These Female Leadership Programs Are Helping Bridge The Gender Gap In India’s Startups

By Sindhuja Balaji 

Being a female entrepreneur in India is a challenge like no other. According to the National Sample Survey Organization’s Sixth Economic Census, only 14% of Indian businesses are led by women, most of which are either small-scale or self-financed. While women form a significant part of the Indian workforce, a breakthrough number of women-led businesses is yet to develop.

Skewed female representation is a problem in the country’s startup industry too. NASSCOM research states that only 9% of Indian startup founders are women. Gender discrimination while fundraising, socio-cultural biases, and under-representation of women in technology are some of the reasons holding women back in this area.

And this is leading some in the entrepreneurial community to launch initiatives aimed at boosting the number of women in the startup community.

Women leading the startup brigade

SAHA Fund is a first-of-its-kind venture capital that promotes women leadership, employment, and women-focused products and services. It organizes core mentorship interactions for female entrepreneurs, connects them to venture capitalists, and helps businesses scale up. The fund invests in companies leveraging digital platforms to grow in fintech, e-commerce, data, artificial intelligence, analytics, healthcare and food tech. Investors include Biocon’s Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, legal expert Zia Mody, Hero MotoCorp’s Sunil Munjal and ex-Accenture chairman and CMD Avinash Vashistha.

Female entrepreneurs in India can now avail of multiple options to scale their startups, raise funds and seek professional assistance to build their business. (Photo Credit: Shutterstock)

Raising funds remains one of the biggest hurdles faced by women due to investor perception that they are not ambitious enough to lead a startup. Ankita Vashistha, founder of SAHA Fund, says, “Many investors believe women-led businesses are not scalable. They feel domestic obligations will tie down women, due to which their startups don’t get a fair valuation.”

How wrong they are. Fitness aggregator Fitternity is one of the startups supported by SAHA Fund. They raised $1 million in July 2015 followed by $1 million in a pre-Series A in June 2017. Around 300,000 users have transacted on Fitternity and annual sales run-rate is $3 million. Founder Neha Motwani says, “SAHA Fund helped us with fundraising, provided business inputs, introduced us to key stakeholders and advocated the brand. Women like Ankita are upping the ante for female entrepreneurs.”

Inherent diffidence of many Indian women is another cause for concern. Culturally, women in India hesitate to highlight their personal and professional accomplishments – something that Lathika Pai, founder trustee of SonderConnect is addressing through her organization. “Investors want to support founders who are confident, sincere about scaling and seeking to have an impact on the industry,” says Pai. SonderConnect tailors mentorship programs and technical workshops, where startups can fine-tune business pitches and investor engagement. Seasoned marketing professionals, legal experts, HR personnel and contract negotiation experts provide training, and mentors include senior executives from LinkedIn, Microsoft, Aegis, IBM, Target, Ernst & Young and Deloitte.

HappyHealthyMe, India’s first organic food brand and grocery store, is supported by SonderConnect. Aside from providing home delivery in Bangalore, they plan to launch country-wide shipping and initiate sales on Amazon. SonderConnect is helping them raise USD 1 million. Co-founder Namu Kini says, “Mentorship for an entrepreneur is underestimated. We are getting targeted assistance from the right industry experts.”

Source: Forbes

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