No country for women entrepreneurs -Lubna Kably
-The Times of India
A year ago, Vijayalakshmi decided to risk her decade-old corporate lifestyle to launch Design-Dreams, a web design venture, using her own funds. The BITS Pilani post-graduate may have successfully made the leap to an entrepreneur, but expects the climb ahead to be steep. "When you walk into a networking seminar, you can count the number of women on your fingers. One feels secluded and interactions are difficult," says Vijayalakshmi, who is also working on developing a few tech products. "Lack of collateral makes it tougher for women to get bank loans."
For many women entrepreneurs like her, access to external funds and business networking remain major challenges to growth. Their adverse circumstances are reflected in the Gender-GEDI Index for 2014, compiled by Washington-based Global Entrepreneurship and Development Institute (GEDI). India ranks in the bottom five of 30 countries surveyed for conditions that foster 'high potential' women entrepreneurship (see box).
'High potential' women entrepreneurs are those who through job creation and widening of markets can boost economic growth. The facts on the ground reveal the same truth. Even as the number of self-employed women (working in low-skilled jobs from home or as street vendors) has doubled to a crore over a 10-year period (2000-10), women entrepreneurs (job creators as distinct from self-employed) remain a rarity. The highest participation of women entrepreneurs (1.88 lakh) was in the service sector but the percentage has remained stagnant at 6%, states the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in its recent India economic survey.
Marginalized in macho sectors
As entrepreneurs, women tend to stick to comfort zones like apparel and hospitality. In the more profitable sectors of science, engineering and technology, women are marginalized by the macho culture, excluded from 'buddy networks' and lack female role models, cites GEDI's report. In India, the gender bias in the workplace (percentage of women managers is a mere 14%) continues to play out in the field entrepreneurship. "Access to a broad range of business sectors will fully unleash female entrepreneurship. By expanding women's abilities to start businesses in maledominated sectors which are more profitable, you also in crease the ability of that business to succeed and grow," says Ruta Aidis, who led the GenderGEDI Index 2014 project. A few have tackled this bias. Geetha Devi, a chemical engineer and now CEO of Gradus Engineers, recalls that as an intern in the late 1980s she wasn't allowed inside the plant of a petrochemical company. To break such barriers, she set up her own company in January 2011.
Can't bank on VCS
Based on anecdotal evidence, GEDI's report states that women have more limited access to bank loans and the gap is even wider when it comes to venture capital (VC) funding. In India, as per a report released by International Finance Corporation earlier this year, the total supply of formal finance to women-owned micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) was around Rs. 2.31 lakh crore during 2012 - resulting in a finance gap of Rs 6.37 lakh crore or 73% of the total demand.
A Karnataka-centric 2014 report titled 'Strengthening Her Enterprise' states over 90% women entrepreneurs have to rely on personal funding. Nearly 68% women entrepreneurs surveyed felt they had to put in more efforts to get bank loans. Lack of collateral is the main challenge in accessing bank loans (the reach of the Credit Guarantee Fund Scheme that offers collateral-free loans to MSMEs in general is limited) as preference is given to married women whose husbands can guarantee repayment.
VCs denied discriminating on gender grounds, women entrepreneurs feel otherwise. A young and single Chennai-based tech entrepreneur feels her unmarried status deters VCs from investing in her. Uma Reddy, MD of Hitech Magnetics and Electronics, an engineer with 30 years of entrepreneurial experience, offers a different perspective. "Women start small and VCs aren't interested in a small deal size. Further, women have a lower risk-taking appetite and are hesitant to pitch to a VC with huge future projections," she says.
India lacks women-centric banks or VCs though Karnataka made a small beginning late last year, when the state government launched an angel fund for women.
Several networking groups are providing women entrepreneurs a helping hand. WEConnect International, which set up its India operations in 2012, connects women-centric enterprises it certifies to multinational corporate members like IBM or Accenture.
Sucharita Shome Eashwar, India head, explains, "To be eligible for certification, women must hold a majority stake in the enterprise (51% or more) and be decision-makers in the enterprise (hold post of CEO or MD). We also prefer enterprises that have completed at least one year of operation." "In 2013, IBM spent over Rs 300 crore with diverse suppliers across India, of which more than Rs 100 crore was spent with women-owned suppliers. We expect year-to-year growth," says Suhaib Sajid, who leads IBM's supplier diversity program in Asia-Pacific. Srikant Rao, MD-Procurement Asia-Pacific at Accenture, believes having a diverse supplier chain which includes women entrepreneurs is also a good commercial decision.
GEDI's report points out that women entrepreneurs aren't making optimal use of social networking platforms. To counter that, Ruche Mittal's 'Her Entrepreneurial Network' (HEN) ensures the 3,000-plus members interact actively via Facebook, seeking inputs from each other and even working on joint projects. However such avenues do not fill the yawning gap. The OECD survey points out that by narrowing the gender gap - including in entrepreneurial space - India can grow its GDP by two percentage points each year. But long-term, all-encompassing solutions are required to enable women to succeed.
The Times of India, 21 December, 2014, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/No-country-for-women-entrepreneurs/articleshow/45590203.cms?utm_source=fb&utm_campaign=toimobile&utm_medium=refe