A recent study of women entrepreneurs across 31 countries ranks India a measly 29 — with just Pakistan and Bangladesh scoring lower. It’s in such times that an event, ‘She Leads’, organised by the Hyderabad chapter of the Startup Leadership Programme, aims to change the game.
With a panel of four women — Vishalakshi Reddy, founder, InterCITY and the woman behind city’s Raahagiri Initiative, Purnima Kamble, a partner at law firm Fox Mandal and Associates, Chaya Pamula, president & CEO of Pamten and founder of the non-profit Sofkin and Shephali Shrimali, from the start-up SuperGenie — the stage was set for budding women entrepreneurs to fire queries about their doubts and fears about the start-up industry.
Past: Why many had to ‘troubleshoot’
While the Indian start-up ecosystem is growing at a fast pace, with headlines on funding and acquisitions emerging on a daily basis, it’s seldom that we see women at the forefront of such news. But thankfully, the scenario is slowly changing. “When I started off on my own, you could count the number of women heading start-ups on one finger. But today, there’s a different picture. For example, worldwide, 70 per cent of the business in tourism is run by women. The government here has also started helping out start-ups and so, women are bound to get encouraged,” says Vishalakshi.
Twelve years ago, after a crisis in Vishalakshi’s family, her urge to start something of her own only grew bigger. Her family didn’t understand what she was doing, but today they are the happiest. She says, “Even at this event, women asked about how to convince their families. These women are doubting their abilities. But when successful women entrepreneurs talk about what they have achieved, it inspires others. It’s also a reflective round for us, where we see that we were able to turn an idea into reality.”
For a woman, an important part of starting up is to ensure that she doesn’t get burnt out fast, an effort to maintain a balance in her personal and professional life is very important as one cannot thrive at the cost of the other.
“Work-life balance is important. It is vital to recognise that we are not superwomen and must not have impossible expectations from ourselves. As women we have many roles and must try and take our entire family together in our progress, at the same time make them understand that we are not superwomen, so that there’s co-operation from family too. An important point to remember is that women empowerment is not about male bashing,” says Purnima Kamble.
Talking about herself Purnima says, “In the field of law, where fewer women make it to the top, you have to work twice as hard given the long hours and it’s impact on the work-life balance, to achieve reasonable success.” Even when a woman wants to build her network in the community, she’s judged. “Although things are changing radically, there are a few preconceived notions and biases, when it comes to women networking for business development.”
The panel, was subject to many more questions, especially about the starting phase. “Initially, the focus should not be on making money, but on building clients. I remember, when I co-founded Pamten, eight years ago, we did 20 websites for free. Those 20 helped us build our client base,” says Chaya.
Present: How Hyderabad is part of a change
Operations Head for the start-up SuperGenie, Shephali Shrimali says, “It’s always about proving yourself. In my two years of being in this industry, I have seen women slowly become a part of the community. They are now willing to take risks and have realised that the growth opportunities are tremendous.” Talking about the growing trend, Chaya says, “A huge number of women around the world are starting off on their own. That’s because they don’t want to be under the constraints of another company, but be able to balance life on their own terms.
“Another noticeable fact is that women over 40 are starting their own companies. This is because they are free from their responsibilities, their children have moved out and they suddenly don’t know what to do.”
Future: what’s next?
Priyamvada Agarwal, who is hoping to build a start-up, says, “More than anything, events like these motivate us and help us learn from others’ experiences.” Shephali is already noticing a change. “Even for our start-up’s hiring process, the numbers of girls applying is increasing everyday.”
Chaya adds, “Identify your passion. Start planning early on about how you want to realise your dreams.”