Role models like Falguni Nayar and Kiran Mazumdar Shaw are bringing a change in the ecosystem

At TechSparks 2021, YourStory Media’s flagship event, Diane Janknegt, Anuradha Acharya and Sunitha Ramaswamy spoke on the declining numbers of women in the workforce, challenges in raising funds, and more.

The COVID-19 imposed lockdown, and the pandemic acted as a massive deterrent to the women workforce in India as female employment fell by 43 percent as opposed to male employment, which decreased by 30 percent during the lockdown. 

The latest Female Labour Force Participation rate also shows a consistent decline to 16.1 percent during the July-September 2020 quarter. All this data reflects that while the pandemic has ravaged several livelihoods, women-owned and led enterprises have borne a more significant brunt of the loss.

At TechSparks 2021, YourStory Media’s flagship event, Diane Janknegt, Anuradha Acharya and Sunitha Ramaswamy spoke on the declining numbers of women in the workforce, challenges in raising funds, and more.

As businesses are getting back on their feet, women are not only aiming to lead from the forefront and looking forward to emerging victorious after a challenging spell.

How have women entrepreneurs managed to turn the tide in their favour? What makes them tick? What are the challenges they face?

In a panel discussion titled “Winning with women at the forefront” held on the sidelines of TechSparks 2021, YourStory’s flagship event, Diane Janknegt, Founder, WizeNoze , Anuradha Acharya, Founder & CEO, Mapmygenome Sunitha Ramaswamy, President, Early Stage, LetsVenture spoke to Geetika Dayal, Executive Director, TiE Delhi-NCR on their journeys, challenges, and the way forward.

Declining numbers

Diane Janknegt, Founder, WizeNoze, a Dutch edtech startup, shared an insight into the declining rate of women’s participation in the workforce.

She said, “The participation of women entrepreneurs in companies with 10 employees and up is dropping rapidly, especially in the tech space. We still have a huge gap to cover, and one of the reasons is how time-consuming being an entrepreneur is. The Dutch government has implemented many gender-sensitive policies to ensure that women’s social responsibilities are taken care of as they work part-time. However, being an entrepreneur, working part-time just doesn’t suffice. While the policies are a good thing, the sad part is that it’s still not enough to inspire a vast section of women to become entrepreneurs.”

Sunitha Ramaswamy, who has been in the venture capital space for over a decade, also reflected on the shift in the number of women entrepreneurs in the country. 

She said, “I think there has been some amount of shift in the number of women entrepreneurs but the majority own micro and small-sized businesses. We don’t have a substantial number of large organisations run by women. But we are seeing a change with role models like Falguni Nayar, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, etc., coming into the picture.”

Speaking about LetsVenture, she elaborated that 30 percent of the registrations on the platform are from women entrepreneurs. Despite this reality, many do not come upfront from an investment point of view. 

“This may stem from lack of confidence and self-belief and shows how male-dominated the startup ecosystem - from investors to founders is. A lack of sense of community also pushes women entrepreneurs on the backfoot. We are now seeing women entrepreneurs aligning themselves with communities, which is helping them with networking, business understanding and access to capital,” she added.

The funding conundrum

Anu Acharya, founder of MapMyGenome shared her journey of fund-raising in the tech space. 

“We raised two rounds of funding at Ocimum – the first company I started before MapMyGenome – almost $20 million, but it was primarily for acquisition purposes as we wanted to acquire companies that could give us technologies that we couldn’t build in that short span. We made three acquisitions in the Netherlands, Germany, and the US, and it helped us build databases and give us the intellectual property.”

When it came to MapMyGenome, Anu looked at angel investors who had an interest in healthcare and so it would allow them to build the right connections in the space and to be able to find other opportunities that they could leverage to accelerate the startup. While Anu agrees that she has not been too keen on funding so far, she believes fundraising can help MapMyGenome scale up.

While Anu talked about her fundraising journey, women entrepreneurs must consider when to raise, how much to raise, who to raise from and what to do with the capital raised before raising funds.

While women entrepreneurs are now taking rapid steps in fundraising and scaling their businesses, the numbers need to rise.

It’s heartening to note that investors are also becoming conscious of gendered limitations and are funding women-owned businesses; we also need male partners to step up and more women-friendly policies to make work accessible for women. 

Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan