At the turn of the twentieth century, Madam C. J. Walker broke the shackles of slavery to become the first woman entrepreneur in the United States. Times have changed since then and women are on an incredible journey of entrepreneurship. Today they are leading with positive self-belief and confidence. As elsewhere, women in India have come a long way from being just homemakers to successful entrepreneurs.
Kalpana Saroj, the innovative ‘Slumdog millionaire’, was India’s first woman entrepreneur. She bought the distressed assets of a company and worked hard to steer the firm back to profits. Inspired by her, many women entrepreneurs in India are on their journey to success. In fact, according to the Indian federal government, women comprise about 14% of the country’s entrepreneurs.
Every year Women’s History Month is celebrated in March embodying the exceptional triumphs of women in our society. This marks the 35th anniversary of the celebrations. On this occasion, we focus on five businesswomen from India to follow in Women’s History Month. Here we shall talk about the difficulties they faced, the opportunities they got, and the risks they took to become successful entrepreneurs.
1 Falguni Nayar
Falguni Nyar is the founder of the Nykaa online beauty store. She started her journey as an entrepreneur at the age of 50 – when most people actually start planning their retirement. A Business graduate, Nyar served as the Managing Director of Kotak Mahindra Capital Company before launching her business.
Nayar always wanted to do something on her own. Once she quit her job, Nayar started thinking about various ideas as well as how to build up a business organization. However, Nayar never thought of launching Nykaa until she observed the detached approach used by sales managers of retail and online beauty shops in selecting the best products. She noticed how her friends in the United States relied on Amazon for their shopping. Nayar also observed the absence of good beauty care products’ sale experience in India. Taking lessons from these and combining the two, she launched Nykaa in 2012.
After the launch of Nykaa, many reputed brands were listed on the platform, and soon Nykaa’s turnover crossed $30 million. Today, it claims to sell 200,000 products across 2,000 brands. Last year, Nykaa made a violently successful public market debut scaling a market capitalization of $13 billion just a few hours after the stock trading commenced. Nayar’s story bears testimony to the fact that it’s never too late to start anything new. Her wild success has motivated people to believe in the opportunities that can be created at any time and age.
2 Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw
Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw is the Chairman and Managing Director of Biocon India Group, a pioneering initiative that exploited India’s homegrown scientific talent for breakthroughs in clinical research. Kiran returned to India after acquiring knowledge of brewery from Melbourne in 1975. Yet, she failed to find a job in India. In fact, Kiran was told that she could not be hired as a master brewer because “It’s a man’s work”. Being well aware of the cultural norms that limited the social mobility of women in India, Kiran started looking for opportunities abroad.
Kiran served as a trainee manager at Biocon Biochemicals Limited, of Cork, Ireland, for a while to pick up the ropes of the business. Subsequently, she returned to India and started Biocon India in 1978. Her company initially operated from the garage of her rented house in Bengaluru with a seed capital of just $134. Biocon India is a joint venture, but laws in India restricted foreign ownership to only 30% of the company. Thus, Kiran owned 70% of the company.
She has successfully led the evolution of Biocon from an industrial enzyme manufacturing firm to a completely integrated bio-pharmaceutical. Today, Biocon Limited is a globally recognized, innovation-led organization that is enabling access to high-quality, advanced therapies for chronic diseases.
3 Sairee Chahal
Sairee Chahal is the founder and CEO of the platform SHEROES. She launched the platform with the aim of helping women to get ‘more from life’. In other words, lead a fulfilling life in terms of their careers and jobs, health, family life, and wellbeing.
Sairee hailed from a small town in India and was well aware of the limited opportunities for women. After leaving her hometown, she pursued her education and also worked for a living simultaneously. It was not long before she started job opportunities for the needy.
Sairee observed the vast gender gap in the Internet ecosystem in India, the absence of diversity in the workplace, and the trivial number of women employees. She launched SHEROES as a career-centric community app, especially for women. In just two years after the launch, SHEROES had nearly 1 million women members and 20,000 companies on board. Every month the platform posts 100,000 job listings. SHEROES has also set up a helpline for women so that they could talk to counselors about their career problems.
4 Upasana Taku
Upasana Taku is the founder of Mobikwik – the first-ever truly Indian payments app. After completing her studies at Stanford University, Upasana returned to India with lots of entrepreneurship ideas, but the business ecosystem did not accept her easily. Though her concept appeared to be relatable, it was fairly new for the market to accept it. Moreover, her gender was one of the major obstacles. She observed that woman in a position of managing finance was unsettling.
However, Upasana was determined to make her dreams a reality and battled her way to the top. While she had the entrepreneur calling from within, Upasana also wanted it to be in other people’s best interest. She launched the Mobikwik app with the aim to help the underserved people in her country. Initially, Mobikwik was launched as an easy recharge platform, but soon it was in every individual’s phone as an e-wallet. Today, Mobiwik connects over 110 million users to over 3 million online and physical stores, and enables payments and financial services – credit, insurance, and wealth, at the click of a button.
5 Shaili Chopra
Shaili Chopra’s greatest strength is perhaps her ability to empower women by narrating their stories of determination to the world. Shaili never thought she would become an entrepreneur, but today, she is the head of SheThePeople.TV, an organization founded by her. It is also India’s largest digital news platform catering to women.
Shaili started her journey at the age of 10. When she was young, Shaili did not see many female journalists in India. Observing such a wide gap in the country’s media industry, she lapped the opportunity to fill it. Before launching her own digital platform, Shaili served as a journalist on major news platforms for 18 years.
She started her journey as a young journalist and by 2012; she won the prestigious Ram Nath Goenka Award for Excellence in Business Journalism – a rare thing for women journalists in India to achieve. Shaili launched the SheThePeople.TV as she wanted to work for women who were under-represented by the media. According to Shaili, she started SheThePeople.TV with the objective to tell stories from a female’s perspective.
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