Women Must Build Their Personal Brands As Founders: Founder, Encubay

The main problem female founders have is access to networks. Starting a venture is not easy without access to the network of people in the ecosystem

Encubay, a diversity-focused network, has partnered with the United States Consulate General, StrongHer Foundation, and MyStepUp to launch the 'Fempreneurs Upskilling Program' in India.

It is hailed as the first and only comprehensive growth programme for women entrepreneurs to help them acquire critical skills beyond fundraising in order to grow their businesses. A sector-agnostic programme for early-to-growth-stage female entrepreneurs from across the country.

On the occassion of Women Entrepreneurship Day, BW Busiessworld had an engaging conversation with Deeksha Ahuja, Founder of Encubay. Following edited excerpts are the key takeaways from our conversation:

Why does entrepreneurship remain a male-dominated field? 

Traditionally, the whole startup ecosystem in India is just about 10 years old. It's not like Silicon Valley, where we have 40 years of startup experience. Now the wave of more women joining entrepreneurship is really going to kick in because of the success stories. And a trend will emerge only when there are success stories to share. People do not talk about women entrepreneurs who have gotten funding from venture capitalists (VCs) and built unicorns. A few of them have a valuation of over INR 500 crore also, but they are not the talk of the town. All of these changes occurred within the last five years. 

Networking is one of the roadblocks for women founders. 

The main problem female founders have is access to networks. Starting a venture is not easy without access to the network of people in the ecosystem. Men have such a strong network that even when they do not have any ideas, they will first call five investors and say, "See, this is what I am building." Would you like to do a small check on this? Further, there is very little access to mentors, corporations, or businesses. 

Women entrepreneurs get only 2 percent of the VC money. 

Even today, women entrepreneurs only get 2 percent of the VCs' funding. Until and unless women get good access to networks and funding, we will not witness female founders building huge companies and being talked about. However, VCs want to back women because of ESG (environmental, social, and governance) norms. Furthermore, they believe that female-led ventures provide better returns. The field is ready, and as a female founder, now is the best time for you to kick-start a business.

Initiatives to incubate small businesses run by women 

First, you have to create access to a good network of people with whom they can brainstorm ideas and investors with whom they can have a casual conversation. Yes, women do need mentorship and guidance to think big and have a very big vision. Because companies that portray a big vision get funded. 

Women must build their personal brands as founders; if you don't talk about your personal brand and what you're building, no one will know. The truth is, as an entrepreneur, you have to talk about your product or brand from day zero. And last, as a startup, you need credits. Every bank out there wants to really support diversity in the ecosystem, thus lending their hands to support the women founders out there.

Self-employed women in India went from 55.6 percent in 2011–12 to less than 53 percent in 2018–19. Why?

These figures do not account for the women's side hustles while working full-time jobs, whether housework or office work. The way data is being collected needs to be changed because most women entrepreneurs are not part of a formal system. You will find women founders in a small WhatsApp group, a Facebook community, or among peers. From 2018 to now, I have seen a lot of developments, lots of success stories, and lots of initiatives for female founders. The whole wave is ready to dive into the startup ecosystem.

Failure is part and parcel of a successful venture. 

Don't be afraid, even if your venture fails. Failures can provide some of the most valuable learning opportunities. Failing in the startup ecosystem is normal. We always glorify when a man fails; we should start doing the same for women as well. When you build a venture, you create a very strong network, which is the most important intangible asset. Those relationships are not going anywhere.

Will more women in leadership lead to a more women-friendly work culture?

Women at the top set very female-friendly or, as I would say, more inclusive work policies. Definitely, more women in leadership are going to lead a more women-friendly work culture because now you are setting standards and goals for both genders. You are not leaving one gender behind. Women bring a different perspective to boardrooms and leadership positions, and these perspectives can sometimes be viewed from a very strong economic standpoint.

The growth rate of women's entrepreneurship in India was at its highest amid the pandemic times. Why? 

Everything was online for the first time, and everyone had access. It is now extended to everyone and is not restricted to just a certain set of people. The playing field is level. Furthermore, women understand a wide range of issues. Around 70 per cent of D2C (direct-to-home) brands have female founders. When women themselves create products, they know all the nuances. The addition of new sectors such as fin-tech and health-tech opens up an array of opportunity for everyone, including women. Moreover, everything went online, which gave them the confidence to run a business successfully.

What major hindrances do you foresee in the sector? 

Capital is a hurdle. However, at some level that is also broken out, there are at least 7-8 female-focused funds. Furthermore, external factors such as proper family support are essential. That is not a hurdle that women should face. Society expects women to work full time at their startups but also work full time at home, which is unfair; we don't have the same expectations from men. Until and unless everyone—families, husbands, and fathers—stands up and says, "We should support female founders unconditionally and share things at home," the journey will be difficult.

Around The World