HerStory voices — making 2017 different

HerStory voices — making 2017 different

Thursday December 15, 2016,

15 min Read

Lessons from this year and what needs to change in 2017 as regards women in business. 

As 2016 wraps up and we find ourselves on the threshold of 2017, it is yet again time to look back on the year that was, what we learnt, and what we can (hopefully) carry forward into the year that awaits. As we look forward to 2017, we spoke with some women in business to discover how 2016 went and to understand the changes and developments they hope can become realities in the year to come.

Arpita Ganesh, Founder and CEO, Buttercups

 Lessons from 2016

“2016 was challenging. Two quick lessons for me — first, funding will NOT come easy, no matter how good your metrics, so keep all options open; and second, always remember to plan for at least six months more than you thought it would take to raise funds.”


Changes we need to see in 2017

As I always say, the challenges for women entrepreneurs are the same as those for men entrepreneurs. Government rebates pose a problem that needs addressing. Taxing us for services where we use foreign companies because Indian companies cannot provide the same service is appalling! Service tax and AV are leaving NO margins for retail businesses. I am not sure how much GST will help either.

Aditi Chaurasia, Co-founder, EngineerBabu

Lessons from 2016

Persistence and positive thinking always play their role sooner or later. Never give up hope, whatever be the difficulty. The startup journey is always tumultuous but it’s up to you to take it as a problem or as a challenge. I took it as a challenge and learnt a lot.


Changes we need to see in 2017

The startup ecosystem needs to believe in women’s capabilities and confidence. Rather than focusing on their marriage and family plans, ask them about their startup plans. Women are capable enough to give both things equal importance.

Deepa Subramaniam, Founder and Creative Head, Galerie De'Arts

Lessons from 2016

Demonetisation was a big bomb that the Modi government dropped. The war on corruption has left the cash-only economy cash less. The effect on small entrepreneurs, however, has been huge, with the instant drop in sales resulting in an alteration of the strategies and budgets anticipated for the year. The one big lesson that it has taught us is that nothing is permanent in life and business and reversed the proverbial truth to ‘penny foolish, pound wise'.


Changes we need to see in 2017

Although the 2016–17 budget seemed promising for women, it is not easy for women entrepreneurs to sustain their efforts as the challenges are far too many.

In order to realise the benefits of the various measures budgeted, it is also equally important to periodically review the impact of these measures on the success rate of women entrepreneurs.

Hansa Sinha, Co-founder and Director, Genesys Consulting Private Limited & Creative Imprints LLP

Lessons from 2016

For us, 2016 was a risk year and it ended successfully as all the risks we took were worth taking. From expansion and investing in a third venture to hiring more employees and setting up shop in new locations, we took all the risks.

We took risks as we believed in our efforts, and those who believe, never fail.


Changes we need to see in 2017

In 2017, we need to sustain our efforts and continue with a better pace. The government, through its schemes, awards, and media and social media coverage, is already giving powerful and impactful attention to women’s achievements; it just needs to make efforts so that its schemes and opportunities reach the grassroots level and general masses where many women are waiting to be recognised.

Startups and women-specific associations need more investments, easy governmental guidance for e-processes, tax benefits and exemptions, easy process of bank loans, and rural reach to maximise employment. We need awareness of schemes for startups and business loans at reasonable interest rates.

Nidhi Agarwal, Founder and CEO, Kaaryah

Lessons from 2016

2016 was a year of great learning for us, both in terms of the challenges we faced and what we did not just to counter them but to convert them into success stories. I realised that apart from funding, patience and persistent courage are great pillars for startups.


Changes we need to see in 2017

I do think a simple thing like safety for women is an issue in the Indian environment. It is so basic but still such a large problem!

Nidhi Bala, Founder, Tanzeb

Lessons from 2016

Keep taking steps forward, no matter how small or big they are. Give your soul to things you love and just ignore the negative vibes and noises around you. You will reach where you are meant to be. Trust your karma.

Travel as much as you can or take as many breaks as you can. Travel is the most amazing teacher if one is mindful.


Changes we need to see in 2017

Our entrepreneurial tribe needs support and primarily from a woman who stands for another woman. The government must encourage women by focusing on their collective needs.

Prachi Garg, Author and Founder, Ghoomophiro

Lessons from 2016

Be open-minded and do not restrict yourself from taking risks.


Changes we need to see in 2017

More platforms and events that allow women to connect and openly discuss their challenges and find ways to collaborate to get these challenges resolved. These platforms should act as knowledge-sharing mechanisms and more mentor-mentee stuff would help. These forums could also be used for crowdfunding. Moreover, more family support is required for aspiring women entrepreneurs. Government bodies need to be more flexible while dispensing funds.

Parimala Hariprasad, Senior UX Architect, Amadeus Software Labs

Lessons from 2016

2016 was a great year of fabulous challenges and achievements. Three lessons I learned are:

We have to fight our own battles. Our near and dear ones might walk along and help us cope with our battles, but we still have to walk the talk.

We have to choose which battles to fight, wisely. One comes across several battles in a lifetime — some with ourselves and some with others. One needs to choose wisely which battles to fight and which to ignore in order to maintain one’s sanity.

There is enough goodness for everyone in this world (a recurring lesson I learned again this year).


Changes we need to see in 2017

In general, it is best to create ecosystems where men and women come together and solve women's challenges inclusively rather than setting up purely women-centric groups (some of which end up as gossip groups, with due respect to such groups). Having said that, we need to create secure environments where women can speak about their challenges in open places without any fear of being judged or stereotyped.

There have to be better funding platforms for women entrepreneurs. Government policies for supporting women-led enterprises have to improve. Talent and skill, rather than gender, should be the parameters that matter.

Summi Gambhir, Co-founder, DigiVation

Lessons from 2016

2016 has been a particularly good year and one with many milestones in my entrepreneurial journey. I was able to put the work-life balance to a real test, living in New York City for most of the year, several thousand miles away from my business; going through my pregnancy; and now to be rearing my 10-week baby and yet feeling entirely connected to my business and team. The year reinforced my belief that perseverance and patience are almost the only ways to drive assured success.


Changes we need to see in 2017

If women entrepreneurs and women-owned companies were not singled out for special notice, I would have believed we had arrived. That would be the day — we would be treated on par and would not need special recognition or concessions. I wish that happens in 2017. I am already seeing the beginnings of that. In our earlier years, I was invariably asked how my 'project' was doing — now I'm asked how my 'business' is doing. Clearly, I'm taken more seriously now! 

Tina Garg, CEO, Pink Lemonade

Lessons from 2016

One of the many things this year has taught me is how to be a better leader. As the organisation grows, you realise that the mindset will change, and you must accept that there will be hiccups along the way. Change and growth are always painful. Think of a caterpillar emerging from its cocoon and transforming into a butterfly. Only when the butterfly emerges can its beauty be seen, and the picture changes completely. Similarly, when an organisation grows, teething troubles are inevitable.


Changes we need to see in 2017

Firstly, I hope to see better and more diverse speakers at women’s entrepreneurship events. It’s usually the same crowd of delegates and participants at virtually all startup events. I’d also like to see more courses tailored to the specific needs of women and aligned to their everyday issues — micro courses such as brand immersion, validating your business idea, and financing. It would also greatly help if these courses could run alongside the business, and not before.

One thing that definitely needs to change is the services offered to SMEs. We need to learn about things such as HR, leadership training, strategy, business analytics — the small things we need when we start out. This could be done either through a subscription model or a six-month model. Most investors, unfortunately, look at large organisations from a macro point of view but I feel they need to shift focus because SMEs are going to be huge in the coming years. They need to package their services differently and make them available to women entrepreneurs as well.

For women specifically, perhaps the government could launch tailored MOOCs. This would allow women and stay-at-home mothers to undergo training from home, equipping them with the skills for when they return to work. I’m talking about serious, structured programmes and not just run-of-the-mill stuff. I don’t think anyone is doing this in the Indian context; nobody has planned these for women. It could be a huge opportunity.

Meghna Saraogi, Founder, StyleDotMe

Lessons from 2016

I firmly believe that people with passion can change the world, so be passionate, hustle, and things will work out the way you want.

I have faced immense challenges to reach where I am today and am still struggling, but giving up is not an option for me. So if you start something, go all the way, or else don't start.


Changes we need to see in 2017

I feel women are more confident now and just need more opportunities to explore, learn, and grow. I would be happy to see more women mentors and investors sharing their stories, being part of more groups and events so that they are accessible for a quick chat. I have been lucky enough to meet some inspiring women entrepreneurs, which has made a difference to my life. I know there are funds only for women founders but there is not much awareness about them. We need more women entrepreneurs who have reached a certain milestone to step ahead and help the ones who have just entered the startup ecosystem.

Aafreen Ansari, Co-founder and COO, MyChildApp

Lessons from 2016

2016 has been a roller coaster. One important lesson I have learned is that if you give things enough time, everything falls into place, and even if it doesn't, it's for our own good. Patience always helps.


Changes we need to see in 2017

I was going through a bunch of articles and found that women today form 15 percent of the entire corporate sector. I believe that is one area where I would like to see the change. The cultural and gender acceptance needs to improve. If we provide a healthy and gender-neutral environment, women will be encouraged to step into this area with greater confidence.

Surabhi Dewra, Founder, CareerGuide.com

Lessons from 2016

2016 saw a rise of women leaders in a way that had never happened before. In the USA, Hillary Clinton was selected as the Democratic presidential candidate and it was an election to watch for. In the UK, Theresa May became the Prime Minister in July 2016 followed by the Brexit referendum. Angela Merkel is already the German Chancellor, and Norway’s Prime Minister is also a woman — Erna Solberg. It seemed that there is an increase of power in the hands of women. It would be great to see that continuing in the next year. This will not only bring equality and respect to women but also give encouragement to millions of women across the world.


Changes we need to see in 2017

In the coming year, I would expect a real support system, not just superficial motivation, for women entrepreneurs.

Firstly, let’s say no to networking events and media hype. It has become a fad to set up national and international conferences. However, instead of inspirational quotes, motivational talks, and seminars, real tangible support is required. It’s not about events, blogs, and news articles but real help, i.e., help in starting and making a sustainable business. The government should be looking at building policies towards easing up the business setup process and taxation for women-led companies to encourage them more.

Elsa Marie D’Silva, Founder and CEO, Safecity

Lessons from 2016

2016 was a brilliant year for me, personally and professionally. Some of the lessons I want to share:

  • It takes time to establish your organisation. So keep focused and plan strategically.
  • You have to think out of the box if you want to be innovative and sustainable.
  • Pick your team carefully. I pick mine for values and passion.
  • Always evaluate if you are adding value to your team, your clients, and your constituency.
  • Be grateful and always try to give back, especially to women. Make space for them. Reach back and give them a hand.
  • Finally, make time for self-care. I believe in work-life integration.

 Changes we need to see in 2017

I want to see a more inclusive and cohesive startup ecosystem, access to funds and mentorship, and networking opportunities at the local and regional levels.

 Manisha Kathooria, Co-founder, Consultant at Kays Harbor Technologies Private Limited

 Lessons from 2016

The lesson I would like to share with my fellow entrepreneurs is not to lose focus of your existing clients in the race to onboard new business.


 Changes we need to see in 2017

2016 has seen some interesting initiatives from the government, incubation centres, and VCs in creating new ways to encourage women as entrepreneurs, and that deserves applause. However, I believe this is just a small part of how more women and leaders can be seen on the entrepreneurial and professional front. I feel a real shift has to happen in the way our society is tuned and wired, how women perceive themselves, and how our society perceives them. More initiatives need to be taken at the elementary, family, and social levels, where this perception stems from.

Vidushi Daga, CEO and Co-founder, CloneFutura

Lessons from 2016

For me, the year has been like a roller coaster with many good moments. As an entrepreneur, one needs to understand how to maintain success and move past failures. This helps one be more productive.


Changes we need to see in 2017

I didn’t wait for the government to come with the right policies or for systems to get in place. I just started and took it all the way because I had the drive, foresight, and ambition. It’s never going to be easy and there are always going to be things that work against us. But don’t let that decide what you are going to be today and tomorrow. A strong woman understands that gifts such as logic, decisiveness, and strength are just as FEMININE as intuition and emotional connection. Every woman must value and use all her gifts and believe in her dreams. The rest will fall in place as it has to.

Rashi Menda, CEO, Zapyle 

Lessons from 2016

I’ve learnt two things through the business this year. Firstly, always stay on your toes and react to your customers’ needs promptly. Secondly, I learnt that while most entrepreneurs focus on a long-term five-year business plan with a clear vision for the future, you also have to recognise the customers’ responses and fulfil their needs in the present because there's no future without that. This is why we not only started off with one thing and ended up on a slightly different route but we also heard our customer.


Changes we need to see in 2017

As of now, 14 percent of business establishments in the country are being run by female entrepreneurs. This means, out of the 58.5 million functional businesses, only 8.05 million have a female boss, and most of these women-run companies are small-scale and about 79 percent of them are self-financed.

I think India’s poor numbers are because of unequal inheritance rights; a lot of women feel they have to try twice as hard as men to be taken seriously, and there’s a huge shortage of women role models in India.

We need more initiatives on women entrepreneurship, where more events are held and more women are sharing their stories. In fact, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has a special interest in the Indian startup sector, had recently launched the Stand Up India scheme, under which banks will be giving loans of up to Rs 1 crore to SCs, STs, and female entrepreneurs. We need more schemes like these to empower and emancipate women entrepreneurs. My personal suggestion — no tax for innovative startups run by women entrepreneurs.

The fact of the matter at this point is that men are still leading the Indian startup scene, but I’m sure it won’t be long before girl bosses catch up because they really do have the potential and passion to do so.

From mentorship, more funding, and ease of doing business to access to more resources and a change in social mindset, a lot needs to change in 2017. What will give and what will not, only time will tell. Meanwhile, women in business need to not only persevere but also push hard for the changes they want to see.

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