India has truly become a ‘startup nation’. Over the last few years, the country has seen tremendous growth towards creation of innovative new businesses, which has given rise to a new breed of young start-ups and entrepreneurs.
However, despite this, opportunities for female entrepreneurs to establish themselves can be thin on the ground. Even with all of the advancements that women have made in the business world, there are still several challenges they can face when starting up businesses of their own, which hinder their development…
Difficulty in raising funds
Securing investment is an integral part of getting any start-up venture off the ground. For any would-be entrepreneur, no matter how well thought out their business plan may be this can be tricky, and for female entrepreneurs, even more so – not because of a lack of quality in their entrepreneurial ideas, but due to gender bias. Some investors may hesitate to invest in businesses that are run by women mainly because of the preconceived notion that women will prioritise their families over their work – leading to them becoming distracted, and less committed to their professional goals.
For the best chance of success, female entrepreneurs need to able to give confidence to the investors they approach of their dedication and focus. A well-structured, robust business plan is a vital first step, along with a confident knowledgeable demeanour.
To boost their capabilities and credentials, aspiring female entrepreneurs should look at building their business credentials. Applying to a business school could be beneficial for a multitude of reasons. Programmes that focus on exposing students to the global market, or build global perspectives into the curriculum make for highly valuable experiences. And, so does the opportunity to interact with a high diverse classroom of business professionals.
For me, the Executive Global Masters in Management (EGMiM) at the London School of Economics Department of Management was the ideal choice, as the programme covers all aspects of leadership and management. Apart from studying subjects like foundations of management, managerial economics and organisational behaviour we analysed why managers make the decisions they make and whether this is truly the best approach. It also provided me with a class full of people from around the world to help broaden my horizons.
This business grounding can also help you to successfully approach and secure both financial and professional support from investors. My company, 500 Startups invests in, and supports the development of start-ups across a variety of industries, to transform them into robust, fully-fledged globally operating companies, and we also run programmes that help businesses, and business people to develop, manage their organisations and their own business lives.
Women entrepreneurs can sometimes lack the necessary networking skills needed to succeed in building a new business, as some of them could have less access to influential networks and support when starting up than their male colleagues. Furthermore, women entrepreneurs have to work with primarily male executives, which can be intimidating for some. To protect themselves and to navigate such an environment, some women feel they need to adopt a stereotypically male attitude in the workplace, which can include traits such as being competitive, aggressive or overly harsh. Unfortunately this is of little help as women could be perceived as “difficult to work with”.
It is difficult in such environments, particularly for women working in typically male-dominated science, technology, engineering or management (STEM) roles, to challenge such perspectives, but this is exactly what needs to happen. Women need to feel comfortable in being themselves, and in being taken seriously in their work.
The key to this is providing opportunities for women to receive advice and coaching from influential business figures and role models. Specifically-targeted networking opportunities, such as SheLeadsTech from Facebook, utilise social media to connect female professionals to a wider community of like-minded aspirational women who can support each other and, gradually, work to normalise the idea of the modern female head of industry.
It is unavoidable that women, more so than men, face family pressure – the conflict of performing of home role as they are not available to spend enough time with their families – in their working lives. They spend long hours in the office and, as a result, find it difficult to meet the demands of their family members, and of society as well. This effect is only magnified when women move into entrepreneurship – particularly in those crucial-yet-difficult first few years when workloads are understandably heavy, and there is pressure to grow a business fast. To succeed, women entrepreneurs are faced with needing to figure out a better coping mechanism.
It is hard to change the perception of females in our society, but not impossible. Being able to work with a husband who can understand your dreams and aspirations, and act as a supportive partner and is important. Also, being able to develop a wider support network within your family, or with friends and colleagues, can be an effective coping mechanism.
Another important element of learning how to juggle the pressures of work and family is to let go of the guilt you may feel for not being able to be everywhere at once, and accomplish what is possible for the day. That is, accomplish whatever is possible by end of the day and let go of the rest.
More female-focused support is, however, still needed to truly level the playing field.
The author is a student of the Executive Global Masters in Management programme at the London School of Economics Department of Management and venture partner at 500 Startups in India – a global venture capital seed fund and start-up accelerator which focuses on tech start-ups across a wide range of industries.