‘Lage Raho’ say industry leaders to women entrepreneurs at the culmination of Facebook SheLeadsTech programme

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On May 15, 2020, Facebook celebrated the culmination of the SheLeadsTech programme at its third annual conference. Hosted online, the event marked the celebration of three years of building, growing and nurturing a community of women entrepreneurs, its success stories, the journey and the metamorphosis of the programme into a larger movement.

Launched in 2017 to support women-founded startups in India, the SheLeadsTech programme provided access to community, tools, mentorship and resources to overcome barriers and succeed in building a business in technology. In three years, it went on to become a 600+ strong community.

A journey of learning, camaraderie and gratitude

“There are three key things that SheLeadsTech has given most of the members - visibility, resources, and the community itself. The opportunity to lead the SheLeadsTech community in Hyderabad has added a lot of gravity to my profile,” shared Swathi Bavanaka, Founder, Evibe and a community- member- turned -SheLeadsTech ambassador, during her opening address at the annual summit.

“Asking for help from the community members or the mentors has been very straight forward. All you needed to do was just ask and you would get the required help,” she added

Adding on to Swathi’s experience, Sangeeta Yadav, Co-Founder and Director, Portflip, shared, “ Getting access to the industry leaders and community, through the various online and offline sessions has been a learning experience. I am thankful to SheLeadsTech for enabling all of this.”

Sangeetha also highlighted how being part of the community has led to many women entrepreneurs becoming friends. “And, the conversations with them haven't always been with a business agenda, but life is general. It is important to have this camaraderie to keep you going.”

Evolution of women entrepreneurship in India, the challenges and opportunities

Following the introductory session by Swathi and Sangeetha, the next thirty minutes saw Anu Acharya, CEO, MapMyGenome; Aditi Gupta, Principal, Investments, Asha Impact, and Shrishti Sahu, Head - Marketing and Alliances, Emoha Eldercare, share their perspectives on the growth, progress and evolution of women entrepreneurship in India and the opportunities and challenges in the journey.

“We've seen a tremendous difference between the different cohorts and how they've grown in terms of confidence. It has been satisfying and heartening at the same time,” said Aditi. Adding to this, Shrishti said,,

“Today, a lot of the women entrepreneurs have had the exposure of working in high growth startups and leverage that to build better companies. It is heartwarming to see the rise of serial entrepreneurs or people who are starting up after their first venture has failed. This development and maturity of the ecosystem is very healthy.”

The leaders also deliberated upon the issue of gender bias in the startup ecosystem. While Aditi acknowledged the pervasive nature of the biases and shared her own experiences of encountering and withstanding them, , she also highlighted the need to build an equitable startup ecosystem. Sharing her perspective on the matter, Shrishti shared, “Metrics should override every other equation - be it kids, marriage, spouse, etc. But, if someone is projecting biases or bringing that into the conversation then call it out.” While Anu concerred, she also added that she never looked at her gender while facing struggle. “I knew of the inherent biases, acknowledged it and moved on to focus on building a successful business. In the end, that’s what matters - to build a sustainable business in a field that you believe and love,”she said.

Fire-side chat on raising funds with Aditi Gupta

In a fireside chat with Prateeka Kamath, YourStory’s Community Manager, Aditi shared interesting perspectives and candid advice on fundraising and addressing the cash crunch that has arisen due to the current COVID-19 crisis.

Answering a question about whether investors will continue to invest in startups even amid the current crisis, she said, “Equity investors are in the business not for one or two years but for the long term. So, a lot of them are not necessarily concerned about the immediate impact of a crisis but look deeply into the long-term plan. But having said that, I also don't want to paint the picture that we'll be doing the same kind of investment as we were doing last year. So, while evaluating any new business, we are likely to be really conservative about your growth and revenue estimations for the next two years. But the question is if we will still be bullish on doing equity investing for the next 10 years in this country. The answer is -- absolutely.”

Redefining business strategy for success

In the next panel discussion, Naiyya Saggi, Founder, Baby Chakra, Sumeet Singh, CMO, Info Edge and Meeta Malhotra, Founder, The Hard Copy, discussed the strategies for a post COVID-19 world. “The real and honest answer is that no one knows,” shared Meeta answering the question on how consumer behaviour and consumption was likely to change.

“This is a global pandemic. The last such pandemic was the Spanish Flu in 1915.I think, as a business, it's good to focus on what we do know right now. And that is there will be a certain amount of economic contraction and customers will be frightened about spending and most investors will be cautious.”

Taking Meeta’s point forward, Sumeet added that startups should now relook at their strategies and reboot their businesses and adviced startups to be very nimble, spending only on important things.

“ It is very important to create deep connections with your consumers and customers at this time. It’s also the time to listen to them so that you can understand their behaviour and sentiments and align your business goals along. Be honest and transparent. Tell them what you can do as a business and what you can’t.”

Pointing out the unprecedented opportunity for a digital acceleration, Naiyya added that this is the right time to join hands with even the competition to survive and thrive.

Meeta also advised the startups to seek help and put in place a good financial model and put resources on strategies that are likely to give the best returns. “Don't dissipate energy and resources on trying to do too many things. Figure out what gives you your best return and put all your resources behind those things.”

The panel discussion was followed by a goal-setting session for 2025, in which Shilpa Phadke, Founder, OnTheRun and Neha Kanodia, Co-Founder and CTO, GoGaga,shared their roadmap for the next five years.

Advice from speakers

“Lage Raho. This is not the time to build new capacity so I think it's a great time for us to be able to actually make it happen.” ~ Aditi

“I would say don't take criticism from someone who you wouldn't take advice from for you will find far too many critics along the way.” ~Anu

“Be resilient. Because with resilience, you can overcome any storm over all the highs and lows. Once you choose that this is going to be your life's mission. There should be nothing that gets in your way,” ~Shrishti

“Today, be it big or small businesses, everyone is facing a challenge. As a small business, you might be at an advantage, because you have lower overheads and lower liabilities. So use this to your advantage to develop unique business models and products.” ~ Sumeet

“Focus all your energy on how you are going to be relevant to your customer and take the centre stage of your customers’ lens. Because that is the only thing that will get you through this time.”~Meeta

“Surround yourself with a bunch of like minded driven ambitious passionate people. Also, remember there is light at the end of this tunnel. Just stay alive to see it right as a company and as a team and just stay alive,” ~ Naiyya

A journey that will continue with Facebook Startup Circles

Announcing the culmination of Facebook SheLeadsTech, Ekta Agrawal, Strategic Product Partnership Manager, Facebook India, thanked the community, mentors and ambassadors, who stood as three strong pillars, and made the SheLeadsTech initiative successful.

“After a wonderful and impactful three-year long journey, SheLeadsTech is evolving into a global programme with Facebook Startup Circles. This will open up an opportunity for entrepreneurs to learn from different markets.”

Facebook Startup Circles is a programme for early-stage startups with a functional prototype of their product or solution and looking for product-market fit. The programme is designed to help entrepreneurs build better products by connecting them with a large network of fellow startups, experts in business and Facebook best practices. Ekta shared that while the Startup Circles will open up in Bengaluru, New Delhi and Mumbai, more circles are likely to open up in other cities across India. “We are living through challenging times and it’s time for us to be resilient. That’s when we can drive success, she concluded. ”

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