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Dr Ajay Kela, President and CEO, Wadhwani Foundation quoted in Business Standard

Women founder-specific sessions at events such as Nasscom and the rise of women-focused angel investors and funds point to a shift in acceptance of women entrepreneurs.

India’s start-up scene is attracting more women entrepreneurs and they are increasingly raising funds from global investors.

In 2015, several women-run start-ups such as LimeRoad, Kaaryah, Zivame, CashKaro, media tech companies like YourStory and POPxo and women-only job portal Sheroes have attracted investor attention and are scaling business significantly.

“Now, very encouragingly, women are not considering themselves to be any different from men as far entrepreneurship is considered. This is a huge change. There are more and more women stepping out,” said Nidhi Agarwal, founder of Kaaryah, a fashion portal for women’s wear that raised money from Tata Sons Chairman Emeritus Ratan Tata in June.

The technology-assisted pro-start-up culture is helping many women break barriers and come to the forefront to run businesses, big and small.

“Now, women are more into technology than in the previous years. Digital media has also empowered them a lot more to come into entrepreneurship,” said Swati Bhargava, co-founder of cashback and coupons website Early this week, the two-year old start-up had raised Rs 25 crore from Kalaari Capital in Series A round of funding.

Indian start-ups raised over $ 5 billion (Rs 32,500 crore) this year from global investors, more than double the investments they received last year, according to a report on start-ups by Nasscom in October. The number of companies that raised funds almost doubled to over 400. At the same time, it found 50% increase in more women entrepreneurs compared to last year. Interestingly, women entrepreneurs constituted around 9% of founders who are less than 35 years.

Women founder-specific sessions at various start-up and technology events including that of Nasscom and other industry bodies, rise of women-focused angel investors and funds, point to a shift in acceptance of women entrepreneurs in the country.

“Women entrepreneurs, in general, bring a very measured approach to new ventures and on average have a better survival rate. Their ability to create incremental employment could be a game changer for India’s economy,” said Ajay Kela, President and CEO, Wadhwani Foundation that works for economic development in emerging nations.

All said this is just the tip of the ice-berg. Many hurdles still glare at those women with entrepreneurial zeal in them. The fact that almost all of the female-led start-ups that have raised funds this year are concentrated in the metros reveal the lack of women-centric avenues in smaller cities and towns.

“On an institutional level, it’s still difficult for women to get funding. There is a crucial social stereotype,” said Ankita Vashistha, founder and chief executive officer of Saha Fund, a woman-centric initiative that promotes women entrepreneurship and employment.

Padmaja Ruparel of Indian Angel Network says, “For any entrepreneur, starting out a company is still tough. Access to capital is not easy.”

While angels are willing to invest, there are only 490 active investors, a miniscule number, for a population of 1.2 billion. Even if there is access to capital, regulatory and legal hurdles remain major bottlenecks.

“If you look at money coming in at an early stage, companies do require a little bit of a runway to take the company further before they dilute equity through, let’s say, a VC. Debt sale is not available for these companies, especially for the ones who do not have assets to offer as collaterals. Women have a bigger problem here because of the social fabric that we have here,” said Ruparel.

Such problems are still dampeners for the overall growth of the start-up ecosystem. “Basics such as those at bank levels still exist. Women, sometimes, even find it difficult to open an account or secure loans since the collateral is often not in their name,” said Vashistha of Saha fund.

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