Meet these women entrepreneurs who battled tough times to become successful
Here’s how these women entrepreneurs began their entrepreneurial journey surpassing all the challenges thrown their way and emerging victorious, thanks to their never-say-die attitude.
There is no force more powerful than a woman who is determined to rise. Glass ceilings, patriarchy, gender pay gap, sexist workplace policies, and just male privilege — a lot of challenges dot a woman’s path to success, but many have taken on the mantle to power through them all and succeed against all odds.
Running a small and medium business is a challenging task, and these women entrepreneurs featured on SMBStory show how one can emerge a winner with courage and passion. Read their inspiring business journey stories here.
Born to a conservative family, Mridula was asked to prioritise marriage over her plans for higher studies. She conceded to her family’s wishes and married a Ludhiana-based businessman. But soon after her marriage, Mridula expressed her desire for pursuing higher studies to her husband. She says, “Defying all the age-old perceptions about conservative Indian men, my husband supported me in pursuing higher studies.”
Mridula decided to pursue an MA in English Literature. Her two sons were born during the time she was pursuing her studies. After completing her degree, she joined a school to work as a teacher. She says, “I always wanted to work. I did not want to be a stay-at-home mom for my sons.” However, managing both home and work was becoming difficult for Mridula. She then decided to quit her job and chose to tutor kids from home instead, which allowed her to do both - work as well as raise her sons.
For around 10 years, Mridula continued teaching from home before she finally realised that she had bigger aspirations. She had always been interested in fashion and had a passion for colours too. She says a chance conversation with her nephew, who supplied yarn (fabric) to shawl makers, sparked an idea for making shawls. This was a pursuit she believed would suit her interests as well as her desire to go out of home for work.
Mridula felt the shawl market could pick up the pace if shawls were made more fashionable with new designs. She shared the idea with her husband and he was immediately on board to help her in her new journey.
Mridula began making shawls with design patterns called phulkari, an art technique specific to Punjab. She says,
My design patterns were new and immediately caught every buyer’s attention.” She recalls how the first order she received was of Rs 10 lakh.
Over the years, as Mridula continued running her business, she also played a key role in establishing Shawl Club and Wool Association in Ludhiana. She was also sponsored by the government to travel to Europe to study the wool industry and bring best practices home.
Today, Shingora is clocking a turnover of Rs 100 crore, has a pan-India reach with a presence in around 100 retail stores across India, and accounts for nearly 20 percent of the country’s shawl exports.
Anita Gupta was just 10 years old when she witnessed how vulnerable and expendable women are in Indian society. Her own grandfather ‘bought’ a girl after his three sons passed away and he needed someone to bear his children. Anita watched him beat the girl brutally and it left an indelible impression on the little child.
When I saw my grandfather beating that girl, I wondered if this girl was not poor and was educated, she could have stood up for herself and her parents would have not sold her. That incident left a deep mark and I was determined to do something to bring a change."
Hailing from Arrah, Bihar, Anita in her 20s took a bold step to stop gender violence. In 1993, with the help of her younger brother, Santosh Kumar, she founded Bhojpur Mahila Kala Kendra with a mission to empower rural women by providing education and employment training to them.
Getting through to women cowering from patriarchy was no easy task. Recalling her journey, she says that women at that time were not ready to step out of their houses. Their life revolved around their household duties and looking after their family.
In 2000, she received a supporting hand from Amitabh Verma, a senior IAS officer, who extended his help to register Bhojpur Mahila Kala Kendra as a society to avail government support.
Anita’s NGO was then empanelled with Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and DC Handicrafts, Government of India.
The NGO, since its inception, has created around 300 self-help groups (SHGs) for livelihood promotion, health check-up camps, adult education, vocational training, and more, all of which are supported by Pact, an international development organisation.
Till now, Bhojpur Mahila Kala Kendra has trained around 20,000 rural women in different skills and, at present, it has 200 women in its cluster.
Chinu Kala was 15 years old when she fled her home in Mumbai due to issues in the family. The young girl was then staring at a bleak and uncertain future.
When I left my house, I didn’t know what lay ahead for me. I could earn only Rs 20 a day selling knives and coasters door-to-door, and people used to slam the door on my face, refusing to buy the products. But I had the determination and I knew there is no substitute for hard work,” Chinu (37) tells SMBStory.
Struggling hard to make it on her own, Chinu had to survive on one meal a day.
Chinu then explored a variety of jobs for over eight years to ensure she could manage on her own. In 2004, she got married in Bengaluru, and after a lot of push from her friends, participated in Gladrags Mrs India Pageant, 2008, where she reached the finals. She then entered the modelling industry, following which she began her entrepreneurial journey with Fonte Corporate Solutions, which specialised in corporate merchandising.
Chinu was exposed to practical lessons of running a business by meeting consumer demands with products and services that best match their needs, and it was then that she realised that there is a huge gap in the Indian jewellery industry.
Despite the Indian jewellery market being vast, Chinu felt that there were no unique designs to meet the demands of the consumers. Hence, she decided to close Fonte Corporate Solutions and founded Rubans Accessories in 2014 combining her love for fashion and experience of corporate merchandising.
Rubans Accessories was started with a bootstrapped capital of Rs 3 lakh in a 70 sqft Kiosk in Phoenix Mall, Bengaluru. In 2019, within a span of five years, the company has recorded a turnover of Rs 7.5 crore.
When Pune-based Manisha Bhati was working in Deutsche Bank, she knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur. Her background in teaching had helped her understand that people of all ages were lacking soft skills.
“I saw there wasn’t a platform where people could address these issues in a personal way,” she says. So, she wanted to start a counselling and development company to help people with career counselling, personal, and professional development.
But things did not come easy when she decided to start her own business.
My financial background was such that I did not have a large amount which I could invest in the business. I was unable to get a loan,” she says.
Manisha also had an ageing father who she didn’t want to burden by asking for money. But her dream required funding.
One day, she decided she would sell off her jewellery to fund the business. Though it was a tough decision, it was one which bore fruit. She was able to raise Rs 4 lakh by selling her gold.
She also met her business partner Shridhar Waghmare at Deutsche Bank. "We realised we shared a goal to boost the personal and professional skills of individuals,” she says.
And this was enough to start a counselling and development enterprise named Dreamhunt India in 2017.
Dreamhunt does one-on-one counselling and development sessions where they go with clients for movies, walks, and other fun activities.
Following this model of one-on-one sessions and group workshops, Dreamhunt has made Rs 20 lakh in under two years.
(Edited by Evelyn Ratnakumar)