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Given that women entrepreneurs face gender-based barriers to starting and growing businesses, Ficci plans to set up industrial parks for women entrepreneurs can help give them a boost.
Given that women entrepreneurs face gender-based barriers to starting and growing businesses, Ficci plans to set up industrial parks for women entrepreneurs can help give them a boost.

Women-only tech parks can only do so much

There has been a rise in the number of women-only tech parks to help women rent space at subsidized rates

Bengaluru: In India, there is no dearth of sops. And when it comes to encouraging women entrepreneurs, there are special loans on offer and banks set up exclusively to cater to them.

And more recently, there has been a rise in the number of women-only tech parks to help women rent space at subsidized rates.

The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) last week said it has plans to set up industrial parks for women entrepreneurs. Rati Mundrey, chairperson of FICCI Ladies Organization, said land had been earmarked at industrial estates in Telangana, Gujarat and Karnataka. And in Assam, Haryana, Meghalaya, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, the state governments have agreed in principle to create industrial parks for women.

The reason for setting this up is quite obvious.

Women own 10% of micro, small and medium enterprises of which 90% are micro businesses, and account for only 3% of the output, said Mundrey.

Moreover, given that women entrepreneurs face gender-based barriers to starting and growing their businesses, like discriminatory property rules, lack of access to formal finance mechanisms, limited mobility and access to information and networks, a cluster like this can help give women entrepreneurs a boost, said Mundrey.

This initiative follows a move by the Karnataka government to set up a 300-acre tech park exclusive for women in Bengaluru.

While this is a step in the right direction, the problems for women entrepreneurs are multi-fold, starting from lack of funding for women-led ventures.

“While a move like this can be a boost, funding in itself is a big challenge for women, and mostly sops like these remain on paper. So one should be wary of how it would actually materialise" says Sairee Chahal, founder of Sheroes, a platform to help women with their careers.

She added that one such initiative was the Bharatiya Mahila Bank, which was set up with much fanfare in 2013. “But many of the women entrepreneurs don’t even hear back from the bank when they apply for loans," she said.

Smita Mishra, founder of Pool Wallet, a platform that allows real-time online sharing of expenses, said: “ There are some fundamental challenges unsolved and there is so much that can be done for women before we go towards these benefits. The most fundamental of these is funding. Women are still not getting enough funding. The percentage divide between men and women entrepreneurs is higher and it reflects in the funding too."

Stories of women funders facing numerous challenges to raise funds are numerous. Nidhi Agarwal, the founder of Kaaryah, a brand of western, non-casual wear for Indian women, made as many as 113 investor pitches before she finally got funded by Ratan Tata.

In fact, there are a total of 208 male co-founders in the top 100 start-ups—and only 16 female co-founders.

According to another finding released by YourStory.com, a media platform for entrepreneurs, only 68 of 307 start-ups that raised funding in the first quarter of 2016 had a female co-founder. Of these, only nine had a sole female founder.

To help solve the funding challenge, Mishra believes that the debt funding and loans given under Startup India policy that was put in place in 2016 is a good move. But here too, the numbers of disbursals done are not encouraging, says she.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed a Rs.10,000 crore (about $1.5 billion) corpus to be deployed in tranches of Rs.2,500 crore over a period of four years.

“It seems difficult to procure them and there is also not enough transparency or understanding on how this works and who is accountable for it. You have to know the ‘Right" guy. Policies don’t work like this," she says.

Aditi Bansal, co-founder of Ubunanny, an on-demand babysitting service, feels women could use more help in finding an exclusive space especially in the incubation and acceleration stage.

“Young mothers who are entrepreneurs face a big hurdle to manage their companies and child care responsibilities, so what would help are startup incubation and acceleration centres with facilities for childcare," said Bansal.

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