About 20% of the businesses in the country are owned by women, says the Google Bain report, which approximates the absolute numbers between 13.5 -15.7 million enterprises. The numbers look good, but the underlying reality is that a significant proportion of these enterprises are neither ‘owned’ nor ‘controlled’ by women.
The Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs presents a better picture when it estimates that out of 100 entrepreneurs in India, only seven are women. Despite women making inroads into the entrepreneurship ecosystem in the country in the last decade, the scenario remains bleak because women continue to face daunting roadblocks, which can be notches higher compared to their male peers.
For an entrepreneur, raising funds is always an issue, but for women founders, the task can be even more daunting. Women-led businesses often struggle to access investor funds because of the deep-rooted gender biases and prejudices of investors, among other factors. A study by researchers Dana Kanze, Laura Huang, and team says that VCs pose different questions - investors tend to ask men about how they will promote success and women about how they will prevent failure, which in turn affects how much funding they get.
Titan Capital, a leading seed-stage investment firm founded by Kunal Bahl and Rohit Bansal, has several women entrepreneurs in its portfolio. Bipin Shah, Partner at Titan Capital says investors need a different approach when evaluating an investment opportunity, “One cannot differentiate between women-led and men-led ventures. For an investor, the gender of the founder should be immaterial. There is no difference in our approach to deciding which venture to invest in. We look at the founder’s passion, product fit in the market, problem-solving approach and skills, and the strength and potential of their team. Our own team is fairly balanced in the matter of gender representation and that helps in fair evaluations.”
According to Ghazal Alagh, Co-founder Mamaearth, around six years ago, when she started on her entrepreneurial journey, the number of women entrepreneurs facing VCs was far smaller. “Titan Capital was one of the initial VCs to invest in our venture, and they treated me as an equal. One doesn’t need to treat women differently; we need to be treated as equals. An entrepreneur is an entrepreneur, irrespective of gender, and that’s what I experienced with them. They look at the idea, and passion behind it, and that’s what makes them leaders in their own way. They have been extremely helpful and supportive through our journey as entrepreneurs."
Pallavi Utagi, founder, Superbottoms adds that with many potential investors, she had often faced questions around how she would manage the business by herself.
Beyond funding, women entrepreneurship is fast changing, and it seems to have done particularly well when it comes to a few sectors. Surabhi Purwar, Principal at Titan Capital, says, “Till a few years ago, companies focused on women’s health and well-being were almost non-existent. But in the past 3-4 years, we have seen many startups coming up in the sector. For example, companies like Uvi Health, Oziva, Imumz in our portfolio have women founders/co-founders. Women founders are constantly identifying unfulfilled ‘female-focused’ needs and creating solutions, but to clarify, their vision is not limited only to these opportunities.”
Purwar says women entrepreneurs are playing a winning role and cornering a greater share of the D2C segment. “Even though overall, we see that women have started and are starting great businesses across all segments, which include consumer products, fintech, SaaS, among others; but a large number of D2C brands have women founders/co-founders. About 50% of the women founders we have backed have started D2C brands. I must add that in recent times we are also witnessing more women startups in core tech and SaaS businesses”, says Purwar.
Beyond women’s health and D2C, Shah adds tech entrepreneurship has traditionally been men’s bastion, but now those walls are crumbling, and women are gaining a foothold in the sector. “Research suggests that by global benchmarking standards, India has the potential to have over 30 million women-owned enterprises,” says Shah.
What about the holding pattern of ventures with women founders? Shah says, “We are witnessing a rise in solo women entrepreneurship in India. There are many instances of brother-sister, husband-wife founder duos, but more women are striking out on their own.”
For entrepreneurs, however, especially in the early stage, it is not merely limited to the monetary contribution an investor can bring to an organization. Guidance and networking are two other strong needs of such ventures.
“We believe in nurturing the ventures and helping the founders grow as well. We handhold our investees as friends and not just as financial investors dictating our terms. The founders get to leverage our combined experiences and our network. Ours is a gardener’s mindset with our early stage ventures being readied as gardens about to bloom,” says Shah.
Disha Singh, Founder, Zouk says a month after it raised investment, Shah had advised them to focus on building the business instead of focusing on future fundraising. “Similarly, as we scale up supply, his prime advice is to manage quality. We have been positively surprised that he doesn’t wear a purely financial-investor-only lens,” says Singh.