Startup ecosystem is a tough ecosystem to access for any individual, with multiple barriers and hurdles. While for most entrepreneurs, money is the biggest hurdle when starting a new business, for women, that’s just one of the many stumbling blocks that they face.
From limited access to investment to discriminating socio-cultural norms and beliefs, women have to go through an added round of scrutiny in their entrepreneurial journeys.
In this day and age, when economic empowerment remains a primary goal for institutions and organisations, it is important to acknowledge that enabling women entrepreneurship is a pathway to enhance women’s economic empowerment and social wellbeing, leading to better realisation of overall sustainable economic growth.
Reports have shown that men tend to lay the foundation for their businesses with nearly twice as much financial capital than accorded to women. On the other hand, according to a Bain & Company research, women-led enterprises, when provided with equal access to inputs, produce equally strong economic outcomes when compared with enterprises led by men.
This poses a serious concern for the budding women entrepreneurs who have the necessary talent, skill and calibre but lack equivalent external support, trust and financing means to bring their idea to fruition.
What many don’t realise is that underrepresentation of women in the business arena is a missed golden opportunity, from both social and economic perspectives. Investing in women sets the tone for the prosperity of their communities and nations, which in turn generates a multiplier effect, setting a positive example for the future generations of inspired women entrepreneurs.
In fact, research shows that when women earn an income, however big or small the amount, they invest almost 90% back into their communities.
Entrepreneurs face a variety of challenges when entering the ecosystem, and organisations such as incubators and accelerator programs help founders navigate such obstacles.
These programs are designed to incubate and scale startups, in a closed environment of mentors, advisors and investors – fostering peer learning and networking to help founders build stronger business models. They typically help small businesses, especially in their nascent stages, to grow and expand by providing seed funding, adequate workspaces, access to a widespread network of successful entrepreneurs and mentorship.
There is anecdotal evidence that suggests that the participation rates of women entrepreneurs in these programs are relatively low. While many startup incubators and ecosystems have boosted women entrepreneurship in the past few years, there is a lot more scope for such programs to elevate their women founder participation levels.
The Opportunity: What Role Can Start-up Incubators Play
For Existing Women Entrepreneurs
Startup incubators can play a decisive role and take efforts in ensuring parity and prosperity for women entrepreneurs at a larger scale. For women with running enterprises, it becomes key to build lucrative networks and get opportunities to interact with industry leading experts to help scale their ventures.
For Women Wanting to Become Entrepreneurs
Incubators are at the centre of the ecosystem, with a potential to become a successful connecting link between women founders, embarking on the journey of entrepreneurship, and the relevant network that can help them gain a firm footing in the industry and get due support.
Additionally, such programs can champion the cause of inspiring greater women entrepreneurship by building network circles of community role models, providing access to structured entrepreneurial knowledge and exposure to the dynamic startup ecosystem.
Recruitment: Becoming an inclusive incubator at the recruitment stage involves assessing the applicant screening process to address any possible biases and ensuring a diverse and fair jury panel for selecting the applicants. Taking a more mindful approach to recruiting can help create diverse entrepreneur pipelines.
Network: Incubator and accelerator programs can also create a more inclusive environment by onboarding more male and female entrepreneurs, investors and leaders as members of their community, to engage with the women founded startups in their programs.
Niche Programs: Women-only, sector-specific incubators and accelerators can be started by existing communities to drive targeted networking and mentorship.
Remote Programs: Going beyond the “on-site” programs and building a dynamic program curriculum to support women from Tier2/3/4 regions to access the same level of entrepreneurial networks as their metro city counterparts do, or for women with other commitments to get on-demand access to entrepreneurial resources.
Summing It Up
It is understood that to make greater progress, sustained efforts to rectify existing systemic barriers and structures are needed, along with constant funding, attention and support.
However, the possibilities for success that an incubator or accelerator can harness for early stage entrepreneurs cannot be undermined. They let entrepreneurs network with over dozens or even hundreds of professionals who are significant domain experts, have financial resources for funding and fellow founders who are in the same journey of building such ventures. Such support tunneled for women entrepreneurs can be instrumental in helping them set up stronger foundations and build robust networks.
Entrepreneurship has the power to be one of the key pathways for building economic empowerment, and for women to strive towards equality, and create multiplier impacts on reduction of poverty and sustainable economic development.
Implementing these interventions to accelerate prospective and current women entrepreneurs will need a deep recognition of the urgency, and a coordinated scaled effort between various ecosystem participants. These include national and state governments, grass-root organisations, investment and banking community, other private enterprises, educational institutions and media. Unlocking entrepreneurship amongst women in India is a complex effort, but one which provides an unprecedented opportunity to change the economic and social trajectory of India and its women for generations to come.