Tails and travails of women entrepreneurs

At a time when there is a sharp focus on diversity and women are being encouraged to break through unseen glass ceilings,turning entrepreneur is providing to be a good way to get more women into the workforce.With more women in management programmes and societal pressures easing,more women are getting comfortable starting up.However,be it in the entrepreneurial heaven that is Silicon Valley or the rough and tough of India,some notions die hard.

According to the Gender- GEDI Female Entrepreneurship Index, a study by hardware giant Dell,India ranks poorly on all fronts. Overall, out of 16 countries covered in the survey carried out last year, it was found that 26% of women in India have bank accounts compared with 100% in developed markets.This factor itself reveals a lot about the women entrepreneurship scenario in India.

Multiple factors restrain women from starting their own enterprises. Most prominent, are social norms, which dictate that often make women put home, family and kids before their own aspirations .There are no doubt of signs  changing – husbands willing to play second fiddle, when the wife has a smart start-up  or a support system for children when both parents are at work but Indian women still battle prejudices and stereotypes that their male peers don’t have to endure.

Women entrepreneurship can make a particularly strong contribution to the economic well being of the family and communities,poverty reduction and women’s empowerment ,thus contributing to the Millenium Development Goals (MSGs).Thus governments across the world as well as various developmental organizations are actively undertaking promotion of women entrepreneus through various schemes,incentives and promotional measures.In India,besides the schemes of the Ministry of MSME,there are schemes specifically targeting women entrepreneurs being implemented by various Ministries like the Women and Child Development,schemes  under Central and state government,schemes implemented by organizations  like Nabard,NSIC,Industries department etc.

Inspite of all efforts to promote women entrepreneurs,women who have come up,often have to overcome both tangile and intangible barriers.Some common barriers include

  • Whether a women can travel
  • Whether they will be able to spend money or commit enough
  • Women are often asked whether their husbands or fathers will be garaunteeers,whereas men are not asked such questions
  • For a women to be taken seriously,she has to work harder than an average man
  • Having a mentor makes the struggle a little easier.Besides hands on training,women need a supporting eco-system.What is needed is that women should persist and if they persist,there would be enough people to guide and help them.Women should stop thinking of themselves as ‘women entrepreneurs’.To be a successful entrepreneur,one will have to be willing to struggle  and sacrifice and take a risk

It needs to be mentioned here that women have a natural knack for starting and running businesses.They understand numbers,can multi-task and they always make the most efficient use of limited resources.Both in the rural sector as well as in the urban sector,there are examples of women overcoming all barriers and setting up their own enterprise.Converting cow-dung into vermicompost,rice husk into mushrooms,barren landscapes into mango orchards,the stories of these wonderful women are like a string of pearls.There is a recent trend of women start-ups after completing professional courses and giving up comfort of stable jobs.7 Vachan is a wedding solution provider from Mumbai which started about 15 months back .With some 10 million weddings held in India annually,this is an opportunity waiting to be tapped.In the first year itself in 2013,150 weddings were organized and that was mostly through word of mouth.In the year 2014,the target set by the enterprise is to cover 1000 weddings.

Another start-up is Zivame,an online lingere retailer,which today houses 40 brands .An example of women venturing into male dominated world of real estate is a startup named Properji.com,providing independent advise on property decesions.The business idea that Ms Priya Maheshwari  promoter of the startup got was when she relocated herself from U.S to Bangalore and wanted to buy a house.Within a year she has 350 customers on her site and plans to earn revenues from subscription to a data package that she offers to her customers.

A solar energy start up named Frontier Markets in Rajasthan being promoted by a women entrepreneur has since 2011 sold some 17000 solar solutions in 15 districts of Rajasthan,covering some 1200 villages and eventually plans to sell 5 million units and reach 10 million households.There are already 150 of them selling solar lanterns and the promoter Ajaita Shah hopes this number will increase to 5000 in Rajasthan alone,before Frontier Markets along with its solar sahelis expands nationally.

  In some parts of the country entrepreneurial women are making waves. For example, in the arid regions of Latur and Osmanabad in Maharashtra, women are leading the change at organizations such as SwayamShikshanPrayog, which is building networks of rural businesses. Here, Women are handpicked to sell products such as gas stoves and the best ones given charge of a region to manage. Women are often seen to have stronger networks in the community and have more empathy with other women who control the household budget.Women also prefer entrepreneurship because it lets them be more flexible with their hours, even as they earn a steady income. This is especially true in rural India, where women continue to juggle multiple roles even as they chase their entrepreneurial dream.

There are again some women who prioritized their household over career but once the home front is settled,take up entrepreneurial ventures. With opportunities opening up,the number of such women led enterprises are increasing. Initiated by Sangeeta Sukhtankar, a Chartered Accountant and Management graduate,who had given up her career in Finance, ”Couch Tomato” is an enterprise in the digital platform which is an application based platform for enterprises who are doing some unique work on a limited scale but unable to reach out to customers beyond their neighbours.These enterprises don’t run their business from a shop or a a factory,but do something exclusive and special on a very small scale from their homes.The only way for them to reach out is through exhibitions which costs a lot .To fill up this void,”Couch Tomato” was born  and even before ‘Couch tomato’ was formally launched,the venture has created a buzz on the facebook.The venture has two more women like Sangeeta both Management Graduates who had also given up their career as bankers for prioritizing their household work. An entrepreneurial journey ,no doubt has its own pressures but the excitement of variety and endless possibilities gives the impetus and reason to work for with much more freedom and flexibility.There is a growing segment of women entrepreneurs in this segment-women who have the knowledge and confidence of starting and sustaining.

In the North East India, women have been traditionally involved in sectors like handloom,handicraft,knitting,tailoring,bakery etc.But last few years have seen some visible change can be seen as women entrepreneurs although few in number have started venturing into uncharted territories like

Ms Hema Prava Devi,an entrepreneur from Assam starting a testing facility for LPG cylinders and subsequently starting an unit for manufacturing PVC seals.From a venture in green tea by Ms Basamlu Krisiko  an entrepreneur from Arunachal Pradesh to manufacturing and marketing of herbal face pack through four hundred by Ms Lalmuankimi, an entreptreneur from Mizoram, or publishing newspaper in Nagamese by Ms Leimi Phom,an entrepreneur from Nagaland,the list can go on to cover many others in sectors like IT,tourism ,tourism,education etc.

From the lessons learnt through successful initiatives of women entrepreneurs across the country ,some quick tips for women entrepreneurs,include the following

  • Start a business that works for you and your personal life
  • Research the product/service
  • Assess the market
  • Start business with adequate funds
  • Do networking
  • Consult with professionals

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