May 27, 2024

Why Women Entrepreneurs Are Missing From India's Unicorn Growth Story – Entrepreneur

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Building leadership talent amongst women is the core for making more women take the reins of their startups.
India is inking a new page in history with the number of unicorns rising across different sectors. India has the largest MSME presence next to China, with more than 63 million enterprises in micro, small and medium industries. However, of these, only 20.37 per cent are women owned. India ranked 70 of 77 countries on the Global Entrepreneurship and Development Institute’s Female Entrepreneurship Index.
Among the 106 unicorns till date in India, only 12 are women-led ventures, which is a mere 11 per cent. Also, India’s female workforce participation is among the worst in South Asia at 24 per cent or women represent only 14 per cent of entrepreneurs in India. This alarming trend of women participation in India, is critical in developing an understanding towards the gender stereotypes and tradition Vs modernity dichotomy faced by the female leaders in our country. The stark difference in gender disparity in entrepreneurship calls for a discussion on the challenges faced by women in starting businesses. However, there are hopeful signs in recent times.
Building leadership talent amongst women is the core for making more women take the reins of their startups. As per the female-focused results of Mercer’s 2021, in the technology sector, female representation is only 4-8 per cent at the executive levels which is in contrast to the 43 per cent participation at the entry levels. There are certain fields like legal, compliance and audit, sales, marketing and product management which has poorer women participation. For a startup to thrive and excel, the above-mentioned fields are core. More targeted programs from Incubators focusing on professional development for women, leadership succession of the high potential women candidates and fueling the culture of inclusive leadership at top management would be a welcome step to enable more women leaders occupy the C-level positions in a venture, thus also increasing the chances of more women led enterprises becoming unicorns.
While gender disparity is at alarming levels, there are certain welcome changes in addressing this issue, in the recent times. Girls are being encouraged to choose STEAM careers and be absorbed in various industries with ecosystem support. Upon the establishment of a new venture, a woman entrepreneur requires support to scale up her venture. Calibrated industry-wide action coupled with ecosystem support in the form of Girls in STE(A)M initiative, which is a move to catch the girl student’s penchant towards the new age skills at a very young age, thus encouraging them to choose those skills as their career, as they move grow up.
Upon the establishment of a new venture, a women entrepreneur requires support to ground and scale up their venture. Access to finance, access to markets and access to networks/information are the three strong pillars in a start-up’s journey. Operationalizing government incentives and schemes, both at the central and state level is critical. There are certain government schemes to avail of, including the Udhyam Sakhi Portal for Women Entrepreneurs, the Women Entrepreneurship Platform by Niti Aayog, the Start-up India Program and Skill India. Popularization of these government schemes is essential for more women to become entrepreneurs.
The role of venture capitalists (VCs) is crucial in providing equity finance for the ventures at the right time. There is a long way to go for the equity investments for women-led start-ups, as these enterprises received only 2.3 per cent of venture capital funding in 2020. Women-led VCs are twice as likely to invest in women-run businesses than their male counterparts. Women start-up-focused funds like Saha funds, StrongHer Ventures, SHE Capital and Encubay network are trying to bridge the gap in the VC funding to women entrepreneurs.
Role models are an important motivating factor for more women to take up entrepreneurship, which, in turn, will address the gender-disparity issue. The government should take up initiatives to recognize role model entrepreneurs. Pilot projects with governments and corporates would help entrepreneurs get opportunities to explore markets, thus addressing the issue of access to markets. There is a need for mentorship and training for women entrepreneurs through formal programs, workshops and courses at the university level to develop their skills and address the gaps in their businesses. Also, there is a need for more accelerators to help women founders raise money. Collective action is required from all the stakeholders to pave the way for a more equal start-up ecosystem. More interstate and inter country programs should be conceptualized, so that women entrepreneurs can cross learn from each other and also, they can expand their businesses to those newer markets, thus, providing avenues for their need for access to markets. There is a need to allocate proportionate funds directed at women-led companies to enable them to enter the unicorn club.
Jacqueline Whitmore
Madeline Garfinkle
Ivan Popov
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