Built in Bengaluru, made for India: GAME is working on building a strong women-led micro entrepreneurial ecosystem that that can be scaled, replicated and sustained

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Bengaluru has been a hub for India's tech industry. Today, home to 15 of India’s 33 startup unicorns, Bengaluru leads the growth narrative of India’s startup ecosystem. With a predicted GDP growth of 8.5 percent, Bengaluru is set to be one of the fastest-growing cities in the world. A little-known fact is that the city also has a thriving microentrepreneurial community beyond IT products & services, research or consulting.

“While IT is the big word, non-tech businesses fuel the economy in significant ways,” shares Iti Rawat, Founder & Director at Think Hall Academy and CoFounder, Woman Entrepreneurs for Transformation (WEFT), a non-profit that supports women entrepreneurs. Gayatri Sriram, Co-Founder & Mentor at HBOB (Her Business is Our Business), an organisation focused on accelerating the growth of women-owned businesses, adds, “From a macroeconomics point of view, the microentrepreneurs provide a big channel for redistribution of wealth in the local economy. That’s not all, each of those small businesses adds significant value along the consumption chain.” The microentrepreneurial ecosystem also brings more women into the workforce in India, since this number is skewed even in a city like Bengaluru with a sizeable degree of educated and skilled talent.

The micro and macro challenges inhibiting the growth of women mass entrepreneurs

According to 2020 research by Sattva Consulting, there are 2.58 lakh microenterprises in Bengaluru, across apparel, food, beauty, health and wellness and education - sectors that have traditionally seen a higher propensity for women microentrepreneurship.

However, the Sattva Consulting study points out the grave reality - out of these 2.58 lakh microenterprises, only 36,900, or 15 percent, are women-owned enterprises. And, less than 30 percent of this number generates jobs.

There are several reasons for this grim reality, say ecosystem leaders. Iti says, “Six years ago when I started up, there weren’t many women-focused incubators or accelerators. Even financial institutions had nothing much to offer women entrepreneurs. We have come a long way since then. But, the microentrepreneurial ecosystem has not seen this kind of positive change.” The challenge is lack of exposure and not having role models to emulate, believes Gayatri. “Very little is written about women microentrepreneurs, which means there is so much less information on what to expect,” she says.

Then there are challenges related to mindset, as Dr Rajeswari Ranganathan, President, Association of Women Entrepreneurs in Karnataka (AWAKE), points out. Dr Rajeswari says, “While they are able to cater to the demands of the local market, they fail to see beyond. Women microentrepreneurs also do not know how to negotiate or deal with big companies. So, this translates into resistance for scale.” Another issue is lack of financial awareness and planning. “They are not aware about technical banking terminologies and their impact on a business or schemes for women entrepreneurs by the government, corporates, or industry bodies. In addition, while some may understand the financial aspects of a business, they do not pay attention to financial planning, which is important if she has to avail loans or monetary support.”

Bhairavi Jani, Chairperson of the Xcelerator Bangalore Task Force and Chairperson and Founder of IEF Entrepreneurship Foundation and Executive Director of SCA Group of Companies, says, "The city of Bengaluru, is known for its ‘enterprising’ nature and scores high in entrepreneurial mind-set. However, there is a need to channelise and refine the requirements of those women entrepreneurs who are on the path of setting up their own ventures.

Futurepreneurs and Xcelerator to nurture women-led mass entrepreneurial ecosystem

It is here that two key initiatives from GAME, Futurepreneurs and Xcelerator, are relevant to the ecosystem in Bengaluru. Futurepreneurs aims to support Bengaluru-based micro/small-scale women entrepreneurs operating across sector through mentoring and training support, market and financial linkage support and access to workshops featuring top entrepreneurs and thereby enabling them up to scale their businesses. While Futurepreneurs began in January 2020, Xcelerator is a fairly new addition. Launched in October 2020 in partnership with AWAKE, Xcelerator Bangalore aims at accelerating the growth of women-owned businesses in Bengaluru. The program seeks to support growth-oriented women entrepreneurs across sectors and support them to learn, collaborate and network with various stakeholders through a multitude of workshops, learning and mentoring sessions. At the core of the this programme are three key goals -to enable women entrepreneurs achieve rapid growth, communicate these growth stories to the larger ecosystem and thereby enable access to capital, credit, connection, market and enable women business owners to become role models to inspire others.

While the two programmes provide the essential support system for women microentrepreneurs to be able to scale up their businesses, and generate employment opportunities, there are some fundamental factors that make the programmes unique.

“In the Futurepreneurs programme we are looking at entrepreneurs with a revenue of less than Rs 30 lakh per annum. In the Xcelerator Bangalore programme, we are looking at women entrepreneurs with annual revenue of about Rs 60 lakh and above employing more than 10 people,” explains Srinivas Rao Mahankali, CEO, GAME. He adds, “The second key difference is from an impact perspective. With the Futurepreneurs programme we are looking at putting together models to help us understand the challenges of women entrepreneurs, figure out what models work, and create a playbook which can be replicated and scaled. The Xcelerator programme takes inspiration from Professor Daniel Eisenberg’s successful model on building entrepreneurship ecosystems especially in developing countries. So, we are looking at how we can bring together an ecosystem with active involvement from different stakeholders--financial institutions, academic institutions, industry associations --as well bring in the support networks who can provide financial advice, taxation, political advice, legal advice?.” The programme has been designed to show that growth is possible and fairly quickly as well.

Gayatri believes that bringing structured mentoring programmes like Futurepreneurs and Xcelerator is a big leap for the microentrepreneurial ecosystem. “Statistics show that only two out of 10 entrepreneurs sustain and succeed. When eight of them fail, it is not only loss at an individual level, but also loss of resources. And, when entrepreneurs test, try and fail, they are unlikely to try again. This is especially true for women entrepreneurs. So a structured programme is what the women microentrepreneurial ecosystem needs.”

The need and relevance of collaboration in the ecosystem

Srinivas says, “There are a lot of organisations that are doing tremendously good work on the ground. But a lot of it happens in silos. So, the larger question that we are also working towards is how can we get all the stakeholders who are solving challenges in their own ways, together on one platform, to collaborate, solve common challenges together and make it work?.”

Iti agrees that the microentrepreneurial ecosystem needs to bring in more collaboration. “I started WEFT in 2018. When I came to know about GAME and the mission they are working towards, I saw a synergy. Given that we were working towards the same vision, it only made sense to collaborate and get the wheels turning. WEFT and GAME will be working together to support a selection of WEFT's members in a cohort in the Futurepreneurs mentoring program.

“Xcelerator Bangalore” is being launched in partnership with AWAKE and the programme is being co-designed and led by industry experts, bureaucrats, academic institutions, veteran entrepreneurs, trade associations, experts from banks and financial institutions and representatives from the local entrepreneurial ecosystem. Dr Rajeswari says, “Apart from the effort towards catalysing a collective effort, GAME is bringing the corporate thinking into the microentrepreneurial ecosystem.”

Bhairavi agrees that today with programmes like Futurepreneurs, microentrepreneurs have a safety ecosystem that understands their challenges and aspirations. “Women micro entrepreneurs stand to benefit from the mentorship thrust that the programme provides. In this way we would like to create role models for other budding entrepreneurs,”

A vision for India

The two initiatives align with GAME’s vision to catalyse the creation of 10 million young entrepreneurs in India, at least half of whom will be women who, in turn, will create 50 million new jobs by 2030. These initiatives are timely and much required today. In fact, a 2019 study McKinsey, commissioned by GAME, points out that rebalancing of the gender force can increase India’s GDP significantly, as much as by 20 percent by industry estimates.

“According to 2018 World Bank data, India is currently one of the worst performing nations in terms of female labour force participation rates. In contrast, we have seen a talent leap, wherein more women are getting educated,” points out Iti. She adds, “So we have to leverage the talent leap, get more women into the workforce and this can only happen if we work towards building an entrepreneurial ecosystem led by women.”

Bhairavi agrees and points out that microentrepreneurship provides flexibility that a traditional job does not. “In India, women continue to be seen as the primary caregivers with the onus of owning household responsibilities and chores. And,this can make it challenging for many to sustain a job and career. Microrentrepreneurship gives women the flexibility they need.” The other big advantage is that it enables women who are part of the unorganised workforce to make the shift to the formal economy. Bhairavi says, “When we encourage women-led entrepreneurship, we are giving nearly half of the country’s population and talent force an opportunity to create equal chances for themselves. We can only realise our vision for ‘Aatmanirbharta’, only when women have the rightful opportunity to become self-reliant.”

Applications for Xcelerator Bangalore are now open.

If you are a woman entrepreneur based in Bengaluru running a business with an annual revenue of Rs 60 Lakhs and above as of FY 2019-2020, Apply here.

Know more about the programme here.


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