Ease of Doing Business for MSMEs: As the world observes International Women’s Day on March 8, Financial Express Online talked to a couple of women entrepreneurs running small businesses to share their stories of overcoming challenges that are undeniably unique to women in business with grit and resilience. The first story of this three-part series celebrating women entrepreneurs was the story of Mumbai-based Sheetal Talati who at 22 had to take over the family business after her father’s untimely demise in 2007 and had lost most of her clients because most of them didn’t believe in a young woman.
While Talati’s story was of a second-generation entrepreneur who rebuilt business from scratch, Anamika Sengupta’s Almitra Sustainables had its genesis in the sexist work culture at the organization she worked. Working as the global recruitment head at a software multinational for around eight-and-a-half years, Sengupta was forced to resign on maternity grounds in 2015. The company “assumed that I will be taking a break to look after my newborn or maybe I would not be able to continue. I was devastated because that time I expected full support from my employer,” Sengupta told Financial Express Online. Left only with her provident fund money as financial support, she had two choices – take up another job or start something of her own.
During her maternity period, Sengupta leveraged Facebook to get into entrepreneurship. She was part of various mother support groups (MSG) on the social network that provided counselling and information for women to practice breastfeeding and child care well. In her discussions, Sengupta realised the need for reimagining babywear outside India with exquisite fabric like Cashmere that is handwoven by local Indian artisans and is also in line with the new big trend of sustainable living. She launched Almitra Tattva in 2015 itself through a Facebook page with a ready-set of customers that were members of those MSGs. Sengupta was resilient enough to avoid another corporate job where she might have been treated in a similar manner on maternity grounds.
“Every day, we are amazed at the resilience of women entrepreneurs to not just grow but also to simultaneously create a positive impact on their communities,” Archana Vohra, Director – Global Business Group (Scaled) and Small and Medium Businesses, Facebook India told Financial Express Online.
According to Vohra, more than 60 per cent of Instagram businesses in India who self-identify as women-owned and nearly 50 per cent of female-led businesses on Facebook have been set up since the start of the pandemic. “This clearly indicates the ability of women entrepreneurs to navigate, start their entrepreneurial journeys, and even thrive amidst a crisis,” she added.
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Sengupta started with selling baby wraps online. Her first export was to Denmark — within the second month of launching the business. “It is now one of the most loved babywear brands in Europe. In fact, 85 per cent of our business is exported to Europe,” she added. Living a plastic-free life for nearly two decades now with zero-plastic products at her home, Sengupta exports to 57 countries.
In 2019, the company expanded to sustainable lifestyle and wellness products including Bamboo toothbrushes, Coconut coir scrub, coconut bowls, neem wood combs, reusable bamboo straws, and more under the umbrella brand Almitra Sustainables. The idea to expand came as Sengupta’s son started to grow as a toddler.
“When my son had his first tooth, I didn’t want a plastic toothbrush for him. We have raised him to be as close to nature as possible and less close to electronics and gadgets. We learnt from parents as feedback that they were also looking for sustainable resources. So we expanded the business. Currently, we are part of Coir cluster in Kanyakumari district and work with 160 artisans to manufacture products,” said Sengupta.
With a turnover of Rs 1.3 crore, the company is now looking to add earthenware and serveware categories to its website for expansion without seeking an investor. “We would prefer business loans from banks rather than getting an investor who would sit on our head for the equity he would have,” she added.
The digital or online adoption among MSMEs globally in fact has increased since 2020 post-Covid. According to a survey of 2,500 small and medium business owners globally by Salesforce Research published in August last year, 95 per cent of respondents said they have moved a portion of their operations online since 2020.
Sengupta’s switch to entrepreneurship also highlighted the significance of networking groups for women to be socially aware of existing opportunities. “As most business networking groups are male-dominated, women find it difficult to navigate their way to the right people — be it, clients, suppliers or distributors. Unless highly educated or socially connected, a lot of women entrepreneurs do not have access to the resources like regulations, compliance or even benefit schemes issued by the government,” Gurjodhpal Singh, CEO, Tide India told Financial Express Online.
Tide India is part of the London-based financial services platform Tide. The India unit had last week announced a commitment to incubate 5 lakh women-led small businesses in the country by the end of 2027 through mentorship, networking support, and more.