Bangalore: In her second innings as a technology entrepreneur, Kalpana Krishnaswami is going about her business methodically.
This summer she signed up for a management programme for women entrepreneurs run by the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore (IIM-B), and is now set to enter the on-campus business incubator.
On course: ISB’s associate dean Deepak Chandra (centre) with two former students of the Goldman Sachs 10000 Women initiative programme, Sonali Srikanth (left) and Sarvamangala Parupudi at the campus. Bharath Sai / Mint
Krishnaswami, chief executive and director, Metaome Science Informatics Pvt. Ltd, a three-year-old start-up that until now focused solely on bioinformatics services, said she will now focus on a product development plan and move her business away from just providing services.
She had started a small business when she was living in the US but returned to India with a technology job. When she wanted to start a venture again, she realized she had to be more systematic if she wanted to grow beyond a small business.
It is on the issues of starting and scaling up that Krishnaswami and many other women similarly bitten by the entrepreneurial bug say training programmes to hone management skills help in a big way.
“I launched my business in April 2008 with one retail store and a Rs5 lakh loan from my father,” said Sarvamangala Parupudi, owner of an apparel business called Anagha who signed up for the Goldman Sachs 10000 Women initiative programme run in partnership with Hyderabad-based Indian School of Business (ISB) that trains women to expand their businesses.
The 10000 Women initiative is a five-year investment by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to provide 10,000 underserved women around the world with a business and management education.
“I ran my business by instinct until I signed on for the programme which has taught me the benefit of methods and processes to make business grow,” said Parupudi, who graduated in May and has opened a second retail outlet and taken her business online to cater to a growing overseas clientele.
“Typically, women entrepreneurs grapple with issues around scaling up their business. If they have a revenue base of Rs20 lakh, the question is whether the next target should be Rs1 crore or Rs5 crore,” said Manak Singh, executive director, The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE), Mumbai, where an ongoing initiative in collaboration with the Tata group called Tata TiE Stree Shakti (woman power) focuses on issues specific to women entrepreneurs.
“Women make up roughly half the population but their involvement with economic activity is still low,” said Deepak Chandra, associate dean, ISB. “Increasing opportunities for them to be more economically productive in turn will boost economic activity.”
ISB requires women entrepreneurs with a current business turnover of Rs5-30 lakh to present a business plan for expansion at the end of the three-month programme.
Parupudi wants ISB to conduct refresher course, a move that other women entrepreneurs such as Sonali Srikanth in Hyderabad, who runs a business centred on gifting called Riddhi’s Aesthetics, are also keen on.
Six months after graduating from the ISB-Goldman Sachs programme, Srikanth has seen a near 50% growth in revenue touching Rs50 lakh even as she moved her retail outlet to an upscale location.
“Women have a professional life cycle that is different from men. It is studded with breaks along the way, and typically, women tend to reach the peak of their career later in life, when perhaps the children are older,” said Anita Ramachandran, founder and chief executive, Cerebrus Consultants, an HR consultancy, who gave up her 19-year career as a management consultant to set up her own venture.
Ramachandran, who mentors women entrepreneurs under the Tata TiE Stree Shakti programme, said that these courses are “an effort to ensure that women don’t give up in the midst of this life cycle and continue to remain engaged and competitive in the professional area.”
“Many women are reluctant to take decisions on their own, deferring decision to a parent, husband, sometimes even the son or daughter,” said Anjana Vivek, programme director, MPWE, IIM-B. “This becomes a habit and reduces the entrepreneurial risk-taking ability of women.”
The IIM-B course offers aspiring entrepreneurs a chance to test their skills and business plans before plunging into the fray. “We have about three different profiles of students in this course—those wanting to step away from family businesses, those wanting to grow an existing enterprise and finally a third set of women who are keen to begin a business of their own,” said Ganesh Prabhu, professor of strategy and co-ordinator, MPWE.
The course ends with a competition for business plans that was bagged by Krishnaswami of Metaome this year.
The course also offers young entrepreneurs such as Pragnya Wakhlu, who quit a three-year career at Infosys Technologies Ltd to become an entrepreneur, a chance to test their skills and network with a high quality peer group. “After the course, I now have a business plan for not just the next month but until the next three-five years,” said Wakhlu, who is setting up corporate and student training programmes based on music and dance.
So this summer when the swine flu scare spoilt her plans to set up student training camps, Wakhlu, armed with her MPWE training, changed track and quickly built a client base in the corporate sector.
“Women give in too easily,” said Ramachandran. “That is a challenge theoretical training in management and entrepreneurship development can address.”