Almost a clarion call to women entrepreneurs in India, Founders in Heels says it's not about wearing the 'I don't give a damn' attitude; rather, it's about helping women entrepreneurs find their own voice.
The Founders in Heels initiative is the second from serial technology entrepreneurs Pearl Uppal and Gaurav Kachru, co-founders of 5ideas.in. A firm believer in 'female gut instinct' and the supreme ability to multi-task, the initiative focuses on providing knowledge, role models, mentors, advisors, connections and capital to women entrepreneurs in India through a multiple-city network.
"We will have community activity where peer networks will be created and the entire gamut of entrepreneurship mentoring support programmes will be conducted. The idea is to make the initiative local. So, for instance, there will be local mentors to conduct meet-ups of relevant people. Initially, we plan to have five to six city chapters and the cities on our radar are Delhi-NCR, Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad," says Kachru, whose first venture was Startup Superfuel, a seed-stage fund and accelerator for early-stage technology companies launched in 2012.
Post their second venture, hopefully, we will hear the tinkle of broken glass more often as women entrepreneurs are encouraged to not only reach for the sky but break the glass ceiling. It's not about encouraging women to 'join the men's club'. After all, that would only reinforce the stereotype that's holding back women. It's about helping women business owners rise above self-doubt in a male-dominated world, to explore their full potential.
She-Preneurs Have An Edge
Pearl Uppal, co-founder of 5ideas, is passionate about seeing women take the wheel. "Women entrepreneurs enjoy a clear advantage in building path-breaking businesses in family, technology, education, health, food, lifestyle, fashion, beauty and segments where a large part of the consumption is controlled or heavily influenced by women.
But, in India, the start-up scene, both at the entrepreneur end and the venture capital end, is largely dominated by men. "Self-doubt among women entrepreneurs, lack of coding knowledge and connections to developer talent, lack of business and mentoring networks and male-dominated access to capital are the leading reasons for this," she reveals.
Kachru adds that he has witnessed, first-hand, the attitude corporates harbour toward women. His wife wanted to return to the corporate world after having a baby. Although she had the same perspective on her career that she had two years ago, no corporate house was prepared to accept a woman with a two-year break in her career, he points out.
Helping Small Businesses Scale Up
Scaling up small businesses too is tough for many women who kick off their ventures very well but stumble at the first post for lack of support. "My mother used to run an art consulting firm but she didn't know how to scale up. We are trying to enable women like these to go to the next level. There are excellent businesses that women can create with the help of knowledge and support," Kachru reasons.
Since 5ideas.in rolled out its Founders in Heels campaign to hunt for volunteers, many she-preneurs and mentors have written in. "The response is encouraging. Many senior women professionals have volunteered for the initiative," says Kachru. Asked whether all mentors for the programme would be women, he replies, "Although a large number of mentors would be women, it won't be exclusively women."
Uppal and Kachru's first initiative Startup Superfuel operates in the technology domain. Will they be focusing on technology-oriented businesses in their Founder in Heels initiative too? Kachru replies, "Our aim is to target high-growth companies. Even if we don't concentrate on technology, today's entrepreneurship revolves around tech. About 80 per cent of businesses are likely to be from the technology sector."
Funding The Initiative
The initiative, where chapter-level meets will be conducted, would initially be funded by 5ideas.in. "We have set aside a small sum of Rs 25 lakh right now for the chapters to be set up, and over a period of time will be moving them to be a self-sustainable engagement where the chapter members would contribute. It is an enabling network rather than a for-profit forum," Kachru elaborates.
Through these chapter-level meets, 5ideas.in aims to connect women entreprenuers with mentors, but whether capital would be committed is not clear. "Some angels who have committed to us will be a part of the chapters. We may or may not end up investing. But women entrepreneurs must remember that this is not an awards programme. The focus will always be on the three pillars -- Knowledge, Connections and Mentoring," Kachru says.
He believes that women need to start focusing on good, scalable businesses. "Scale is essential as many women start small business and they may be running them but they don't think of scaling up." If women entrepreneurs take up the gauntlet, Founders in Heels may be on the verge of nurturing the next local business to go global.
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