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India’s incubation ecosystem must foster woman entrepreneurship

There is evidence that suggests that women entrepreneurs offer unique assets and abilities, and strengthen supply chains

By Monica Mehta

With people still reeling under the effects of the pandemic and with the festive season on, one cannot but help but remember Maa Durga, the all-powerful, feisty female deity, who triumphed over evil all by herself. According to folklore, the Goddess was bestowed with 10 arms, all of which she put to good use to protect her people and carry out her responsibilities.

Many would agree that the same goes for most women — and if I am allowed to be biased, at least Indian women. From managing homes and careers to managing businesses, Indian women have become adept at juggling many roles and have come a long way.

It is heartening to see women-founded start-ups such as Mobikwik, Yatra, Zivame, Nykaa, SlideShare, Sheroes, and Fresh Menu taking the Indian start-up ecosystem by storm. Looking at these, one might begin to believe that all is hunky-dory in the world of entrepreneurship as far as equal opportunities and gender biases are concerned. But a deeper look at the statistics reveals that the real story is quite the opposite.

Lags behind

Today, India has a total of 58.5 million entrepreneurs, and 8.05 million of those are women entrepreneurs, which adds up to only 14 per cent of women entrepreneurs in India. A majority of the start-ups and new businesses in India over the last decade have been founded by men. The primary causes of low female entrepreneurship rates in India are unconscious biases, low confidence in business skills, restricted access to finance and networks, a lack of family support and child-care options, as well as insufficient safety in work and public spaces.

Given, the current social fabric of India, women have to overcome many social, cultural and financial barriers in the process of job creation, as entrepreneurs.

Does this mean that women are less inclined than their male counterparts to take the plunge and take entrepreneurship as a career option? Are a majority of women still “chicken-hearted” when it comes to starting their own business? Or are Indian women merely better task executioners than taskmasters? It is actually none of these. While many Indian women have entrepreneurial ambitions, it is often more difficult for them to succeed.

The reality check

The above points are alarming, indeed, and most people would agree that in any progressive society, women entrepreneurs should be given equal opportunities as their male counterparts. However, the burning question here is — is social justice the primary reason why women entrepreneurs should be encouraged and provided with all the mentoring support possible? If you thought so, it’s time for a reality check.

There is evidence from research which suggests that women entrepreneurs were found to open new markets, offer unique assets and abilities, and strengthen and diversify supply chains. Women entrepreneurs also look at dealing with problems differently. Often, they look at customer satisfaction through the lens of empathy, which in turn is the key to business success.

It is not rocket science to acknowledge that men and women are, more often than not, bestowed with different senses and sensibilities. What business sense does it make then to ignore the sensibilities of the traditional fairer sex who have proved time and again that their business acumen is as sharp as anyone else’s?

The crucial role of incubators

It is time that India’s incubation ecosystem recognised the value that a woman entrepreneur brings to the table and foster woman entrepreneurship through incubators that aim at helping women-led businesses to navigate challenges that crop up particularly in the incubation period or the initial years of a venture.

These incubators will be tailor-made to address the needs of women-led ventures in the formative years of the venture. There are already a few in India like WE-HUB, WSquare’s W-Incubate, Women Biotechnology Incubator, Womennovator, but the battle is far from over. We need several more to support women with equal opportunities to continue their winning streak.

The hope of more women-led unicorns

Investors only invest in a venture if they see it has the potential to become successful irrespective of whether it is founded by a man or a woman. So, while we may talk about the boy’s club and the need to have more investors for women entrepreneurs in India, the fact is that we need to support our women through networks and programmes to develop companies and ideas at par with any other.

So, as we continue to see the Indian start-up ecosystem thrive and grow, let’s hope to see more women-led unicorns in its next decade of growth.

Source: The Hindu Businessline