From papads to deep tech: TiE Women Bangalore programme highlights expansion in women entrepreneurship

By Madanmohan Rao|12th Sep 2020
The 2020 edition of this women entrepreneur programme featured a range of successful founders, experts, investors, and mentors. Here are their insights on trends in women entrepreneurship.
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Women entrepreneurship support initiative TiE Women Bangalore recently wrapped up its 2020 edition of workshops, roundtables, mentoring, and pitch competition. See Part I of our coverage of the eight winners, with insights on their product-market fit, traction, and adaptation to the pandemic era.


In Part II and Part III, we feature perspectives from the programme’s workshop leaders, mentors, industry experts, jurors, and speakers at the recent grand finale. See also our coverage of resilience activities during the pandemic by TiE Bangalore and TiE Global, and the TYE (TiE Young Entrepreneurs) programme.

1

The women entrepreneurship movement

Industry experts shared their perspectives on trends, challenges and opportunities in the women entrepreneurship movement, particularly in India.


“While we shouldn’t discount the fact that women entrepreneurs have always been around, the major shift is that they are moving from the ‘3 Ps’ – pickles, papad, and powder – to the ‘3 Es,’ engineering, electronics, and energy,” says Madhurima Agarwal, Director of Engineering Programmes and Leader of NetApp Excellerator at NetApp, in a chat with YourStory.


“On the awareness scale about women entrepreneurship, we are moving from a state of oblivion to noticing it (‘unconscious incompetence’ to ‘conscious incompetence’), and on our path to mastery,” she explains.


She also observes that there are multiple conversations happening about the importance of women entrepreneurs, and an ecosystem is slowly developing to support them. “There are numerous studies highlighting the positive impact of having women entrepreneurs in driving GDP and influencing societies. This in turn will influence policy,” Madhurima adds.

 

“Considering, women are the largest consumer base, more women are focusing on struggles or difficulties they or their family face in life. Such businesses would be most successful, and more women are building businesses that solve related issues,” observes Geetha Ramamurthy, Chair of TiE Women and CEO of Ignite Career Confidence.


The most successful and profitable companies in the world are those that address real-life issues and help make things easier, cheaper, or more convenient, she adds. “Women are also leading deep-tech innovations that enrich their lives,” she says.


More women are exploring side projects. “A good number of them seek the opportunity to collaborate with other women entrepreneurs or contribute to projects of interest within a company,” Geetha adds.


“More women entrepreneurs are moving towards the tech space, and in bigger numbers. Women entrepreneurs are more interested in solving day-to-day problems that make them or the immediate world around them more efficient,” observes Kanika Radhakrishnan, Founder and CEO, Evergreen Valley Law Group.


She feels women entrepreneurs do not seem deterred by the new challenges thrown at them with the pandemic. “They have taken them in their stride and are moving on,” she adds.

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TiE Women Bangalore 2020 virtual Grand Finale (image credit: TiE Bangalore)

“While edtech and healthtech were always favoured verticals for the women entrepreneurship segment, the ones we saw this time included 'operationally heavy' startups going online and getting digitised with women taking the lead. This is good news for all of us,” affirms Ravindra Krishnappa, Managing Partner, July Ventures.


“I have no doubt that we are getting close to the tipping point, especially in healthcare and education, where women entrepreneurs will take a lead and no longer be seen as a separate segment,” he adds.

 

“There are some interesting trends around women entrepreneurship, which were visible during the TiE Women programme. Women founders are largely working on impact-focused businesses such as health, agritech, clean tech, education, and financial inclusion,” observes S Vishwanatha Prasad, Founder and MD, Caspian Debt.


The diversity of sectors targeted by women founders also defies stereotypes usually associated with women entrepreneurship. “Many of them are using deep-tech solutions, and some breakthrough innovations in biotech from women researchers and founders is encouraging,” he adds.

 

However, there are also hurdles for women entrepreneurs. “In my view, the biggest hurdle is that almost all the capital allocators or investors (angel, VCs, PEs) are men,” Vishwanatha laments.


“So when we speak of carving allocations for women entrepreneurs in funds, we need more women fund managers for more women-centric products and services, and for women entrepreneurs to be appropriately assessed and funded. This is of course a global problem as well,” he adds.

 

“More women are taking on entrepreneurial roles and opportunities. They are looking to solve problems faced by women in areas like femtech, edtech, inclusive finance, and women consumer-focused brands,” adds Ankita Vashistha, Founder and CEO, Saha Fund.

 

“Women are exploring beyond traditional women-dominant industries. There are many below-30 women entrepreneurs and their risk-taking is much higher,” observes Priti Sawant, Founder and CEO, JoulesToWatts. She also points to the rise of women entrepreneur-focused funds (eg. Saha Fund) and many PEs and VCs looking for women-owned businesses.


“There is still an undercurrent on a woman founder having a co-founder. But I am a single-founder company, and my investors have always been encouraging of what suits me. So I am sure that is changing too,” Priti adds.

 

“Unfortunately, the numbers across India when it comes to women entrepreneurs are not growing at a pace that is impressive. For example, in the US, 40 percent of the businesses are owned by woman as against 14 percent in India. Of this, more than 90 percent are micro enterprises and mostly self-financed,” observes Vinutha Rallapalli, Director of T-Hub.


Though a lot of good work is going in to recognise, support, and enable entrepreneurs through various support organisations, she feels there are still a few years ahead before the numbers significantly improve. “Women, as they have proved across a multitude of professions, can adapt and excel when provided with the right opportunities and proper environment,” she adds.



“The women entrepreneur space is seeing great changes. They are into networking and going global, and creating more opportunities for one another,” observes Dr Chaitra Harsha, Managing Director, Vipragen Biosciences.


Businesses and entrepreneurs that recognise the growing financial base of women and can meet the consumer demands of women will be in a great position to tap into this emerging market, she adds. “It has been a slow and sometimes difficult journey for the women entrepreneurs, but women are ready to claim their rightful place. We find them in almost all areas of business,” Chaitra says.

 

“The ecosystem is becoming more welcoming and receptive towards women entrepreneurs. Research and data can vouch for this too as we see a marked increase in women entrepreneurs getting funded,” observes Sandeep Kapoor, Founder and Managing Partner, Algo Legal.


He points to a range of communities, funds, and organisations championing the growth of women entrepreneurs, such as TiE and Women Entrepreneurs for Transformation (WEFT). “There is also a notable shift and diversification in sectors in which women entrepreneurs are entering, which is remarkable,” he adds.


Another development he notes is the rise of women entrepreneurs as role models to inspire the next wave of founders, such as Ankiti Bose (Zilingo), Hande Cilingir (Insider), and Yamini Bhat (Vymo).


“I've seen a good amount of focus in the past few years in Asia in terms of programmes and funds to support women founders. I think we need to go 10x on these efforts,” urges Aditya Kumar, APAC Head, Hubspot for Startups.


“Women founders are getting out of their comfort zone sooner than before. They just need more support with structured programmes to help them scale faster, and more success stories to be public so others can learn from them,” he adds.


“I am super glad to see that the number of women entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs are increasing, and more so in technology. Various organisations are more cognisant of the value of perspectives that women bring in for every step of an entrepreneurial journey. That is leading to more support towards the movement,” says Abhay Tandon, Director and Head, Lowe’s Innovation Labs India.

3

Cohort strengths and areas for improvement

A range of workshop leaders, mentors and jurors interacted with the entrepreneurs during the course of the programme. They share their reactions to the business ideas, traction, pitches, and future potential.


“The cohort of entrepreneurs was overall an enthusiastic group that is keen to learn and grow. If given the right environment, I see of lot of potential in them to grow and thrive over a period of time,” observes Kanika Radhakrishnan of Evergreen Valley Law Group


“They are smart but shy away from connecting, networking and grabbing opportunities the same way men do. They need a lot of support and exposure from mentors and advisors to ‘tear down’ their business strategy for them and provide insights to help them grow. If they availed themselves of these opportunities the same way men did, it will be a completely different world,” she emphasises.

 

Sandeep Kapoor of Algo Legal says it was heartening to hear such diverse and well-curated pitches from all the eight finalists. "The different themes that emerged from each of them and the overall tone of enthusiasm and risk-taking was very inspiring and humbling. Each of them had a clear understanding of their product and curated their pitches in a simple yet effective way,” he adds.


He urges them to have a more detailed and data-driven analysis of their financials. “This would involve an overview of the cost sheet and revenue model they propose. An upfront team analysis identifying strengths would give confidence to the investors,” he adds.


“I found the entrepreneurs pitch some excellent products with decent traction and strong IP. I was really impressed with the quality of startups, clarity, and communication of entrepreneurs and TiE's efforts in preparing the entrepreneurs to that level. Most pitches were ready for any stage across the world,” says Vinutha Rallapalli of T-Hub.



“The winning pitches were good, with passionate entrepreneurs and many genuinely new and disruptive ideas. They did present and articulate their ideas well, though the big picture disruption was either not evident from the pitch or absent,” observes Viswanatha Prasad of Caspian.


He notes that the women entrepreneurs are attempting to solve some critical problems for society and economy in general. However, they could improve their grasp of financial parameters and demonstrate their execution capability more strongly, he adds.

 

“This cohort reflected a great synergy of founders from across the board and a great mix of domains, which were a positive experience,” says Aditya Kumar of Hubspot. Though they were eager to learn and implement strategies quickly, they could do more to focus on USP and UVP (unique value proposition) on their digital presence, he adds.


“Founders need to fix their GTM and understanding of how they can pivot quickly to effective selling and marketing better in 2020 and beyond,” he says.

 

Priti Sawant of JoulesToWatts says she was impressed with the 100-plus applicants and ideas that were spanning across all domains. "Finalists were primarily from healthcare and edtech, and it was interesting to watch women venturing in varied industries,” she recalls.


During her roundtable, she noticed that hiring, talent management, team scaling and business development were the primary challenges the entrepreneurs were facing, and they needed guidance. She calls for more continuous mentoring in these topics to support women entrepreneurs.



“The set of four entrepreneurs that I interacted with were from various fields like ecommerce, edtech, and architecture. They were well prepared and super confident. But they need to do more in-depth competitor analysis, and have well-planned financials and a good customer acquisition plan for their project,” observes Chaitra Harsha of Vipragen Biosciences.


The business knowledge of the entrepreneurs was outstanding, according to Ajith Sahasranamam of Ongil. "They were able to ask well-structured questions on the application of data analytics to the problems specific to their businesses. Defining the problem is more than half the job done,” he says.

 

“Having been part of these pitches even earlier, I am thrilled to see the marked improvement in the quality of presentations and storytelling process. It clearly shows that the ecosystem is maturing,” observes Ravindra Krishnappa of July Ventures.

 

“The entrepreneurs were very sharp, doing very diverse stuff. There’s an extremely high level of commitment that I saw, their questions were very focused. These women knew what they were looking for and were very engaged,” observes Madhurima Agarwal of NetApp.


With a good understanding of business and through regular monitoring, the entrepreneurs can achieve greater success, according to Geetha Ramamurthy of TiE Women.“All the founders had great ideas, education background, passion, enthusiasm, offerings and the drive to build a big company," she recalls.


“It was a well-curated set of pitches and TIE had done a great job of preparing the entrepreneurs with a crisp template, which covered the key highlights of their businesses given the limited time slots. It was lovely to see such impactful healthcare and education-focused companies with extremely passionate and capable teams,” enthuses Ankita Vashistha of Saha Fund.

4

Support for women entrepreneurs

The mentors and speakers shared how more support initiatives are emerging for women entrepreneurs. For example, T-Hub has extended supported to TiE chapters across Hyderabad, Bangalore, and Delhi for the TiE women initiative


“We have supported TiE Bangalore as a knowledge partner, bringing in speakers and experts for the various sessions,” Vinutha Rallapalli of T-Hub proudly says.


“We also extended six months of mentor support and investor access to all the winning startups across the three chapters to support their growth. We would continue supporting strong programmes and enable women entrepreneurs through our connects and support,” she adds.


NetApp is launching the NetApp ExcellerateHER programme soon, which will focus on helping women entrepreneurs scale up their business. “While I don’t like to tag any entrepreneur based on their gender, the fact is that they face some different challenges and this programme aims to create a focused offerings for them. We will offer them everything the main programme offers and then some more,” affirms Madhurima Agarwal of NetApp.


“It is about time that we stop differentiating entrepreneurs on the basis of gender and start evaluating them on their business ideas, ask them the same questions that one would ask a male founder on business traction, scaling challenges, and addressable market, and not on their personal situation such as marriage, young kids, or other caregiving responsibilities,” urges Vishwanatha Prasad of Caspian Debt.


He feels women do not need any additional handholding, but a fair chance at funding and networking. “Deep set biases can be addressed if there are more women in the investment decision making,” he adds.


“As per my observation, the key milestone in the TiE Women programme was the setup of an excellent action plan that was followed and executed in a timely manner by the local chairwoman and team of all participating chapters,” sums up Geetha Ramamurthy, Chair of TiE Women.


Weekly calls helped the organisers and leaders of all chapters to learn of the progress made at other chapters. “They got inspired by those who are leading the programme in the ecosystem,” she adds.


Geetha commends the leaders of TiE Women Global for planning and organising the programme from an idea to a flawless execution.
5

About TiE Women

TiE Women is a global programme that was designed by TiE Global in partnership with EmpoWer, an initiative of Zone Startups. The programme aims to empower, embrace, and encourage women entrepreneurs from different walks of life.


YourStory was part of the initial selection committee, along with Numocity Technologies, ITS, NetApp, Sattva Consulting, Pierian Singapore, Tasscom, Caspian Impact Investments, Vipragen Biosciences, July Ventures, Scientific Games India, Zamstars Management Services, AxLerateNow, Finagua Technologies, Multiversal, HUM Consulting Services, and Evergreen Valley Law Group.


The TiE Women Bangalore business plan competition ended with a round of pitches and expert talks. Featured speakers were Priya Chetty-Rajagopal, Co-Chair, TiE Women Bangalore; Hemalatha Annamalai, Chairperson, TiE Women Global and President, TiE Coimbatore; Geetha Ramamurthy, Chair of TiE Women; Vani Kola, Managing Director, Kalaari Capital; Mahavir Sharma, TiE Global Chairperson; and Vinutha Rallapalli, Director at T-Hub Hyderabad.


The programme included workshops on Agile Innovation and Problem-Solving Skills during a Crisis (by Omprakash Kasaraboina, scaledV), Business Analytics (Ajith Sahasranamam and Srikanth Gopalakrishnan of Ongil), Design Thinking (Rama Iyer, T-Hub), Raising Investment (Vinutha Rallapalli), Growth Marketing (Aditya Kumar, HubSpot), Legal Issues (Kanika Radhakrishnan, Evergreen Valley Law Group), and Global Expansion (Abhay Tandon, Lowes India; Madhurima Agarwal, NetApp).


Founders also interacted with a range of experts in a roundtable: Priti Sawant (JoulestoWatts), Chaitra Harsha (Vipragen Biosciences), Ragini Bajaj (Caspian), and Lakshmi Pratury (Ink Talks). Jurors in the finale and semi-finale included Sanjay Swamy (Prime Venture Partners), Ankita Vasishtha (Saha Fund), Sandeep Kapoor (Algo Legal), Sanjay Anandaram (Sattva Consulting), Venkatesh Kumaran (Astrome Technologies), Nayani Nasa (Target), Ragini Bajaj, Ravindra Krishnappa (July Ventures) and Ravikiran Annaswamy (NumoCity).


Edited by Teja Lele Desai

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