payment platform MobiKwik. She took the entrepreneurship plunge because she was passionate about financial products. “I quit my job with PayPal in Silicon Valley and gave up a green card to move back to India to pursue my dream,” she says.

Despite the government introducing schemes aplenty, the number of women in India becoming successful entrepreneurs is very few.

“Women are generally seen as those who do not take risks, but entrepreneurship is inherently in the opposite direction, says Taku. “Our society, in general, believes that businesses can be run only by men,” she says. These stereotypes eventually rub off on women and affect their self-confidence, she adds.

The Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs (MIWE) 2018 shows that in India, women business owners make up only 11 per cent of the total, ranking the country 52 among the 57 countries surveyed.

And data from Venture Intelligence indicates that only 12 per cent of women founded/co-founded firms make up the top 150 funded start-ups.

But in recent years, the scenario has changed. Easier internet access has ensured that more women are willing to become entrepreneurs. Social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook have, in fact, created more opportunities, and transactions now take place at the click of a button. Thus, the environment for women entrepreneurs in India is becoming conducive.

Successful women entrepreneurs and investors have to step forward and support and mentor others, says Sairee Chahal, Founder & CEO of SHEROES, an online platform that helps women entrepreneurs in India. “Access to capital and availability of adequate infrastructure are two things that could help boost these numbers,” says Chahal.

Published on November 19, 2019

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