Women Entrepreneurs: A conversation

‘In The Field’ is a show that attempts to capture India’s development story, as it happens, through a feature-style podcast that combines interviews, commentary, and debate. They are very interested in the debates around gender and work. Women face a number of constraints while running their businesses, and women are constantly strategizing on how to balance their domestic responsibilities while facing prejudice as women business owners. I had the opportunity to participate in a conversation on the challenges women business owners face when interacting with suppliers, financiers, and other stakeholders in their ecosystems.

In the episode, (Listen to audio recording below) women entrepreneurs and experts discussed how crucial social interactions within business ecosystems work to enable or limit the aspirations of women entrepreneurs. The participating experts were Professors Vidya Soundararajan at IIT Bombay, myself, Jeemol Unni at Ahmedabad University, Kanika Bansal, Mridulya Narasimhan, and Aishwarya Joshi and Preethi Rao, Diksha Singh, and Keerthana Ramaswamy. The episode was brought together by LEAD at Krea University, an action-oriented research center based in India. WE Hub Foundation of the Government of Telangana was this study’s partner.

In LEAD, KREA University’s podcast on interactions with women entrepreneurs, I speak on insights from our book ‘Women Entrepreneurs in the Indian Middle Class’. (Especially 8.39 mins to 11.25 mins and 30.13 to 30.47 mins). Listen to this interesting conversation here:

https://open.spotify.com/episode/2x62A0kQ9haiTuXm4hwvB7

Some more excerpts from our book:

What was the motivation for writing a book? My research interest is in the fortune of small enterprises, including the micro enterprises in the informal sector. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) measured the level of entrepreneurship across countries. In 2013 entrepreneurship level in India was ranked one of the lowest in the world.  Compared to its peers, with similar level of development, India ranked below average on job growth expectations, innovation and internationalization. In fact, India ranked far below Sub-Saharan Africa in terms of innovative orientation. This was a motivation for the book and also my consistent belief that improving size, scale, technology and productivity in small and micro enterprises will boost not just growth, but also the living standards in India.

Women’s decision to become an entrepreneur can be precipitated by both push and pull factors. It is not just ‘profit’ and attaining ‘scale’ that motivates a women entrepreneur.  The economist’s definition of an entrepreneur as risk-taking, innovators looking for an opportunity, or that of the psychologist as high achievers may not suit these women entrepreneurs. “Entrepreneurship can result from necessity as well as opportunity and women entrepreneurs pursue goals beyond economic gains”. There often is a social objective as well.

Challenges faced and Opportunities for women entrepreneurs: In the book we also recorded interviews with women entrepreneurs presenting the challenges they faced in their journey while setting up and expanding their business.

Financially, most of the women entrepreneurs in our case studies used informal sources of finance, which was their own money or money borrowed from family or friends. Women entrepreneurs from the manufacturing or construction sectors, however, availed bank loans to buy machinery and set up their units. In two cases, women entrepreneurs sought funding from venture capitalists to scale their business. At the same time, two other women entrepreneurs shared that they preferred to stay away from the venture capitalist network due to the fear of losing control and the core essence of their business. 

Many of our women entrepreneurs revealed that there was a gender bias against women entrepreneurs in industry, society and government departments. Our study noted that there is a need to design ‘woman-friendly’ entrepreneurial ecosystems in India. The importance of a ‘social support network’, mentoring and role models, is a key factor to entrepreneurial success in the case of women entrepreneurs. Building this ecosystem and facilitating mentorship can play a key role in help creation of more women owned enterprises and their expansion. Overall, all cases recommended having faith in oneself, self-confidence, and pursuing the business idea with passion as the key to launching a venture successfully.

Enjoy the podcast and this post!

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