Rethinking female entrepreneurship on Womens day

I have been asked this question on a more than a couple of occasions by representatives from the media and stakeholders from the startup community: What is the percentage of female entrepreneurs / founders at Startup Village? I distinctly remember Rasheeda Bhagat, a senior journalist with the Hindu Business Line, asking me that question after gleefully playing around with the Blackberry phone controlled car at the Blackberry Innovation Zone.

Well, the honest answer is that, as with most tech startup ecosystems, the proportion is rather low. The tech startup world as it stands now is predominantly a male dominated industry segment. The ensuing conversations have always been around why is this so and what can be done to bring in more women to the fold. It is always the why that leads to more interesting discussions, more thoughtful insights and motivate us to action.

The very first female entrepreneur that we had at Startup Village is a really smart and bold girl named Pratheeksha. That she does not have a tech background (she is a graduate for Sacred Hearts, Thevara) while leading a tech startup company with ease makes it all the more impressive. She is one standout girl who is capable and determined. I have shared the stage with her on a couple of occasions during campus outreach sessions and there is always a different learning / insight each time I hear her story.

One theme that clearly emerged on all those talks is how much the support and understanding of her parents has really helped her and how much certain aspects of the societal fabric have been roadblocks in her entrepreneurial journey. What I would also like to mention here is that she was one of the very few entrepreneurs that made a distinctive impression with Ravi Gururaj and Raj Chinai of Harvard Business Angels. Ravi was talking about how impressed he was with her passion and tenacity and his keen interest in mentoring her during his recent visit to Startup Village.

Having said that, we also have a couple of husband wife pairs also among the Startup Village entrepreneurs. One notable pair behind the company that is being taken seriously by the VC world is Shiju & Chitra of iTraveller. The other companies that come to my mind are YummyBay, Phases & Enniloode. Ann came to Startup Village as an intern and by the time she was done with her term, she had started her own design company.I also come across very talented girls from among the student community as well. Im fully convinced that, its only a matter of time before people start hearing their success stories.

The first female entrepreneur that I have ever come across in my life and have had a very personal relationship with is my mom. (Yeah, the clich remarks about the boys and their mothers is not without a reason I guess. ) I would also like to note here that my sister very recently decided to take the entrepreneurial path with her venture in the HR domain, InFocuz.

We need a lot more Pratheeksha’s in our fold. Its clearly not a function of ability. The Pratheesksha’s of the world have proven time and again that there is nothing stopping them ability wise to go on and, in Steve Job’s words, make a dent in the universe. So the question and the conversation is and should only be around how do we enable this.

We, at Startup Village, are organizing a workshop today to initiate a dialogue around the matter. Its also a matter of honour that Shradha Sharma, the founder of YourStory.in, is the key speaker at the event. She is one amazing female that is pretty much giving all those tech guys in the field a run for their money. She has, in such a short amount of time, established herself as such a credible and influential voice in the tech startup ecosystem in India. And ever more interestingly, she also does not have a tech background. (I wonder there is any trend to be spotted there). I am so looking forward to hearing her story. Microsoft is also partnering and giving away some goodies to the females who are looking at taking the entrepreneurial path.

There have been several points that were discussed at various forums that I was part of on how to bring about this change. Some of the causes being cited as systemic and more to do with how the society has been structured; some of the measures suggested being sensitizing the society, encouraging more women to look at startup careers as an interim measure and provide avenues to enable them with digital marketing skills to leverage the power of the online world. (Have to remark that the power of the internet to democratize societal structures is fascinating)

But let me just stop there. What is more important is to hear from the people that matter, the women out there. It’s absolutely important that we understand the situation well before we jump into any conclusions and come up with recommendations and action plans. The women’s day provides an opportunity to rethink and act upon the renewed understanding. Do provide us with your thoughts, either as comments on this blog post or as an email (skg@startupvillage.in). Would be great to hear from you. And I fully understand, this is only the start of the conversation.