If one asked a hundred young people in India to name a female entrepreneurial role model, in all likelihood, only a few would be able to answer. This isn’t just disheartening – it’s damaging as this thorny issue has deep implications for the kind of future we want to build.
India ranks abysmally at 41 out of 43 in female entrepreneurial activity in the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2021. Statistics also show that 48% of women in business lack competent advisors to guide them through entrepreneurship.
Moreover, establishing a startup comes with many challenges, meaning even the most experienced entrepreneurs need mentorship to come up with innovative, risk-laden ideas and implement the right business strategies.
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When Ankita Vashistha, Founder, Saha Fund & StrongHer Ventures, started her journey in private equity and venture capital in 2008 after pursuing her MBA and consulting/investment banking in London, she was “very lucky to get the right mentors”.
But, she admits, she had to work hard to make her place in the venture capital space, and bring about awareness on the need and importance of successful women entrepreneurs.
“I have gone through all the cycles of starting up and creating a niche for myself. When I began in 2014, venture capital was still emerging in India, and on top of that I chose to look at women entrepreneurship. I had to educate investors whilst fundraising why startup innovation is key for economic growth, and why it’s even more important to include the untapped leadership and talent of women to move the needle.”
Vashistha, who believes in giving back to society and helping others, says, “I am very thankful to my early backers and mentors like Kiran Mazumdar Shaw and Zia Mody for supporting me. I urge all founders to find their guides, mentors and inner circle to help them move forward in their entrepreneurial journey.” On the other side of the equation is Divya Gokulnath, co-founder, Byju’s, who has a different take on the kind of women entrepreneurs who should serve as role models.
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“We generally celebrate women founders of high-tech, high-growth start-ups. But, for me, the real heroes are the women who are digitalising traditional businesses, such as crafts and wellness. They run the millions of micro, small and medium enterprises that are now becoming larger by using technology and accessing the global markets online. The opportunities are endless if all the stakeholders work together to help more women own their future. Equality, like innovation, is a forever pursuit.”
But, for women, who wish to become entrepreneurs, there is a silver lining as there are venture capitalists who favour women-led organisations.
“At Prime, if anything, we are positively biased towards women founders or co-founders,” says Sanjay Swamy, Managing Partner, Prime Venture Partners.
That’s because Prime’s first startup, ZipDial was co-founded with Valerie Rozycki Wagoner as CEO. “We also have Neha Singh at Tracxn, a company that has just gone IPO, and we were privileged to back them quite early in their journey. We recently funded HitWicket, the world’s largest strategy cricket game, founded by another rockstar woman founder, Keerti Singh,” he says.
According to Swamy, It’s not that women founders don’t get funded, it’s that the percentage of women founders itself is much smaller than male counterparts. “This is a big missed opportunity that we have to address as a society, women led companies do extremely well in general although the sample size is relatively small,” he adds.