She-factor' invades start-ups
Deccan Chronicle| Meera Manu
Women Business Incubation Programme is promoting women start-ups in Kerala.
Aswani R. S., Rini Basu, Asha Jomis, Meenakshi Sajeev, Neeraja Raman Kutty
A milestone day for young fashion designer Neeraja Raman Kutty dawns this February 12. On that day, she has arranged an elegant line-up of models to sashay down the ramp in custom-made brand Neeraja office-wear. Pause for a moment. Let’s rewind a few months down. After her brief dalliance with a popular costume design label post graduation from National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), Bangalore, Neeraja had been running from pillar to post to mobilise funds to open a fashion studio in Kerala. Knocking on many doors and chasing bank after bank, she had only disappointment in the end.
A chance meeting with Asha Jomis proved a real game-changer for Neeraja. And this was the modest take off of Women Business Incubation Programme (WBIP), a fledgling concept of Asha to boost women start-ups. "I always loved to do something for women in the way I can, but I did not know how to. Speaking to Neeraja, I realised the immense talent she has in her area of specialisation. So we decided not wait any further," Asha, a tech-entrepreneur, recollects.
They worked arm-in-arm and a nationalised bank agreed to help in no time. Now Neeraja is the proud owner of her fashion studio in Thiruvananthapuram and an expert maker of dresses for office-going women. The corporate tie-ups introduced by WBIP help her identify clients and meet their demands. Neeraja says: "Little was left with me to produce as bank guarantee. In WBIP we found out the possibility of Mudra Bank Loan Scheme for micro units."
"We had talks with a bank that was ready to help me out. By the time the payback period starts, I could consolidate my business," she adds. WBIP offers sufficient infrastructure for women start-up ventures in its office at Kowdiar in Thiruvananthapuram complete with work area, mentoring, business plan, staff and digital engagement. Four months after WBIP had its initial experimentation, in 2016, they expanded further to chip in for social cause.
A project, Social Good Hack was opened for young professionals and students to create solutions for real social issues. Every month, it announces a challenge. The person who comes up with the most viable solution is presented with a sum of Rs 10,000 plus expertise to develop it further towards implementation. The first challenge, to prevent people from falling victims to scams got a practical idea from a respondent Rini Basu. She is developing an online platform to keep people alert about such tricksters and stay away from from their traps.
"Arranging corporate partnership is our role. For instance, every month one corporate comes up and sponsors Social Good Hack incorporating it to their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) activities. In truth, so far this has not been an income generating model for us and we are working out ways to scale up to that level in future," says Asha, an M.Phil from University of Cambridge. The challenge for February is to prevent death from road accidents.
Right from the beginning, WBIP has been staying live by conducting competitions, hosting technical sessions and introducing industry interaction for the incubation programmes. Other than Neeraja’s, a week ago, another start-up came into the fore through WBIP branded ‘Nattu Ruchi’, a home-cooked meal delivery system by Jisha, a broadcast journalist. The food packets, named ‘Pothichoru’, are served in the IT Hub of Technopark, Thiruvananthapuram.
"Once I had an upset tummy after dining from an eatery. The idea of delivering home-cooked meals to people like me has been on from then. Two more women later shared with me the same idea. Problems cropped up in identifying a distribution channel. Then I approached WBIP and now we are partners with Food4Sure door delivery service," Jisha explains.