Divya Rajput

Divya Rajput works with IC2 Institute of the University of Texas on leading entrepreneurship and incubation programs and has worked with Technology Development Board (under DST), GoI, IIM Lucknow, Indian Institute of Corporate Affairs (under MCA), GoI, Delhi Business School, IIT Delhi to name a few. She is the founder of Association of Women in Business.

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A Resolve to #BalanceforBetter for Women Entrepreneurship

As a Country, India did a fabulous job in educating its citizens. Women education rate of 65% is higher than many other developing nations and their presence is growing in every sector.

The month of March is here… and the advertisements in newspapers, social media, public events are all aligned to celebrate the International Women’s day. Pink and magenta will paint the towns red this month when the womankind or the fairer gender will be highlighted, and everyone will seem to empower women. UN will roll out another agenda and many social development agencies will come up with newer programs to educate and empower women. And the common educated woman, who may have quit her job due to re-location post marriage, child birth, adult care or frustrated with gender-imbalanced work culture may still be struggling to find a way to re-enter the formal workforce or start her own venture.

As a Country, India did a fabulous job in educating its citizens. Women education rate of 65% is higher than many other developing nations and their presence is growing in every sector. Women are challenging stereotypes and the number of educated women is growing in aviation, science and technology, defence, politics, bureaucracy, business, and entrepreneurship. Being educated allows them greater decision-making ability at home, support family by additional earning and raise well-fed, well-educated children. Every additional year of primary school increases girls' eventual wages by 10-20 percent. It also encourages them to marry later and have fewer children and leaves them less vulnerable to violence.

We have training programs for women to take up corporate leadership roles, we have IIMs conducting programs for women in politics and public policy. We have many national/ international aspiring women entrepreneurship programs for college and University students and women entrepreneurship programs which focus on educating and empowering women to build businesses. Indian corporate support women empowerment through CSR by training them on traditional skills and establishing Self Help Groups to develop new clusters.

So, what should ideally happen after this education and training and acquiring so much ‘gyaan’?

They should practice whatever they have learnt. And this is where the barriers to women entrepreneurship come to play. There is a need to encourage them to make decisions, assert autonomy and scale up. There is a need to make space for them to out-perform, provide them marketing, sales and business development support and provide funding to women lead businesses. There is a need to build networks where women can discuss her achievements or challenges with men and women alike without being alienated from the mainstream. There is a need to willingly invest in women lead ventures and allow them opportunities to scale up. All of this and more, there a need to integrate women entrepreneurs into mainstream start-up culture.

However, we don’t find enough women in decision making, autonomous roles in business; even start-ups with atleast one women on board tends to give them lesser share-holding than 50%. With government, academia, corporate supporting start-ups through regulatory reforms and establishing incubators, there is a need to support women entrepreneurs scale up to build reputed brands. Of the total start-ups recognised by DIPP, Ministry of Commerce, 45% have reported atleast one women director on board. However, the number of women lead start-ups where women entrepreneurs have majority share-holding is unknown. Globally 92% start-ups fail and in India, the number is similar. Its time for women to exhibit their risk appetite in new ventures and overcome the many barriers to women entrepreneurship. Its “ok” for women entrepreneurs to try and fail, just as it is “ok” for men entrepreneurs to fail.

To draw a parallel, this is like encouraging women to drive cars and let them be involved in accidents. Traffic police data says that fewer women drive rashly and only 2% women drivers were involved in road accidents plus there are no incidents of drunk driving. Data also says that though the number of women entrepreneurs is lesser than number of men entrepreneurs, their business profitability and organisational growth is at par with men entrepreneurs. Do we have Indian corporate leaders ready to mentor women to lead new strategy initiatives and spin off new business vertical by empowering them with teams, technology, market readiness and investments? Will they look at investment in women intrapreneurs beyond women empowerment through CSR?

Re-looking back, where do all these women entrepreneurs who have been educated and trained go? They tend to establish mom and pop shops, work as freelancers; one can find them in social gatherings such as those organized by Chambers of Commerce through their ladies’ forum or on TV shows, but they are not building organizations. While none of it is wrong, they are not executing million-dollar deals or receiving multi-million-dollar investments or planning billion-dollar growth. The only woman CEO of a nearing billion-dollar unicorn was recently announced in February 2019.

Having met several angel investors and VCs in my network, I often ask if they have invested in women lead businesses. Most of them say that they are not averse to such an investment if the business would make perfect commercial sense and if they can receive 10X return on investments. Then they ask the obvious question – what will women entrepreneurs do? How many more e-commerce stores or patisserie café can they set up? When I tell them that I have mentored women entrepreneurs in robotics, hybrid fuel, analytics solutions, they are mostly wow-ed. Most of them say that they would be keen to invest in such innovative businesses if women lead start-ups can scale up. Are there family trusts or foundations or HNIs who would like to invest in women lead businesses at the pre-seed stage and witness women empowerment in true sense?

For women lead start-ups to scale up, there is a need to provide them early stage pre-seed capital. They need a patient, risk capital and a lot of operational autonomy along with mentoring and training. In India, people invest in their girl’s education but do not invest in her business. They will encourage her to pick up a job for self-dependence. After all, she will get married in another family. Then in the other family, their priorities may never match with that of this woman entrepreneur. Also, if her family didn’t care to invest in her business, how will she scale up to receive external funding? In India, women have property rights. But how much of this property is readily available to be used as collateral for securing a loan? If the man of the house would like to secure a business loan, he can still mortgage the family property; but can a woman do the same despite repaying EMIs for home loan? Maybe she can, but this mindset change will take time.

Having observed many income classes, one realizes that they spend heavily on their daughter’s wedding and most of the investment schemes where government provides tax exemptions also encourage savings to spend on daughter’s education or marriage. This is time that our insurance companies encourage new schemes for people to invest in their children’s businesses. Can we work to create a #NewIndia with new definitions of savings and investments? Through a concerted effort, we can find citizens who’d love to invest 20 lakhs on their daughter’s education, 30 lakhs on her business and may be only 10 lakhs on her wedding. There will be people who’ll be pleased to witness their girl child scaling up to be a successful CEO, just like the one they’d want her to marry.

Most of the women are a part of someone else’s life and business. We grew up observing women leaders such as Naina Lal Kidwai, Shikha Sharma who were successful in breaking the stereotype that women cannot handle finance, but they all were part of someone else’s business. One true women entrepreneur the country can take pride is Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, CMD of Biocon. But is this all we can be proud of? Spouses of the highly influential Corporate honchos lead their non-profit initiatives but do not make ‘for-profit businesses’ grow. Some family businesses such as Godrej accepted their girls to manage businesses, who brought fresh energy into their business and re-gained market share, but this number must grow.

#NewIndia cannot afford to hide half of their population in kitchens. Women Entrepreneurs and Women in Business need growth capital, which is much more than 10 Lakhs of collateral free loan which Mudra scheme awards them, they need access to networks where they can shine brighter without socializing over alcohol or worrying about a “Me Too” tag, they need access to new markets and mentors to help them establish market linkages. Women have time and again established that they are diligent, they act responsibly, and they can lead with emotional intelligence. On this Women’s Day, they need a resolve to #BalanceforBetter.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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