The investors may not be lining up yet, but these women entrepreneurs believe that government support and personal grit will help others in Bihar realise their startup dreams.
Education is the key to a bright future and the Bihar government is going all out with its online facilitation system for students (OFSS), tapping technology to provide a platform that allows students to apply for higher education.
Across the country, people have a tendency to write off Bihar, often pegged as a backward state that is heavily dependent on agriculture. However, the startup wave flowing through the state has shown that people here have ideas, grit, and commitment. Investors may not be lining up just yet, but a few women entrepreneurs are riding the startup wave.
YourStory spoke to five women to understand the challenges unique to Bihar, the support available to them from government and peers, and to learn how they are addressing local challenges and problems, and nurturing their ventures with a vision to scale.
Shazia Qaiser, 35, started up in 2014. Her Revival Shoe Laundry – the first such service in Bihar, she claims - provides repairs, cleaning and refurbishing of not just shoes, but other leather items such as jacket and bag. Born in Bhagalpur, the Silk City of Bihar, Shazia has a degree in physiotherapy and has worked with WHO and UNICEF. One day, she came across the shoe revival and laundry concept and decided she would start her own someday. She focused on market research for the first two to three years.
“I looked across cities for someone doing it, spoke to a lot of people about the idea, and realised there was no one providing the services I was going to. So, in 2014, I decided to startup.” She started with her savings and initially invested 1 lakh. Her startup is still bootstrapped. “For the first two years I faced losses, but refused to give up,” she says.
Revealing an interesting anecdote about her initial days, she says she disguised herself and at stepped out in December at 3 am – it was freezing - to ensure that her flyers actually reached people with their newspapers.
Given that her startup involves shoes, Shazia found it difficult to find employees.
Of the 50 people who approach me only three are keen to work since working with shoes doesn’t match people’s idea of ‘job status’, she says. She has been training women with little or no education to work in her workshops. “I try and employ as many women as possible,” she adds.
Shazia has two outlets in Patna and plans to open a few more this year; her vision is long term. But in the first years she wasn’t profitable and needed more help than family support. This help came when she was selected to be a part of an incubator in Patna. “From networking to hiring and mentorship, they helped us learn, grow, and push harder to succeed,” she shares.
Hansa who studied in Patna and did her post-grad in Mass Communication, started her entrepreneurial journey in 2011 with Genesys Consulting, a one-stop solution for HRR, IT and project consulting for clients in corporates, government, social sector, and PSUs.
She founded it in 2011 with Parimal Madhup. A government recruitment project was distributed between hers and Parimal’s but when Hansa didn’t receive any support from head office and local brand left her without support midway during the project, she decided to quit and move on. She and Parimal joined hands to start their own business.
“Genesys is now working in Jharkhand as well. We recently worked on a prestigious project - taking OMR-based aptitude test of 52,000 school students from all districts of Bihar. It was a six-month-long project and ended with giving final results and certificates to all winners,” she says.
Hansa went on to start yet another venture, a branding, creative, and event management company called Creative Imprints. A mentor’s support kick-started this dream, she reveals.
“A very senior IAS officer of Bihar identified me as ‘artful’ and asked me if could design something creative apart from dealing in HR and IT consulting. His trust in me gave me the confidence to hit this new road. I conceptualised the whole pandal into a universe and the main stage was studded with stars, planets and other celestial bodies. It was an award-winning project.”
The company completes five years in December 2018 and is looking forward to major restructuring and transformation in its services, new offices, and hiring. They have taken up multiple projects in Patna, including Bihar Divas, the most prestigious event of Bihar; Shiksha Diwas; tableau designs for Republic Day and Independence Day; and others.
The 36-year-old Co-founder and CEO of Brand Radiator, a brand solutions company, feels that while building the startup ecosystem, people always move towards metros and cosmopolitan cities. “They miss that small cities are home to entrepreneurs too. We felt that the need for a good digital marketing company in Tier II and III states/towns with masses lacking understanding on the importance of the sector. That’s why the desired benefits and impact on business/people are not visible,” she says.
Himani aims to revolutionise digital marketing in Bihar and every such state, making people aware of digital marketing and providing support to realise the dream of Digital India. “This will also help in generating employment so talent from a state does not have to migrate to bigger cities for career opportunity,” she adds.
However, it was a big challenge to convince people about the value of digital marketing in the state. And Himani has persisted by showing people in India how powerful social media and more importantly by comparing it with newspapers to say show the reach of a platform like Facebook. I show them how effectively the spends & ROI done through digital platform can be measured.
She started with two members and Brand Radiator has now grown to a 16-member team. Her future plan is to educate masses and local businesses about the power of digital marketing and generate more employment in Bihar and launch digital marketing training courses end of this quarter.
These two 24-year-olds started Bihar Bytes, a platform that showcases and promotes the rich culture and heritage of Bihar. “We are here with an idea; the idea to reinvent the way people explore Bihar,” they say.
Both girls were educated in Bihar, love travelling, and have travelled together extensively to boost tourism in Bihar. “We initially started - in October 2016 - with a YouTube channel that focused on travel stories from Bihar. We worked and travelled in Bihar for another three months and saw that people in Bihar and even outside gave on channel great reviews. That’s when we thought of starting up fully and left our jobs. For the next few months, we worked on the idea.” The girls ran the channel for four months and then took it off since they did not like its name-Gender Taboo.
They then picked up the name Bihar Bytes. A survey helped them to understand what challenges tourists faced; they realised that most tourists knew only about well-known places like Rajgir and Bodh Gaya. The negative portrayal of the state also irked them.
Did you know that that we have India's only dolphin sanctuary in Bihar? We were aware that Bihar has the biggest grassland in Valmikinagar tiger reserve and national park. We had Asia’s longest freshwater oxbow lake, and we were committed to putting all this content on the internet so people knew what they could do when visiting Bihar, share the girls.
To make Bihar more accessible and friendly to people, the girls have been educating local people and spreading awareness. They also travel a lot to be able to hard sell Bihar to others. “Until and unless we can travel here, we can't tell other people to do so,” they say. They have covered 40 location and are commencing another tour of Bihar this month where they will cover 90 locations. “All in All we have travelled to 7 places in Himachal , 15 Places in Arunachal, 6 Places in Meghalaya which also helped us formulate the whole idea of Bihar Bytes in a Better way,” they share.
Himani makes a great point about the challenges unique to Bihar. According to her, Bihar's working environment is extremely challenging. Bihar is overwhelmingly rural – 90 percent - and heavily dependent on agriculture, a sector that has not performed well in India over the last two decades. Beside agriculture, people in Bihar still look for conventional jobs like banking, marketing etc.
People's mindset here about startups confuses new entrepreneurs. You get scary inputs from people on walking away from a promising and steady long-term job opportunity for something unpredictable, especially if you have never run a business before. New entrepreneurs do not have it easy when it comes to funding a new business. These doubts nag new entrepreneurs.
According to Hansa, the most unique challenge that the Bihar startup ecosystem faces was the late realisation of the importance of a startup policy. It started being discussed on the floor of the house as late as 2016.
“I started my firm in 2011, and I wish I could have got the opportunity to benefit from the startup policy in my initial struggle days. The access to policies and schemes was not promoted so well and many entrepreneurs were deprived of the right advisory and assistance. However, things have changed now,” she says.
Launched in 2016, the Bihar Startup Policy was rolled back and a new policy was introduced in 2017. The policy has a corpus of Rs 500 crore for policy implementation. Incubation hubs have been set up to provide shared work spaces and access to funding. Women-led enterprises get an additional 5 percent grant.
Shazia has been a recipient of the government’s support and recognition; she receives not just monetary support but also mentorship.
Himani says if the government takes a lead in supporting and building a strong foundation through its policy, it is sure to have an impact.
So is the Bihar startup ecosystem nurturing women-led startups?
Yashi and Sukirti say the last two years have brought a change when it comes to startups. “There is a wave of startups and young people trying to make something on their own. We won't say that it’s completely positive, but there is a ray of hope. It’s tough to be an entrepreneur; being a women entrepreneur is even tougher. There’s a fight at every step. There aren't too many women entrepreneurs in Bihar,” they say.
Despite the ups and downs, the duo has stuck to their guns. “We received a good response from some of our peers, like Ranjan Mistry who started Campus Varta, but since we are the first ones on the scene there is nothing by way of competition.”
Hansa says a lot has changed when it comes to promoting women entrepreneurs and that the state has recognised them at different platforms. “Women are being encouraged to engage themselves in startups to realise their hidden dreams and passion of working in different fields. From advisory to funding, women are being exposed to right windows through Bihar’s startup initiatives,” she says.
But all these women entrepreneurs agree that mindsets still need to change. Hansa says,
The state is progressing, but a few people in our state are still against progressive women. They think women working outside are selfish and materialistic. The support of family and society plays a vital role in women empowerment. A strong woman will not only build her family but also build a nation, provided she is supported and praised,
Yashi and Sukirti agree. "People here think that startups are not for women because ultimately they have to get married and won't be committed but that is absolutely wrong."
But now that these young women have scripted their success stories, we hope more women in Bihar take a cue and chase their entrepreneurial dreams.