1. Start-ups in India: As ecosystem heats up, not many women entrepreneurs leading the pack

Start-ups in India: As ecosystem heats up, not many women entrepreneurs leading the pack

Even as the start-up ecosystem heats up, we are not witnessing many women entrepreneurs leading the pack in India. It is time to shake things up

Updated: October 4, 2016 2:30 PM
women One of the changes that we are seeing in the Indian start-up ecosystem is the focus on women entrepreneurs especially in the last year.

India is known for its start-up ecosystem and the emerging trend of entrepreneurship. Yes, BRICS is no longer the buzzword but on a global level there continues to be a ‘wait and watch’ around China and India. We have given the start-up world some unicorns and continue to do so with Paytm’s recent raise but with the great winds of change and business models being questioned, the world is still waiting to see if Indian entrepreneurs are as jugaadu as forecasted and whether they can innovate and/or go global.

One of the changes that we are seeing in the Indian start-up ecosystem is the focus on women entrepreneurs especially in the last year. PM Modi’s Start-Up India event this year had a panel about women entrepreneurship. This might confuse some people. I do get asked all the time why this buzz around women entrepreneurship?

Women entrepreneurs

Seven years ago, when I co-founded mydala, things were radically different. There were very few female founders in the technology ecosystem and less than a handful in the Internet space. Even now after much noise about female entrepreneurs, a NASSCOM report dismally states that of the numerous start-ups mushrooming every day in the country, only 9% are led by women.

A global report by the Lean In Foundation and McKinsey said that women are underrepresented in every position along the corporate ladder, from entry level to the C-suite. In India, women hold only 7.7% of board seats and just 2.7% of board chairs. Men have mostly male networks, while women have mostly female or mixed networks, and since men are more likely to hold higher-ranking positions, women end up with fewer connections to senior leadership. This is the trend globally as well.

Surprising stats in Europe show that there are more CEOs named David and Peter in the tech space than there are total women entrepreneurs in the tech space.

Level playing field

But not everything is bleak. The way I see it, there have been improvements. With each passing year, there are more women joining the fray and taking risks. Every conference or event I attend, the ratio seems to be evening out. Every conference now has that token women’s panel like the token sidekick guy in the movies but I’m hoping all this leads to more female heroes being born. Funding, incubation and mentoring support are becoming more gender inclusive. We are also seeing a younger lot of women giving wings to their entrepreneurial dreams.

Are there challenges still? Absolutely. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Report says that almost 39% businesses run by women are still funded by friends and family even though it’s now a legitimate fact that women-led businesses tend to be more profitable and outperform. In 2010, female entrepreneur Cindy Padnos published a research paper called High-Performance Entrepreneurs: Women in High Tech which suggested that high tech companies founded by women are more capital-efficient and venture-backed firms with women on the board have had more successful exits. Women are also considered better at bootstrapping, capable of doing more with less funding. We tend to be more inclusive than men, more willing to collaborate and less afraid to ask for help.

An improving sentiment

At almost all the global conferences I speak at, I get asked two questions about women in general …as if it’s almost a paradox. The first is how unsafe India really is for women and the second is around the healthy mix of women in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) field. I would want the second question to be discussed more.

The Government has also taken a few steps to ensure that women are properly educated, informed and guided about entrepreneurship — through training programmes, yojanas and co-operative schemes. Still a lot more needs to be done. An informal survey by my team showed that banks and organisations themselves had limited knowledge on loans or funding vehicles for women. From my own experience, I can safely say that both for men and women equally, being an entrepreneur is no cakewalk. The highs and lows are equally brilliant. A profitable idea is gender blind and success depends only on how game-changing it is.

The start-up world is adding a new level-playing field, enticing all to take the plunge. I think this is a brilliant time to ensure that we make the change we want to see — that our kids no longer look at women being at the helm of companies as an exception. Let’s make noise, let’s shake things up. The more awareness we build, the more we inspire people, women included, to join in.

Anisha Singh

The author is founder and CEO, mydala.com

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