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Tech Women in India’s Startup Boom Reach Out

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NEW DELHI (WOMENSENEWS)–Neha Behani is the director and co-founder of a company that produces a mobile app that allows users to customize music playlists at restaurants, cafes and malls.

It’s a big post for the 31-year-old and Behani says Archana Patchirajan was pivotal in helping her launch Moojic as an in-store engagement platform.

Patchirajan, who Behani worked for before starting her own venture, helped her and her co-founder select their product, craft a business plan and know what to expect in attempting a startup. “More importantly I could relate to her journey and that gave me a lot more courage. It definitely made the idea of starting up a lot easier,” says Behani, who spoke with Women’s eNews recently by phone.

Patchirajan, the female founder of Mycityway, a mobile startup for city travelers, and hubbl, a platform that helps users discover apps, had plenty of experience to draw on as Behani’s mentor.

As host of the world’s third-largest tech startup scene, India offers rich opportunities to entrepreneurs. But it’s mainly a man’s world. Only about 6 percent of new tech ventures are owned or co-owned by women.

For that figure to change much, Behani says more women need the kind of advice and support she received from Patchirajan. “Lack of awareness is a big deterrent,” she says. “There should be mentorship programs and counseling sessions to encourage more and more women to start their own ventures.”

Alienating Environment

Geetha Kannan is managing director of Indian operations for the Anita Borg Institute, which works to enhance women’s participation in technology. The institute recently took six female Indian entrepreneurs to California’s Silicon Valley to introduce them to venture capitalists, angel funds and other sources of startup support.

“There is definitely a need to mentor women to increase their participation in the technology startup movement in India,” says Kannan. “The present environment can be alienating.”

The field of female tech pioneers may not be large, but it still boasts plenty of visible stars to light the way for other women.

The list, to name just a few, includes Sairee Chahal, founder of both Sheroes, a website for professional women, and Fleximums, which creates and enhances flexible work options for women. There’s also Prukalpa Sankar, co-founder of SocialCops, formed with the mission to resolve problems using data. And there’s Ashwini Ashokan, the co-founder and CEO of Mad Street Den, which creates products using artificial intelligence.

Kannan says women often need more of the ambition necessary for driving a startup. “The aspirational component is missing,” she says. “For instance if someone has launched a collaboration tool, a woman would say she believes in word-of-mouth publicity instead of being more aggressive.”

Chahal, the serial entrepreneur, sees plenty of explanations for women’s scarcity in the high-powered field.

“Somewhere in the caregiving roles, social stereotypes, peer pressure and lack of culture that supports working women, the size of ambition has been minimized,” says Chahal, who was interviewed by email. “Most women tend to be conservative about their dreams and potentials in the face of social context and stereotypes.”

Organized Initiatives

Some organized initiatives are trying to help women make bigger commitments to their tech dreams and potential.

The New Delhi-based National Association of Software Services and Communications in March 2014 launched a Girls in Technology, or GIT, program to enhance women’s representation in Internet technology.

“As part of this program we have been organizing various industry connect programs where women entrepreneurs can meet women leaders to discuss and share insights,” says Sangeeta Gupta, vice president of the association, via email.

The Indian government also has a few initiatives designed to encourage female entrepreneurs. One major example is the Bharatiya Mahila Bank, started in 2013 to expand women’s access to credit. The Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises also runs a related subsidy program.

Neeru Sharma is co-founder and director at Infibeam.com, an online retail outlet started in 2007 that now claims annual revenue in the multiple millions.

“Participation by women entrepreneurs is growing leaps and bounds,” says Sharma, who spoke in an email interview. “If there is some potential that is still untapped, it could be due to some inherent fear of time commitment, travel commitment, networking issues and may be family pressure. But having done it once, I can vouch that… passion and conviction in your idea drives you hard enough to oversee all this.”

http://womensenews.org/story/entrepreneurship/150809/tech-women-in-indias-startup-boom-reach-out

commitment, networking issues and may be family pressure. But having done it once, I can vouch that… passion and conviction in your idea drives you hard enough to oversee all this.”

Gagandeep Kaur is an independent journalist based in New Delhi who writes about technology, gender and development. You can write to her at gagandeep_kaur@yahoo.com.

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