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Startup mantra: Women entrepreneurs who hacked the glass ceiling... and beyond

PUNE Stepping into business, managing personal life, scaling the business is easier said than done
By Salil Urunkar
PUBLISHED ON MAR 06, 2021 01:13 PM IST

PUNE Stepping into business, managing personal life, scaling the business is easier said than done. Women are challenged with subtle discrimination while dealing with clients, investors and other stakeholders of their business ecosystem.

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, on March 8, HT spoke with women entrepreneurs from startups, and the information technology sector to highlight their experiences on their entrepreneurial journey, their plans for this year and their message to other women entrepreneurs.

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Hemangi Vartak

Founder, Gifts Galore; and founder, Jungle Belles (wildlife club and tours exclusively for women)

“I quit my full-time job after my second daughter in 2008 and did not want to get back into it. I wanted to give equal attention to my home and girls. This is when I got into business in 2009 and started my own company ‘Gifts Galore’. Gifting was a very competitive business - right from large setups to gift shops, were my competitors. It was initially difficult to survive due to low margins in this business. That’s when I started with this novel idea of birthday wishing. This was a unique one which really worked.

These had been hard times in 2020 for most of us from the business fraternity and with advertising costs soaring. So, to survive in the competition one needs to find ways to reach new customers as well build a bond with existing customers, as that’s the best way to keep ahead in the competition. And this is exactly where Gifts Galore scores above every other medium.

I always had support of my family and my husband when I started. I feel a good backbone system at home is very essential for any woman who steps out for work. After starting the business, it took four years to break even. In recent times, I found an investor as they found potential in my work. I plan to take the Birthday Wishing (bonding with stakeholders) concept to the next level.

Message to other women entrepreneurs

“There is no limit to what we as women can accomplish”, said Michelle Obama. I would like to say that believe in yourself, find time for your passion that keeps you going and you can accomplish anything under the sun. The achievements might be different for all, but they will surely satisfy the soul.”

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Renu Salgarkar

Co-Founder, Classboat

“After working internationally, I realised that I wanted to work on some bigger purpose and contribute to the Indian education system, and towards a student’s life from an early age. So, I came back and started our own venture to create an impact in millions of students’ lives.

“Having a supportive family around is a privilege and this gives you energy to navigate every up and down. Me, and my husband, working together towards our life and company mission gives us enormous energy and makes us understand the challenges, as well as successes, of this journey very well. We were always lucky that both of our parents respected our aspirations. However, I think the most important part of being an entrepreneur is your belief in what you are doing. If you believe in what you are doing, everyone will start supporting you and respecting your decision.

“Our venture, Classboat, has turned profitable from the first year of operation and has used its positive cash-flow for expansion into 160+ cities of India. Sometime unforeseen changes like Covid have impacted business, but that I consider as a blessing in disguise, to take a step back and think of adding more product lines to add value in our students lives directly and indirectly. Backed by strong data over the last four years, Classboat is now building India’s first artificial intelligence (AI)-based courses platform. This platform is in beta phase and has shown transformation in 300+ students already in the last four months.

Message to other women entrepreneurs

“I urge all women to realise their dreams and start chasing them. There will be many people who will tell you it won’t happen, but just ask yourself how can it happen? If you be very focused towards your goal, then all the hard times and obstacles become unimportant.”

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Purva Surse

Founder, KYRA Natural Salon

“Honestly, I never thought I would enter the beauty business world, specially having done Engineering and a Master’s degree in Computers. I believe my mom has a major role in influencing me to fall in love with beauty and Ayurveda. When I first told my parents about the salon idea, my mom was supportive, but it took me a few months to convince my dad. I showed him how my salon would be different and the ways it can help other people. Finally, when they were on board, I got their full support.

“I recently completed formal education in cosmetics from a UK-based school and became a certified organic skincare formulator. Accessing finance was difficult initially, but I started with a small investment. I took a loan from a bank to start my business. I had a pretty good experience with the bank. I would really encourage women entrepreneurs to take the support from banks since they have reduced interest rates for women entrepreneurs.

“The recent lockdown was a major turning point in my business. I learned a lot about managing finances. During the lockdown, I started consulting customers online for free and making online videos in order to help them with DIY recipes. I also made fresh, natural, customised skin and hair kits for my clients and started delivering it in the city. This helped me bring in a little revenue, with which I was able to pay my staff. I have now decided to start my own beauty line of natural and organic products that will help people solve their skin and hair related issues.”

Message to other women entrepreneurs

“If you truly believe in your idea and you are sure that your idea is going to solve people’s problems, then go for it. You will face lot of problems dealing with finances. Being a women entrepreneur is not easy, but fighting against the odds will make you a super business woman. Always aim high and be prepared to work extra hard. Enjoy and live the process. It’s worth it.”

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Snehal Londhe

Managing director, Payod Industries; Maharashta head of women’s wing of the Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industries (DICCI)

“I used to work while completing my education. After marriage in 1996, I continued to work and became aware of women’s-related issues as my work profile demanded that we travel to different parts of the country. In 2008 my husband and I, both left our highly-paying jobs and returned to our village Hingangaon in Sangli district of Maharashtra, with the thought of starting our own company.

“Convincing our parents was not at all easy. No one was happy with our decision as we took the risk of doing business. It wasn’t easy to avail of finance. Our factory location was in a rural area, we were first generation entrepreneurs and above that, our product was also new. So, we didn’t get any response from block-level banks. So, we decided to bootstrap our venture and took credit from friends, sold our property and used our bank deposits, personal funds, investments for setting up our business.

“In 2011, we got chance to present our products at a CII conference held in Pune. A handshake with Ratan Tata is one of our most memorable moments of our entire business journey and we never looked back after that. Recently, the development commissioner of Industries of Maharashtra, sanctioned our Hand Gloves Cluster. We are supporting rural enterprises to grow and I’m happy to share that now 100 of our 500 women employees have become employers. Also, we are thinking about setting up a Gloves Museum so that everyone will get information regarding all types of gloves. We want to create industrial tourism here as well.

Message to other women entrepreneurs

“Increase your network and speak-up wherever necessary. Trust people and be a solution for someone. Never restrict yourself from doing the right things. Leave your ego aside to achieve your goals. Have a clear vision of your goals. Have patience and be passionate about your Work. Build the people, and the people will build you.”

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Sujata Salvi

COO, Eviox Tech

After marriage, I decided to explore the entrepreneurial spirit in me. This shift of mindset from being an employee to being an employer was a piece of work initially. My family and husband have been supportive throughout. Proficiency becomes a bit challenging when you have the power to run an organisation, because you get to decide everything. That’s the real test of yourself I would say.

“Life workwise has always been a good experience so far. There are a few bad experiences, but they only make you strong and seasoned at the end. One good experience I would truly love to share is that of working on big data project for TCS. It catapulted the best out of the entire team handling multiple teams across the globe. I personally learned a lot.

“2021 will be a huge breakthrough as I will be working on my upcoming books and also on business expansion in India.”

Message for other women entrepreneurs

“A woman must recognise herself and the boundless willpower she is gifted with. She can be a success story in everything she does. Never submit to any failure easily. We build our empire on our own terms so be brave enough to start at any time it’s never too late.”

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Pranoti Nandurkar

Lead, Women Tech Makers, Google Developer Group

“In my early college days, around 2005, when social media and learning resources were very limited, we used to travel to Pune from Ahmednagar just to attend seminars or sessions on different technologies. Small cities did not have enough facilities, infrastructure or mentors. There was a huge gap between what is needed by the industry and what we were learning. There I realised the need of a tech community where we can share experiences and help each other grow. And that’s how my journey started.

“GDG (Google Developer Group) and WTM (Women tech makers), both are tech communities backboned by Google, where we focus on the latest trends in the industry, workshops and hands-on on new technologies. Women tech makers focuses on diversity in tech. We provide a platform for women to showcase their skills and provide resources which help them to grow in their career. We connect them with women leaders in tech industry, arrange various talks and workshops. This helps our community members to be skilled with the latest technology, and to be motivated in the workforce for longer time.

“One of the turning points in my life was getting an invitation and sponsored tour of Google’s headquarters in Silicon Valley. Moreover, I got a chance to meet and interact with Sundar Pichai in person, which is a dream for every techie.

“We have panned our International Women’s Day celebration on March 20 and 21. It will be online event you can register on https://iwdindia.in

Message for other women techies

“Learn things which are the need of the industry. Showcase your skills and talent. Create and join groups of likeminded people, where you can discuss your new learnings and get feedback. To grow in your career, don’t rely on others to stand up for you because it’s your road, others can walk with you but no one can walk for you.”

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Sneha Sahasrabuddhe

Founder, Kovid Bio Analytics (A boutique service provider in healthtech, bioinformatics, edtech and data storage domains)

“I am a bioinformaticist by education and love working on projects that challenge my knowledge as well as skill sets from the very beginning of my career. After six years of experience in the IT industry, I felt that my mettle would be better tested while running my own business and it would give me enough challenge and opportunities.

“I was two years into my marriage when I founded Kovid BioAnalytics and it was a mutual and well-planned decision between my husband Mandar and I. He was still working to ensure that our income stayed stable, while I stepped into the uncertainty of a start-up venture. Both our parents and our family were extremely supportive of the decision and encouraged, helped and mentored our venture in their respective roles.

“I had decided that we would go the bootstrap way, and would fund the business from my own savings, to begin with. When KBA stabilised around 2015, Mandar also joined me as a co-founder. The biggest challenge that we faced as a team was around the middle of 2019, when our US-based clients had to halt their projects owing to some regulatory and business challenges that they faced. This was a major set-back for us. This also gave us the time and opportunity to work on our own cloud-based platform – eDhanvantari, a virtual clinic management system designed specifically for clinics and hospitals in India. eDhanvantari helped us convert the pandemic into a turning point for ourselves, thanks to an excellent team of skilled, brilliant and hard-working folks.

“We coursed through the lockdown months working seven-days a week, on service projects as well as two new in-house products – Cloud It and Skool Up. This enabled us to venture outside the healthtech domain into edutech and data storage.

Message for other women entrepreneurs

“Never Say No!, has been my mantra from day one. The present conditions in India are highly favourable for technology startups. Gone are the days when setting up your business was a challenge for women. We are seeing a lot of entrepreneurial efforts in the hyper-local service space as well. And women can be seen at the fore of these efforts everywhere. My message to them is to go ahead at full throttle, and persevere through the challenges without ever losing hope or spirit. True efforts are always rewarded.”

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