“I am the guy in the business,” says Kanika Seth in jest, the 26-year-old co-founder of Threesome, a New Delhi-based fashion startup. She says, “ she’s the man of the business because she handles most of the responsibilities.”
She co-founded Threesome with two friends and former batchmates at Pearl Academy of Fashion, New Delhi– Kanika, Mehak Pruthi and Ankit Sharma. She now works at the Academy while managing marketing and sales for the company.
“Startups can be really hard on your pocket and lot of money goes into it,” she explains. “Initially, we invested from savings and from home. But after a point, you actually feel that you need some sort of support to make it going. How long can you take money from home? And initially the business also suffers so you need a lot of money.”
“My parents thought I had lost it. Although they were very supportive, but at the same time, they persuaded me to opt for the higher studies.”
Her problems were also compounded when she faced problems in fund raising and much of this problem was due to the fact that investors didn’t take her seriously just because of being a woman.
Kanika’s story is just one example of the discrimination young women entrepreneurs often face in India. Women in India have a very small piece of the startups pie. Even in Bengaluru, which has emerged as the startup capital of the country and popularly called as the Silicon Valley of India; only 11 percent of startup founders are women, compared to the worldwide average of 15 percent, according to The Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2015 by San Francisco-based market research firm Compass.
Kanika and the likes of her continue to face discrimination—just because of their gender. “How seriously they would take a guy, they won’t take a girl,” she explains. It’s often because of the impression that a woman doesn’t need to start a business because she will get married eventually. There are many tasks that can be handled by men easily.
Sarita Digurmati, co-founder of Jigsaw Academy, a startup in Bengaluru that offers online courses in big data and data analytics, says, “Her life was easier as she has other male co-founder, Gaurav Vohra,”
“A large percentage of women take a break because of the motherhood,” says Sarita. She further adds, “To some extent there may be a loss of confidence specially, once you start taking a break and you try to come back,”
“And when it comes to entrepreneurship, one of the big things you do need is a strong support system and the ability to take big risks. And for a lot of women, I think, it becomes really hard.”
Ashwin Srivastava, co-founder and director at Idein Ventures, Mumbai, is of the view that corporate India often stereotypes women because of the perception that women entrepreneurs have certain responsibilities toward family and children, limiting their time to handle business.
“On a personal note, I have always believed some successful female entrepreneurs can be a little better than their male counterparts,”
Megha Bhaiya is another example of how women start-up entrepreneurs languish in our country. Megha founded InstaPro3D, a 3-D modelling start-up based in Delhi.
“I’ve never felt that I should have a male co-founder or something,” Megha said. “But, honestly speaking, being a female has extreme advantages and disadvantages. There is no midway like it is for guys.”
She further says, “For example, whenever I go for client meetings, they actually look at me giving the impression that ‘I don’t think it’s your cup of tea’.”
Some start-up mentors and advisors, on the other hand, believe that there are emerging role models for women start-up entrepreneurs. The success of female founders of Wishberry, ShopClues, ApartmentAdda and Let’sVenture, have forced people to change their perception.
“Things now are much better than before especially at early stage level,” said Sharad Sharma, an angel investor in Wishberry at Let’sVenture, Bengaluru. “There is no difference in the amount of funding based on gender biases.”
Guhesh Ramanatha, CEO of Excubator, a company mentoring the startups, says: “he doesn’t understand the reason behind so few women entrepreneurs in the country.”
“At Excubator, in the last couple of years, I’ve met with thousands of start-ups but the number of women entrepreneurs or women in start-up team as entrepreneurs, we’ve probably met about 50 of them, not more than that,” he says.
“It is not that women entrepreneurs are not able to raise money or women entrepreneurs have different career goals. It puzzles me because I don’t see teams coming across which are led by women.”
Indian Institute of Management Bengaluru (IIM-B) has a special program called Management Program for Women Entrepreneurs (MPWE) specially designed for women entrepreneurs.
“Maybe about 40 to 50 participants are there in the program which lasts about six months,” says Ramanathan, who was a part of IIM Bengaluru’s N S Raghavan Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning.
“A lot of women aspiring entrepreneurs are coming over there. Even there, I’ve not seen too many of them actually convert to becoming an entrepreneur.” Says Ramanathan.
Why is it so tough for a woman to run a startup in India? It’s largely because doing a business was often discouraged in the middle class. Most of the families also believed that it’s very difficult for Indian women to deal with the greasy part of the business. The perception is changing slowly.