Why it matters: An accelerator programme dedicated to women entrepreneurs in B2B tech

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India’s startup ecosystem is flooded with data and insights about funding in the B2B technology space. However, there is hardly any statistics on B2B technology startups led by women leaders. Within this limited availability of data, the narratives point to the fact that the number of women driving B2B technology and especially B2B deep technology is small. Madhurima Agarwal, Leader, NetApp Excellerator agrees, “Historically, we have seen a lower percentage of women in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields in India, so has been the case in the B2B technology space. There is a huge gap in the number of women entrepreneurs in deep technology compared to the B2C technology in the startup ecosystem.”

The challenge faced by B2B tech women entrepreneurs

The lower representation of women leaders has amplified challenges faced by women entrepreneurs leading B2B technology startups. Laina Emmanuel, Co-Founder of BrainSightAI, a SaaS tool to predict the course of illness of brain disorders, points out, “Our work is extremely niche. But, what adds to the challenge is that as a woman entrepreneur leading a deep technology startup, it is not easy for me to find or get access to role models who look like me. I think there is a certain comfort that comes from knowing somebody else has followed this path, share the learnings and help navigate the challenges efficiently.”

Laina says building a close-knit community of women entrepreneurs in B2B technology could bring in the advantage of dinner-table mentorship like that of the ‘boys' club or the founders circle that male counterparts have traditionally had access to. She says while there are many women entrepreneur-oriented support programmes, there aren’t many that can offer focused support in domains like deep technology.

NetApp ExcellerateHER: a differentiating impact

But today, being a part of the maiden cohort of NetApp ExcellerateHER - the accelerator programme initiative dedicated to identify and recognise women entrepreneurs leading disruptive B2B technology startups — has addressed some of these challenges. “The mentorship on the technology front has been amazing. Considering we are an early-stage deep technology startup, we were looking to address the challenge in access to high performance computational resources as well as expertise in cloud architecture for the platform we are building. With NetApp ExcellerateHER, we were able to get help on both these fronts.” Laina says NetApp provided her access to their cutting-edge resources that provide the intensive computational power to their AI algorithm. Access to AWS experts enabled by NetApp is helping the startup to build the technical architecture on their cloud-based solution.

The access to leaders in the technology domain as a part of NetApp’s internal ecosystem and personalised mentorship have been other key areas of support. “This, for me, has been the perfect combination of a team that knows the challenges of operating in deep technology space and has a conducive work culture to foster growth.”

A mindful and focused approach to build a supportive ecosystem for women-led B2B technology startups

Laina's experience highlights the potential of NetApp ExcellerateHER programme. Just like the larger NetApp Excellerator, it has a razor-sharp focus on business and personalised technical mentorship to provide access to ecosystem connections within and outside NetApp. “The NetApp ExcellerateHER has been a step towards taking a mindful approach to ensure there is representation from women entrepreneurs as part of the programme,” says Madhurima. “It has been designed to support more women entrepreneurs operating in the deep technology space.”

Drawing parallel to the focus on diversity in hiring which has today become a universal phenomenon across organisations, Madhurima says the focus of the NetApp ExcellerateHER is on being mindful and bringing to the fore the work of women-led B2B startups in the country and across the globe. This push helps overcome unconscious bias across levels, she says, adding that under the programme, participants are chosen on the same merits and judged on the same parameters that define the NetApp Excellerator.

The technical and business mentoring is the core focus of NetApp ExcellerateHER. It helps them to work on how to grow the business, going global and building a world class product. In conversation with the startups, it maps the needs of the startups and assigns individual mentors to work alongside the startup on areas they need support on - the model that is followed for NetApp Excellerator.

The programme in the long run also helps build a community based on sisterhood - a community that is open, where they can share their problems, learnings and opportunities, shares Madhurima. She says, “While we talk about equality, it is a fact today there are certain challenges that are bigger for women than it is for men. It is the community that can be of help.” Madhurima adds that NetApp Excellerator has grown to become a close-knit community where startups are often seen helping each other. “One question gets asked in the group and everyone pours forward their suggestions, recommendations, and contacts. And it really helps. This strong NetApp Excellerator community that we have been able to build in the last three years is something I am proud of. Over time, NetApp ExcellerateHER will follow suit.”

The impact of recognising and supporting promising women-led technology startups is two-fold. On one level, it impacts the growth of women-led startups, and on the other, it becomes easier for stakeholders and ecosystem partners to support these women-led startups. “One of the standard challenges that many stakeholders including investors face is that they don’t know where these women-led startups are - a challenge that NetApp ExcellerateHER will address as we continue to support women-led startups. It is a win-win and helps everyone.”

Having mentored two startups as part of the inaugural batch, NetApp ExcellerateHER has identified areas to drive more impact. One such segment has been about working towards engaging with more investors and understanding how these startups can be supported. “While the selection is and always will be on merit for funding, the idea is how we can open more doors so that the playing field is levelled.” The accelerator is also looking to engage more closely with investors and founders to understand the requirements from both sides of the ecosystem and mentor the startups accordingly.

The beginning of a new journey

In January this year, two startups BrainSight and Arintra graduated from the NetApp ExcellerateHER programme. Arintra is a health-tech company that develops AI-enabled platform to reduce clinical overload on doctors.

When asked what stood out in case of these two startups, Madhurima says, “The same thing which stood out for the five other startups. The startups have a great product and are addressing a pertinent need in the market with technology. The startups are committed to grow the business and their tenacity and resilience are impressive.”

The inclusion of NetApp ExcellerateHER in the larger gamut of NetApp’s accelerator programme saw an increase in the batch size - from the usual six startups to now seven startups of which two are women-led. “It is our first batch of NetApp ExcellerateHER. We want to include more startups under the programme without compromising on quality. It is just the beginning”, signs off Madhurima.

NetApp ExcellerateHER is open for applications for its second cohort. B2B startups where one of the founders is a woman, are working in the technology/ deep technology sectors, and operate in the areas that align with the expertise of NetApp can apply.


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