By women, for women: HDFC Bank’s SmartUp Unnati initiative to guide women-led startups on road to success

Under its new initiative — SmartUp Unnati — HDFC Bank will enable women entrepreneurs to realise their potential with insightful mentoring sessions which would be conducted by its senior executives.

They might have added several feathers to their cap, headed several corporate giants and contributed to pioneering research, but for many Indian women, opportunities that help them tap into their talent fully are few and far in between.

The scenario is not much different for India’s startup ecosystem. According to YourStory Media, despite an 11x increase in the number of women entrepreneurs in the tech space between 2018 and 2020, they secured only 1.43 percent of the funding deals during this period. 

Aiming to bridge such gaps in opportunities, HDFC Bank has launched its ‘SmartUp Unnati’ initiative for mentoring women startup founders to realise their potential on International Women’s Day on March 8, 2021.

The Unnati initiative is a part of the SmartUp programme, which was established by the bank in 2016 to offer end-to-end banking solutions and value-added services to startups. Through its SmartUp programme, the bank has offered its banking solutions to more than 3,000 women entrepreneurs till now. In 2018, the bank added an online mentorship initiative to the offerings under the SmartUp initiative.

Explaining the importance of the Unnati initiative, Smita Bhagat, Country Head-Government & Institutional Business, E-commerce & Startups, HDFC Bank said that it was important to create an equal platform for men and women. “We need to support women and create equal opportunity platforms, so that they can compete on merit. Women are capable and have the ability to scale greater heights in their chosen fields.” 

But, what makes SmartUp Unnati stand apart? “The interactions with senior women executives will bring in a lot of value for women entrepreneurs. The senior executives will be sharing their career journeys with the participants. Also, being women themselves, these executives would be able to understand the challenges faced by women entrepreneurs better,” says Smita. “It is an initiative by women and for women,” she adds.

“Under the SmartUp Unnati initiative, women entrepreneurs will interact with the bank's senior executives to be able to tap into synergies and networks that will help them scale up their businesses as well as open their minds to new possibilities,” says Neha Agrawal, Head of Startups & Venture Investments, HDFC Bank. The startups participating in the initiative have immense potential to bring about a wave of change across sectors, be it AgriTech, FinTech, EdTech or the social sector. 

The senior executives chosen to guide the startup leaders are equipped with years of expertise in different domains, which is why their mentorship will enable women entrepreneurs to make smarter business decisions and achieve their goals.

“I have gained a lot from interactions with my female colleagues. Similarly, I believe the participating startups can gain a lot from senior women executives’ experience of managing responsibilities at both work and home,” adds Smita.

Ashima Bhat, Head - Business Finance, Strategy, Administration, Infrastructure & CSR, HDFC Bank, says, “The Unnati initiative offers a huge opportunity as women entrepreneurs will get to learn from the mistakes others made. The leaders that the bank has roped in to mentor the startups founders have achieved a lot and will be good mentors for anyone.”

If you are a woman-led startup looking to accelerate your growth journey, write to us at or  visit Smartup portal to know more about the Smartup Unnati initiative.


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