[TechSparks 2020] These women entrepreneurs sailed through COVID-19 led lockdown through innovation and pivoting
According to the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, with businesses shutting amidst the COVID-19 pandemic-led lockdown, the Indian economy crippled, and the country’s growth in the fourth quarter of FY20 went down to 3.1 percent.
The lockdown, in fact, was also a tough time for women entrepreneurs, especially in the startups and the MSME sector, who were striving to make their own space in the competitive ecosystem.
Like the age-old proverb, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” women entrepreneurs from across sectors sailed through the challenging COVID-19 times to make an impact.
During a roundtable discussion at the 11th edition of TechSparks 2020 — YourStory’s flagship event — women entrepreneurs from across sectors discussed their plans and strategies that helped them overcome business growth barriers when the whole world stood still.
The roundtable — hosted by the UK Government’s UK-India Tech Hub — saw panellist like Geetha Manjunath (CEO and Founder, Niramai); Sneha Choudhry (Co-founder and Chief Business Officer, Zolo); Priya Sharma (Co-founder, CFO, and COO, ZestMoney); Lakshmi Mishra (Deputy Director, UK-India Tech Hub); and Angel Treesa Roni (Operations Coordinator, UK-India Tech Hub), who elaborately discussed on how they pivoted their businesses in order to sustain in these challenging times.
Pivoting is the key
With social distancing considerably changing the way businesses operate, for healthtech startup Niramai, the challenge laid on patients sceptical on visiting hospitals for diagnosis.
Providing thermal imaging through AI to detect early breast cancer, Niramai Founder Geetha Manjunath said, during the lockdown and even now, people give a second thought to visiting hospitals for non-COVID-19 or non-emergency kind of problems.
Niramai is into thermal imaging, and the team decided to pivot to install thermal scanning machines to detect fever outside offices and public spaces. This led Niramai to explore untapped opportunities.
Zolo — a co-living space that runs on community building — was hit hard in the pandemic, given the nature of its business that runs on the presence of people. Co-founder Sneha Choudhry said the startup made two major pivots even though the business came to halt during the lockdown. First, it built a digital community and second, it launched a SaaS platform for rental housing management.
To help businesses tide over their financial problems, on account of the disruption of normal business activities, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) had announced a moratorium on repayment of debt for six months. This created a lot of buzz and noise in the market, as well as from the consumer’s end.
To educate consumers on the moratorium policies and whether or not they should opt the same, Priya Sharma from ZestMoney said that the startup launched various digital campaigns during the lockdown to extend a helping hand to consumers who were finding it hard to get themselves aligned with the RBI’s announcement.
ZestMoney is a consumer lending platform that provides EMI options to consumers for shopping without a credit card.
Not only businesses that have acquired a corporate culture survived these time, but the self-employed women entrepreneurs like bakers, fashion designers, and chefs, among others, also diversified their portfolio to venture into unknown territories in their respective businesses.
Speaking on how we can celebrate women entrepreneurship, Lakshmi Mishra from the UK-India Tech Hub touched upon creating more platforms to recognise women entrepreneurs that are still struggling to find a space in the business ecosystem.
“Women should take the risk to challenge themselves and run the business to move forward,” she added.
Supporting women entrepreneurship
During the conversation, Angel Treesa Roni, Operations Coordinator at UK-India Tech Hub, spoke about how innovating and pivoting the business model has helped entrepreneurs survive this time of crisis.
“Startups have innovated tremendously. There are startups who have pivoted their sanitary pads manufacturing line to produce face masks to cater to healthcare needs. There are women-led startups that are into IoT that diversified to make the contactless way of detecting fever and making payments,” she said.
Supporting women entrepreneurs is at the heart of UK-India Tech Hub, Angel said, adding that the network aims to deliver programmes to cultivate digital skills among entrepreneurs.
The network also organises programmes at a global level to give entrepreneurs access to resources and opportunities to learn from fellow entrepreneurs across the globe. It ensures that 50 percent of the startup beneficiaries are women entrepreneurs.
Self-help is the best help
These uncertain times has caused a lot of mental stress among women entrepreneurs, who have strived to create a balance between work and home. Talking about maintaining the mental peace, Geetha said, practising yoga has been her way out to deal with the stress during the lockdown.
Sneha said that seeking help is in itself self-help, and nothing is better than talking it out.
TechSparks - YourStory's annual flagship event - has been India's largest and most important technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship summit for over a decade, bringing together entrepreneurs, policymakers, technologists, investors, mentors, and business leaders for stories, conversations, collaborations, and connections that matter. As TechSparks 2020 goes all virtual and global in its 11th edition, we want to thank you for the tremendous support we've received from all of you throughout our journey and give a huge shoutout to our sponsors of TechSparks 2020.
Edited by Suman Singh