Women-led startups that got funded in 2016 — light at the end of the tunnel?


Despite 2016 being dubbed a difficult year, many women entrepreneurs managed to raise funding, something that has always been considered a key challenge for them. 

As the curtain falls on 2016, it seems women-founded startups are no longer out in the cold. Despite the ‘winter is coming’ rhetoric, capital flow did not freeze out and women-led companies raised funds this year.

In an ecosystem dotted with greater challenges for women than for men, 29 women-led companies feature on the list of 2016's 822 pre-Series A rounds tracked by us.

In terms of numbers, this shows that three percent of funding went to solo women founders while 117 companies that have women co-founders comprised 14 percent of startups that got funded this year.

Investment is a key challenge

According to a survey rolled out in April this year by Kstart and published by YourStory (a total of 505 respondents, 90 percent of them women) on the state of women’s entrepreneurship in India, the key discoveries were that among the challenges women entrepreneurs face, the primary one is lack of investor confidence, followed by gender bias.

Meghna Saraogi, Founder of StyleDotMe, a fashion discovery app, says, "I feel raising investment is never easy. I raised small ticket funding from Indian Angel Network in the beginning of this year after working on StyleDotMe for almost a year. In the past 10 months, we have shown immense growth, traction, visibility, built a strong team, done out-of-the-box marketing, and made headlines, but today, again, when I'm looking to raise the next round of funding, it's not an easy journey. So irrespective of a great idea and great product, finding the right investors is tough! I feel that demonetisation is going to make fundraising even more difficult.”

According to Sucharita Eashwar, Founder and CEO, Catalyst for Women Entrepreneurs, though access to finance is a common challenge for all entrepreneurs, women face some additional barriers — in terms of financial institutions' and investors' skepticism about their enterprises’ scalability and sustainability, as well as women's own diffidence in going for the funds required.

She says, “Investors need to keep aside those questions about the staying power and seriousness of women entrepreneurs and their interest in and commitment to their venture. Also, women entrepreneurs need to acknowledge themselves as capable businesswomen who can independently do whatever is required to create big business enterprises. Today, I see a few investors and financial institutions willing to back such entrepreneurs — Kstart is one of them. And that’s because we are seeing many women who are confidently stepping forward to claim their place in the startup and scale up landscape in India.”

“Funding for female entrepreneurs is definitely a challenge. However, our observation is that before looking at funding, more focus has to be given to the business viability of the product, process, marketing, managing cash flow, and technology to scale. Unless this is demonstrated to investors, funding will continue to be a challenge. We ensured that the first batch of women we mentored were given exposure and deep mentoring on all of these facts,” says Lathika Pai, Founder and Trustee of Sonder Connect.

Taking all these challenges into consideration, we compiled a list of women founders, their startups that raised funding, and the things they had to say about their journeys.

1) Aditi Chadha: DAZL

Aditi Chadha

Started by Aditi Chadha, this Gurgaon-based startup brings fashion and technology together. DAZL provides luxe smart jewellery that also provides location-based safety alerts to your loved ones.

This year, DAZL raised $10,500 from Vodafone. It is Vodafone's first seed investment in an Indian startup.

 2) Akanksha Hazari: m.Paani

Started by Akanksha Hazari, Mumbai-based m.Paani is a loyalty and marketing platform for local retailers to directly reach mass-market consumers.

This year, the company has raised a pre-Series A round led by Blume Ventures with participation from other angel investors such as Adil Allana, Founder, The Allana Group; Aprameya Radhakrishna, Founder of TaxiForSure; and Gautam Ivatury, Co-founder, MeraDoctor and Signal Point Partners.

Akanksha Hazari

Akanksha says, "2016 marked the move from a valuation-to unit economics-driven market. m.Paani is built on user obsession, innovation, strong business fundamentals, and frugality, and I believe companies with similar cultures will survive and thrive long term."

3) Ankita Puri, Sunita Maheshwari: HealthEminds

Bengaluru-based startup HealthEminds provides counselling and mental health support, both on the personal and professional front. Started by Ankita Puri in 2013, HealthEminds raised an undisclosed amount of pre-Series A funding this year from cricketer Robin Uthappa.

Ankita Puri

"Making a difference and positively impacting people on a daily basis is my biggest motivator. There is so much more to be done and that’s what constantly drives me,” Ankita had shared in an earlier interview with YourStory.

4) Apeksha Jain: The Gourmet Jar

As an economics graduate from Delhi University, Apeksha started The Gourmet Jar in 2012. Based out of Noida, Apekasha’s The Gourmet Jar produces a range of premium artisanal jams, marmalades, mustards, and relishes that are natural, handmade, and preservative-free. They also specialise in alcohol-infused jams. In November this year, this foodtech company raised an undisclosed amount from the Chandigarh Angels Network.

Apeksha Jain

"Along with money, I am looking to find investors who can add value to the product and help us grow in the right direction. Fingers crossed!"

Apeksha says, "Certainly, the situation around us has been difficult over the past year, but being a non-tech food brand, our experience has been slightly different. At The Gourmet Jar, our concept is more traditional and tangible, and the business model is based on strong fundamentals like profitability and sustainability, focusing on steady growth. For me, being able to raise funds in a tough environment is a validation of the potential and strength of our brand."

5) Arpita Ganesh: Buttercups

The Indian Bra Queen, Arpita Ganesh started innovative lingerie brand Buttercups in 2014.

Arpita Ganesh

Based out of Bengaluru, this year the company raised an undisclosed amount in pre-Series A from Anand Chandrasekaran, Kanwaljit Singh, and Manoj Varghese.

Arpita says, “This year was definitely tough for us, but the good part is when times get tough is when you come up with the most radical ideas, and for us, those ideas are working. So it's been a bittersweet year, but one which has definitely made us stronger."

6) Arshya Lakshman: Milofy

Arshya Lakshman

Arshya Lakshman started Milofy in December 2015. A couple-socialising app, it aims to get like-minded couples together to engage in activities such as outdoor sports, theatre, and creative classes.

A graduate of the University of Strathclyde, Arshya has worked with Kalaari Capital. This year, the startup raised $740,000 in pre-Series A from Accel Partners and marks the latter’s first investment in a social networking app.

7) Avneet Makkar, Saraswathy A: CarveNiche

Avneet Makkar

Started in 2010, CarveNiche is an education technology company that offers innovative products and solutions for schools and colleges. Started by two women who had been colleagues at Infosys for more than a decade, it is headquartered in Bengaluru.

Their initial one and a half years spent on product development received a thrust from Mumbai Angels, who put in an angel round of Re 1 crore.

This year, the company has raised an undisclosed amount as pre-Series A by Calcutta Angels, Lead Angels, and others.

 8) Dilpreet Brar: medECUBE

Dilpreet Brar

Gurgaon-based medECUBE is a healthcare concierge service. Founded by Dilpreet Brar in 2015, it helps patients get access to doctors in major hospitals and clinics.

In March this year, they raised Series A funding of Rs 25 crore from Artiman Ventures.

 9) Falguni Nayar: Nykaa

Falguni Nayar

Nykaa is an e-commerce company started in 2012. The brainchild of investment banker-turned-entrepreneur Falguni Nayar (ex-Kotak Mahindra MD), the company raised $12,300,000 this year from Sunil Munjal and the Mariwala family.

 10) Himanshi Goyal: Wired Hub

Himanshi Goyal

In February 2016, Himanshi Goyal launched co-working space Wired Hub. The startup raised an undisclosed amount in pre-Series A from Ankit Maheshwari and Anand Singh.

 11) Kanika Subbiah: Wedding Wishlist

Kanika Subbiah

Founded by Kanika Subbiah early this year, Wedding Wishlist is a gifting service that helps prospective couples receive the gifts they need to start their new life, from family and friends. It is based on the concept of a wedding gift registry in India.

The company raised pre-Series A funding of Rs 2 crore from Kirthiga Reddy, Renuka Ramanath, and CherryTin, among others.

 12) Manisha Lath Gupta, Tara Roy: Mojarto

Manisha Lath Gupta started IndiaArtCollectors in 2005, which was later rebranded as Mojarto.

Manisha Lath Gupta

A democratic platform for artists, galleries, buyers, and dealers, the company raised $445,000 from undisclosed investors.

13) Mansi Zaveri: Kidsstoppress

Mumbai-based Kidsstoppress is a children’s lifestyle website that helps parents make informed decisions. Started in 2013 by Mansi Zaveri, the company raised an undisclosed amount from Karan Bhagat.

Mansi Zaveri

On the subject of funding, Mansi holds, “While this year has been marked as difficult from a macro level for a lot of startups, we successfully concluded our round of funding. Or continuous interactions with potential investors indicate that they are now looking deeper into the path to profitability/unit economics and sustainable business model metrics and are willing to wait more before committing to a new relationship.”

 14) Mausumi Acharyya: Advenio

Mausumi Acharyya

Founded by Mausumi AcharyyaAdvenio develops artificial intelligence-based software for diagnosing medical images. This year, the company raised $100,000 (Rs 67 lakh) in pre-series A from Kstart.

 15) Meghna Saraogi: Styledotme

Founded by Meghna Saraogi, Delhi-based fashion app Styledotme allows consumers to instantly poll and get votes on their fashion choices.

Meghna Saraogi

The app also gives expert advice from various bloggers and stylists. This year, the company raised $37,000 as pre-Series A from Indian Angel Network.

 16) Nidhi Saxena: Zoctr

Nidhi Saxena

A Mumbai-based home healthcare startup, Zoctr offers services like home lab pickups, online pharma, teleconsulting, health checkups, and other emergency support.

Founded by Nidhi Saxena, Zoctr raised an undisclosed amount by Times Group.

17) Nupur Khanna, Anisha Dhar: Eatonomist

Nupur Khanna and Anisha Dhar

Founded in November 2014, Eatonomist is a Gurgaon-based foodtech startup that delivers meals.

This year, the company raised an undisclosed amount in pre-Series A investment from MCube Capital Advisors Pvt Ltd.

18) Pragya Upadhyay, Renu Bisht: VanityCube

Started by Pragya Upadhyaya and Renu Bisht in 2014, Gurgaon-based VanityCube delivers on-demand professional and affordable beauty services at your doorstep in as soon as 90 minutes. Currently, it provides its services in Mumbai and Delhi.

Pragya Upadhyay and Renu Bisht

This year, the company raised $300,000 as its pre-Series A from Unicorn Ventures. VanityCube had secured an undisclosed amount of funding from prominent angels within six months of starting up last August.

Renu says, "Fundraising is challenging, especially if you are operating in a crowded market where you have to prove your uniqueness to investors and you get measured on the growth metrics. VCs have become more particular about profitability over GMV and traction unlike last year and are now looking at long-term scalability and sustenance of business."

19) Priti Sawant: JoulestoWatts

Founded by Priti Sawant in 2015, JoulestoWatts is a staffing solution firm that brings a customised approach to a client’s needs. This year, the company raised an undisclosed amount in pre-Series A by Manipal Global Education Services.

Priti Sawant

Founder and CEO Priti says, “I think meeting up with the right investor helped me receive funding from ManipalGlobal and Saha Fund. I came with a strong domain experience and track record of building a Rs 500-crore business that helped me explain the business model and profit realisation process. Mohandas Pai, a visionary with great insights and a thought leader in solving industry challenges, understood the business model and the gap we were filling in with my decade's experience in the industry.

20) Rashmi Daga: FreshMenu

Bengaluru-based foodtech startup FreshMenu was started in 2015 by Rashmi Daga. The company follows a hub-and-spoke model with centralised kitchens in each locality they service.

Rashmi Daga

This year, the company raised Rs 110 crore ($16,500,000) in its Series B from Zodius Capital with participation from existing investor LightSpeed Ventures. The funding is to be used for team building, growth, and strengthening of the brand.

 21) Rashi Narang: Heads Up For Tails

Founded by Rashi Narang, this startup makes a line of upscale, utility-based products for pets with a strong focus on design. This includes products such as dog beds, apparel, collars, accessories, toys, grooming products, and treats. There is also a strong focus on customisation and personalisation based on what the customer is looking for.

Rashi Narang

Heads Up For Tails has raised $1 million in its seed round of funding from HNIs this year.

 22) Rashmi Ranade: Coppre

Rashmi Ranade

Rashmi Ranade, who has been working to revive ancient crafts for the past 15 years, launched Coppre, an online retailer and manufacturer of handcrafted copper artwork, in Pune in March 2011. This year, they raised an undisclosed amount as funding from Ganesh Natrajan.

23) Ritika Nangia: Funcart

Ritika Nangia started an online store for party supplies in 2014. Based out of New Delhi, this e-commerce company raised $70,000 (Rs 50 lakh) from undisclosed HNIs as its pre-Series A.

Ritika Nangia

The funding was to be used to increase product offerings, infrastructure, and technology.

24) Ruchita Dar Shah: First Moms Club

Ruchita Dar

Mumbai-based First Moms Club (FMC) is an app-based network of mothers. Started in 2010 by Ruchita Dar Shah, it offers an information-sharing platform to mothers and enables them to engage with one another. It also allows its users to share their experiences anonymously. Besides, it helps its users to post about event gatherings and lets brands test and market their products.

 25) Rupali Gupta: Tarusa World

Rupali Gupta

An online platform for handicrafts, Tarusa World works on an inventory-based model, where products are designed and retailed in-house. Started in 2012 by Rupali Gupta, this e-commerce startup raised an undisclosed amount in pre-Series A from Mohit Gulati, Founder of Altius Ventures, early this year. The funding was to be used to increase product offerings, infrastructure, and technology.

 26) Sairee Chahal: SHEROES

Launched in 2014, SHEROES is a job portal dedicated exclusively to women job seekers. Founded by Sairee Chahal, the company raised Series A funding in a round led by Lumis Partners along with The HR Fund and angel investor Rajul Garg.

Sairee Chahal

Raghav Bahl’s Quintillion Media, already an investor, also participated in the round. Sairee says, “The journey has been great and it has helped put our mission on a bigger platform and helped us accelerate our growth.”

 27) Saumya Vardhan: Shubhpuja

Saumya Vardhan

Started by Saumya Vardhan, Delhi-based Shubhpuja is a religious forum that allows people from all walks of life to conduct pujas and rituals on various occasions.

Prior to launching Shubhpuja, Saumya worked as an operations and technology consultant with KPMG and Ernst & Young in London.

This year, as pre-Series A, the company raised $7,500 from Zone Startups.

 28) Suchita Salwan: Little Black Book

Suchita Salwan

Delhi-based Little Black Book, a local discovery platform, was launched in 2012 by Suchita Salwan. It curates recommendations across categories, providing unique local discoveries in innovative formats. An evolution from existing listing-based models, LBB uses content as a medium to drive an engaged audience to local enterprises, places, and experiences.

This year, the startup raised $1.2 million from IDG Ventures and Indian Angel Network.

 29) Shivani Poddar, Tanvi Malik: FabAlley

Tanvi Malik and Shivani Poddar

Tanvi Malik and Shivani Poddar quit their high-paying jobs to start FabAlley in 2012. An online fashion brand, the company raised $2 million in a Series A round of funding from India Quotient, existing investor Indian Angel Network (IAN), angel investors Tushar Singh and Ranjan Sharma, and FAO Ventures.

In 2013, they had raised the seed round from Indian Angel Network.

While the trend of funding women entrepreneurs is still nascent, women-led companies are gaining momentum and visibility. The Indian ecosystem is less than a decade old, which means that there is no female equivalent of the old boys’ clubs. We need more SheEOs vis-à-vis the male CEOs.

The growth of women-focused VC firms such as SAHA Fund and Sonder Connect shows that the ecosystem is privy to the funding challenges women entrepreneurs face and that they understand why there is a strong need to address it.

While women need to ask for help, work with mentors, and focus on solutions rather than hurdles, there does seem to be hope for the future.

As Sairee says, “There is light at the end of the tunnel, but while we can expect more women-owned startups getting funded, don’t expect miracles. It is as misogynistic as it was earlier. The needle is stuck. However, we need to stay on course and also make sure that the pipeline has adequate diversity along with a bigger base of investors.” She suggests a good way to start is by investors looking at their internal teams as benchmarks of inclusion.