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It's all about family: What ails women entrepreneurs in India

If your idea is good, solves a real problem and impacts a lot of people, there is no reason why anyone should bother about your gender, says 30 year-old Minnat Lalpuria Rao, Founder and Managing Director 7Vachan.com, a wedding consultant company, a three year old firm in Mumbai.

“If you have potential, you get funded. It is only about that one factor,” says Rao, an Indian School of Business (ISB) graduate.

But is Rao too optimistic? India ranks a distant low at 70 among 77 countries in Female Entrepreneurship Index, by Global Entrepreneurship and Development Institute (GEDI) . Keeping company with India are neighbours Bangladesh at 75 and Pakistan at the bottom of the heap. In an earlier survey done  in 2013 on women entrepreneurship, India ranked 16 among 17 countries on the list with only Uganda below it.

 Its all about family: What ails women entrepreneurs in India

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So what ails entrepreneurship in Indian women? Firstpost spoke to a cross section of experts.

One of the reasons for the dismal number of women in the startup ecosystem is that women entrepreneurs both existing and potential, are scared to dream big, says Harsh Kapur Pillai, Founder Director of Terragni Consulting.

She reasons that this is not because they lack imagination or capability but “they fear an imbalance within their work and family priorities.” It is one of the most common grouses for women showing up less on the entrepreneurship map.

Rao of 7Vachan says family support is a must. “You cannot function if you don’t have family support, spousal support.”

Family ties that constrict

Family concerns can nip many a entrepreneurial idea at its roots.

“Women prioritising family (child) compulsions, especially during their prime [years]  needs to change as not only women miss out on this potential goldmine of an opportunity, but businesses and society at large are missing out on having the benefit of smart, dynamic and very capable women entrepreneurs, who traditionally are much better than average men in their organizational skills, financial acumen, and management abilities," Safir Adeni, President of the Hyderabad chapter of The Indus Entrepreneur (TiE), said .

The country has been tradition-bound and some societies even today in India prefer women taking up `safe’ jobs that do not disrupt their family lives. Besides, women are not considered primary bread winners in most families, says Professor Kavil Ramachandran, Executive Director of the Thomas Schmidheiny Centre for Family Enterprise at ISB.

"In many parts of the country, entrepreneurship used to be looked down upon. Their exposure and access to resources including finance, materials and market are constrained by their background while these are critical components for setting up a successful venture," Ramachandran said.

"Their education is also tuned to jobs, if at all. There are several other challenges of mobility, ease of interacting with buyers and sellers, who are all mostly men, especially when she does not have the knowledge of the tricks of each trade with her. In essence, the situation is a manifestation of the general status of women in our society, with more challenges included,” he said.

Survey focussed on wrong entrepreneurs?

Has the survey focussed only on a section of women entrepreneurs who live in urban settings and are educated? At least that is what Ratna Viswanathan Deputy CEO, Microfinance Institutions Network (MFIN) believes. There are more women in the semi-urban and rural unorganized sector in India who are entrepreneurs, she says, surprised at the survey results.

“I feel the survey is focussing on the urban, educated woman with access to education, who occupy a very small space. What about the substantial numbers of women in the unorganised sector who run homes and are doing business be it running a kirana shop, beauty parlours, tailoring shops, selling papads, pickles, etc?" Vishwanathan said.

"This large body of women, that are based out of rural regions who have become entrepreneurs may not be acknowledged in the general sense of the word. They are the hidden slice in the entrepreneurship pie but a substantial one that contributes brilliantly to the ecosystem,” she said.

If lack of capital was the main reason why there were less women on the entrepreneurial horizon earlier, that has changed over the years.

MFN provides unsecured loans to a lakh of rupees, says Vishwanathan. "Ninety nine percent of our customers are women. We have a lending amount of Rs 40,000 crore in the market and 90 percent of the people who take the funds are women. Some of them borrow the funds to do business themselves while others take it to fund men to start their business," she said.

Why is the survey focussing only on women entrepreneurs, some asked. The startup culture is not that old in India, they said. "Are there enough start-ups in the country for a population of around 1.2 billion," asks Ramesh Loganathan, President (Hyderabad Software Enterprise Association HYSEA) and Managing Director, Progress Software and a mentor for startups.

"To consider gender and make that a differentiator is ridiculous," he said, adding as a country we have been late starters, and will take time in acquiring visibility that matters.

What women entrepreneurs need? More encouragement

So what are the solutions to bridge this skewed ratio of men versus women entrepreneurs in the country? One of the ways is to  build an ecosystem comprising of funders, advisers, government, banking systems and media that celebrates female entrepreneurship, Terragni Consulting's Pillai said.

It is impossible to bring about a radical change in the society overnight. Hence, the best approach is to address specific challenges. Professor Ramachandran of ISB lists some of the steps that can be taken be towards training women in entrepreneurship and management of ventures that should be designed to meet their requirements.

"The ISB designed programme under the Goldman Sachs 10000 Women Entrepreneurs Programme in India has trained  women in multiple phases, spread over several months. Such class room-cum-mentoring programmes help women transform themselves while addressing several challenges. Our design was found to be one of the most effective models worldwide. We have a large pool of mentors available across the country, whose talent is lying underutilised,” he said.

There is a lot being written and spoken about women entrepreneurs. But that is not enough, believes Loganathan of HYSEA. He feels unless women have a first-person contact with a woman entrepreneur and hear from them their success strategy, more women will continue to shy from taking the entrepreneurial ropes.

"Women need to feel that anyone can startup and not just that `brilliant’ woman who is being written about.” he said.

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Updated Date: Jun 26, 2015 14:14:12 IST