Encouraging Women Entrepreneurship in Smaller Cities and Towns


Out of the 10+ unicorns (startups with at least $1 billion valuation) in India, one has been co-founded by a woman.

Entrepreneurship in India has largely been an urban, big city phenomenon. That’s even more true for women. There’s more acceptability now to women started venture in metro cities than in remote areas. This, despite the fact, that a significant part of the economy and population is outside the metros and in smaller cities, towns and even rural areas.

For all round development of women and the country this must change and measures must be taken for more inclusive growth and providing entrepreneurial opportunities for women. The problem is not unsurmountable but there’s a need to highlight the barriers, which existed not so long back even in big cities but sustained campaign and awareness brought about a change. In big cities the debate has shifted from gender to business — with a focus on what the business can do, how can the idea scale, the funds needed and so on. The same change now needs to spread to remote areas as well.

For this to happen, there’s a need to create that awareness about inclusive growth across our smaller cities as well to encourage women entrepreneurship. And for several good reasons.

Entrepreneurship will lead to empowering women. Like in big cities as more women started going to work and started their own companies led to them being financially independent, the women outside the big cities have missed this opportunity so far. They remain dependent on male members of their families for money; a situation that must change for their development and growth. Second, women are key decision makers within households, taking care of children and even contributing significantly by working in farms but for financial matters its invariably men taking decisions. Society must allow that freedom of choice to women as well—to pursue entrepreneurship if they want to.

Third, while more girls are going to school now, the dropout rates is higher among them then among boys when it comes to higher education as they are seen as good only for house tasks and often marriage is more of a priority than opportunities to work, earn money and become financially secure. Basic education is important in today’s knowledge economy to transform ideas into companies. Breaks in education due to jaded thinking will only do more harm than good.

Fourthly, not encouraging women to start ventures is like missing out on half the ideas and population. Their contribution in household decision making is much appreciated and it must not be overlooked in managing business as well.

But what needs to change is the cultural barriers. For example, internet penetration in rural areas is less than 20% compared to urban areas (around 55%). And in remote areas often men see it as a bad influence of women access internet, depriving them of access to news, information and entertainment platforms. According to a recent study by Google, Bain & Company and Omidayar Networks, rural areas and women have less access to internet and women form a majority of non-Internet users. Often the reason given is `not allowed to access’. In an era of internet startups it’s a pity that women don’t even get to use basic internet services. This must change at the earliest for a healthy growth in the entrepreneurial environment across the country.

Ofcourse, access to finance continues to be a major hurdle. Much like women in big cities faced resistance (it has not entirely disappeared but far less now compared to five years back) women in small cities don’t get easy access to funds to give wings to their ideas.

There has to be an appreciation that a major part of the Indian economy is still in rural areas and they must be supported in their entrepreneurial journeys. According to reports, Indian Angel Network (IAN), one of the largest angel investor clubs in the country has seen ideas from women increase from 10% four years ago to 30% in recent months. LetsVenture, a Bengaluru-based platform for raising funds has seen significant growth in women founded or co-founded startups from a year-ago period.

Out of the 10+ unicorns (startups with at least $1 billion valuation) in India, one has been co-founded by a woman. There are at least 30 women founded or co-founded startups which are category leaders. And these are not just in areas seen as more comfortable or easy for women but also big data, analytics, e-commerce, insurance and so on. It is important for India to openly accept women entrepreneurship, irrespective of the region where the idea is coming from. Depriving opportunities by creating unnecessary barriers for women entrepreneurship can seriously hamper the growth of society itself.

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