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Women startups shine this International Women’s Day

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Image source: indiaspeaksnow.com

By Kavita Bajeli-Datt

Today is International Women’s Day and start-ups are the flavour of the season. When both combine, we get women who are impressively standing tall among a clutter of new-age growth drivers.

Filtering through the cliched slogans that resonate around International Women’s Day on March 8 are some of the shining stars who have made a noticeable impact — not through hollow words but with hard work to build businesses by thinking differently.

Some of these young women like Sanna Vohra, Aditi Awasthy, Shabnam Aggarwal and Ambika Sharma have scripted success stories in a short period of time.

Sanna Vohra was just 18 and studying at Brown University, when she was smitten by the idea of starting a business. And it was just last year, at 24, that she saw an opportunity in the online wedding industry and decided to turn her dream into a reality by launching Indear.in- a shopping portal for weddings.

For Vohra, who has grown up all over Asia — in India, Singapore and the Philippines, a chance chat with her friend led to the birth of her dream.

“I was working at Morgan Stanley in New York and was in Mumbai for a week in January 2014, when a good friend was planning her sister’s wedding. To give me a sense of the location, her outfits, decor ideas, and the invitations, my friend had to go through multiple email threads, WhatsApp groups, and a word document with pictures pasted onto it,” Vohra told this correspondent.

“I went back to my job but continued doing research, and realized that no comprehensive tool existed. A few months later when I was 23, I moved to India and Indear was born: an end-to-end inspiration, planning, and shopping portal for Indian weddings,” said Vohra, who is one of the youngest women founders and CEOs in the Indian start up ecosystem.

A recent report by the Centre of Entrepreneurship (CE) threw up interesting aspects about women entrepreneurs. The report concluded that women are better in taking calculated risks, less prone to being over-confident, seek consensus of views and show sensitivity to needs of clients.

If Vohra started alone, so did Aditi Awasthy, founder and CEO of Embibe. Aditi’s business is all about helping students prepare for competitive examinations. The competitive world has climbed up the toughness ladder because of the sheer size of population jostling for better career options.

She eases the process a bit, said Awasthy, who founded Embibe when she was 30 years old. Awasthy, now 34, feels that it is a wrong question to ask whether women could be good entrepreneurs.

“There are successful entrepreneurs and failed entrepreneurs who may become successful later. Some of them happen to be women,” she said. “I think at times women disadvantage themselves by perceiving life a bit too much through a gender bias during the early years,” said Awasthy, an MBA from the University of Chicago.

“I don’t have children yet so I can’t say what impact that would have for me personally but I have seen situations where women have been treated unfairly specially in corporate settings. Things are changing though,” she said.

Shabnam Aggarwal, founder CEO of Kleverkid.in, also feels that the mindset about women entrepreneurs is changing, albeit slowly.

The 30-year-old, who holds a Bachelors degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, launched her venture in 2014 as she was passionate about children and their education.

“It was really difficult initially. I had to go through a lot of rejection and when you hear ‘no’ from everywhere, trust me it can be emotionally exhausting as well as tiring. The Indian startup space is getting hotter but many ventures are also failing to survive,” she said.

Ambika Sharma, 37, founded Pulp Strategy Communications, an award-winning agency, with an aim to provide marketing technological solutions to the industry giants.

Her venture is barely five years old but has already been recognised as India’s youngest and most awarded agency with an impressive list of clients like Google, Yahoo India, Nokia, Philips and Renault.

“Being a startup is more about mental strength and confidence than about anything else. For me, the process of raising the bar has just begun,” Sharma said.

When not dealing with complex market issues, Ambika unwinds with her passion for bikes. Her stable has a Suzuki GSX-R1000 and a Harley Davidson Road King.

“Challenges have been and will continue to be in the path just as the fact that they shall be overcome,” said this serial entrepreneur, who has an experience of more than 17 years and feels that technology has made it easy for a person to be a “perfect multi-tasker”. (IANS)

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Innovation and Startup Culture Thriving in Ghana

Ghana is seeing a spurt in Innovation & Technology

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A worker using his innovation inside Nelson Boateng's Nelplast Factory
Inside Nelson Boateng's Nelplast Factory in the outskirts of Accra, Ghana, a worker creates bricks from recycled plastic and sand. VOA

ACCRA – Ghana is regarded as a West African hub of invention, with growing numbers of young people looking at local solutions to local problems.  In December, Ghana is hosting two conferences on innovation and technology.

Alhassan Baba Muniru, co-founder of the Recycle Up company, wants to clean up the natural environment in Ghana.

But he also wants to educate, empower and support young people to pursue conservation – and to make money while doing it.

At the December Innovation Africa summit in Accra, he plans to advocate for more support for young inventors, especially those looking to do green business.

“Even while we are in school we are already entrepreneurial so, for me, I can be able to do a formal job but the freedom of being able to bring my own ideas into action and really take charge of doing something practical and something which also makes society better – it’s much more fulfilling,” said Muniru.

Alhassan Baba Muniro talking about Innovation
Alhassan Baba Muniro wants to clean up and create jobs for young people. VOA

Part of Recycle Up’s work includes collecting plastic from schools to sell to people like Nelson Boateng, whose company mixes it with sand to create bricks.

Muniru and Boateng walk through the factory in the outskirts of Accra, where plastic from across the city is shredded, melted, mixed and then molded into bricks to be used for roads, pavements and buildings.

Boateng, who also manufactures plastic bags, said the bricks are his way of helping to clean up the environment and to provide jobs.

But while Ghana is seeing a spurt in innovation, he said the country needs a lot more infrastructure to support environmentally-friendly business.

“For innovations in Ghana, it’s very, very difficult if you don’t really have the heart.  You will lose hope because honestly speaking when I was doing my polybag that is polluting the environment, I was having a lot of money.  I have money, there wasn’t any problem. When I started this, when you go to the bank they don’t know this, they want something that the money will be flowing, not something you people don’t know –  and not something you say you are trying to save the environment, nobody will mind you on that,” he said.

Supporting local technology startups is expected to be discussed at another December conference in Accra – the second annual Ghana Tech Summit.

ALSO READ: India: Innovation Holds the Key to Job Crisis.

Ghanaian inventor Andrew Quao is working to ease the burden on hospitals with technology that allows pharmacies to diagnosis and monitor chronic and tropical diseases.

Andrew Quao, Co-founder of 'Red Birds' helps in innovation and startup.
Andrew Quao, Co-founder of healthcare tech startup ‘Red Birds’ works with pharmacies across Ghana. VOA

He said African healthcare sectors like Ghana’s are ripe for innovative solutions.

“I think it is growing in the right direction, I think the climate is good, you have got a good mix of local talent and experience and expats coming in and seeing Ghana as a good point to start, so that also works.  We have the ‘brain gain.’ The diasporans – people like myself who schooled in the U.S. – coming back and trying to bring innovations in country,” said Quao.

While both public and private sectors are backing innovation, entrepreneurs hope to see a swell of support from the Innovation Africa and Ghana Tech summits. (VOA)