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The number of funded startups with at least one female co-founder declined from 17% in 2018 to 12% last year, according to Innoven Capital. Bloomberg
The number of funded startups with at least one female co-founder declined from 17% in 2018 to 12% last year, according to Innoven Capital. Bloomberg

Why women entrepreneurs are missing from India’s startup story

  • In the Index of Women Entrepreneurs 2019, India ranked 52 out of the 57 surveyed countries
  • The ORF reseachers recommended that women entrepreneurs in India need better access to finance and networks

The Centre’s ambitious Startup India, Stand-up India initiative has failed to attract women entrepreneurs. Only 43% of the 27,084 recognised startups in India had a woman director as of 8 January, according to the Economic Survey 2019-20.

Women’s representation remained low even in the states that, according to the survey, were top performers in terms of state-wise distribution of recognized startups—Delhi, Maharashtra and Karnataka.

Also, in the Index of Women Entrepreneurs 2019, India ranked 52 out of the 57 surveyed countries.

What’s worse, according to Innoven Capital, a venture debt and lending platform, the number of funded startups with at least one female co-founder declined from 17% in 2018 to 12% in 2019. “Women have no risk covering possibility financially, besides lack of credit support. There is lack of institutional support system for first timers so even at smallest obstacle they give up. Overall, in a discouraging environment one needs to get the support of families," said Ranjana Kumari, director, Centre for Social Research.

As per industry-wise distribution of recognized startups, IT services accounted for 13.9% followed by healthcare and life sciences (8.3%) and education (7.0%), shows the economic survey. “Women make up for 70% of the global health workforce and are the primary caregivers for the elderly and children. Despite their clear dominance in healthcare, investor interest in health startups by women continues to remain scarce," said Savitha Kuttan, CEO, Omnicuris, a health-tech startup. “While Startup India has helped budding entrepreneurs interact with industry leaders, formulate and execute business plans, we need to focus on promoting women entrepreneurs in the science and healthcare sector."

The government said that though startups drive economic growth, create employment and foster a culture of innovation, it did not apparently help women venturing into businesses.

“Women are missing in the Startup India initiative because many women, who start their initiatives, are not in the limelight or mentored professionally. Additionally, when it comes to funding, women are not only scrutinized about how they’d manage their businesses, but also their families in parallel, which isn’t a filter men are put through," said Riya Saxena, innovative finance associate, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). “Thus women need to break through to filters to raise capital and grow their businesses."

A recent research paper released by Observer Research Foundation (ORF), a public policy think tank, argued that the low women entrepreneurship rates are part of a broader gender gap in economic participation and opportunity.

The paper titled, “Women Entrepreneurs in India: What is holding them back?", observed that policies aimed at including more women in senior and leadership positions are needed, which will help them gain experience and knowledge, which in turn will enable them to start their own businesses.

“Women in rural areas, especially, are a potential gold mine when it comes to entrepreneurship and must be encouraged through skilling and handholding," said Neha Rastogi, founder and CEO, Agatsa, a healthtech company.

To promote entrepreneurship among the youth, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the Startup India, Stand-up India initiative on 15 August 2015. The initiative was aimed at creating an ecosystem that is conductive for the growth of startups.

The ORF reseachers recommended that women entrepreneurs in India need better access to finance and networks. Organizations such as NITI Aayog’s Women Entrepreneurship Platform, Catalyst for Women Entrepreneurship, and the accelerator for women in tech initiated by Zone Startups India, provide dedicated support for women entrepreneurs, it added.

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