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When Vandana Luthra of VLCC fame wanted to start a skincare, beauty, and wellness practice in the late 1980s in India, she didn’t get much support or financial assistance. She got seed capital from her husband. Working closely with doctors, nutritionists, and cosmetologists, she developed her business idea into a unique brand offering that resonated with her clientele.



She faced backlash and criticism for her choices, as she approached beauty practice scientifically against established players. VLCC is now synonymous with high-quality beauty salons and personal care. Ms. Luthra, though, bemoans the lack of guidance early in her career.



India has changed a lot since the pre-liberalisation days of Vandana Luthra. Today, women own or co-own one in every five start-ups and MSMEs. There are success stories of women entrepreneurs across industries and contexts. From self-made innovators like Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, family-business heads like Savitri Jindal, iconic D2C brands like Nykaa by Falguni Nayar, and more, women entrepreneurs today can look for some footprints in the fast-moving sands of today’s industrial landscape.



In line with the government’s policy goals to dramatically increase women’s share in overall entrepreneurship, labour force participation, and business ownership, there is a greater need to develop tailored programs for women entrepreneurs. These programs can take many shapes and can be tailored to the needs of participants or the outcome. They may be geography, industry, segment, customer base, financing, labour type, community, sexuality, or even ownership-specific.



Women’s entrepreneurship faces systemic barriers to entry and scale, social pressures, cultural biases, lack of strong support systems, and other challenges. Tailored women entrepreneurship programs can help address specific issues, nurture talent, and build relevant communities.



These programs can serve many purposes, but two critical elements are mentorship and community. Mentorship is a key differentiator for successful start-ups, especially women-led or founded. They also benefit by networking with other women entrepreneurs, sharing tips, support, and, sometimes, investment.



For MSMEs, women often face significant challenges in accessing credit due to social pressures, lack of network support, no collateral or tangible assets, and limited avenues to prove or build creditworthiness. This is where a dedicated program for women’s entrepreneurship can help participants. It can provide a guided source to help women develop and scale their businesses in a structured format through a strong support system and women industry leaders.

Mentorship

For many businesses, critical guidance and support define key stages in their business life cycle. Extensive family, friends, and business networks pitch in with advice, experience, market insights, and stories of struggle. Formal mentorship programs also help. Incubators foster entrepreneurship and product development by creating a supportive ecosystem.



Mentorship is critical for business success. For women entrepreneurs, this is even more crucial as they navigate gendered circumstances such as motherhood and child-care. Technology, family, and some tips and tricks go a long way. In India, where a majority of women entrepreneurship are rural, small-scale, and informal, mentorship helps women scale and drive profits.



Rooted in India’s guru shishya tradition, mentorship for women business owners can take various shapes and has become a valuable intervention and empowerment tool. Mentors, especially female mentors, can help women navigate traditional male dominated industries and business networks. “I would sisterly shove my women peers in the right direction by telling them to network more, prioritise better, focus on self, and set their eyes firmly on the prize and go for it,” says Jaya Vaidhyanathan, CEO of BCT Digital, and a mentor to many emerging female-led businesses.

Community

It is common to turn to friends for small and big things. It turns out, this holds especially true for business owners and CXOs. For women, networking with others, especially female, entrepreneurs help them build a community of support. A thriving community of women entrepreneurs can help each other grow, complement and be each other’s customers, share customer feedback, build common databases, and build personal friendships.



The rise in women-focused incubators such as WE-HUB and W-Incubate has helped many businesses in their initial stages. They help women navigate business challenges that emerge especially in the incubation period of a venture. They have a mix of veterans and early-stage peers who support each other through different areas such as technical advice, hardware, initial seed funds, network and linkages, co-working spaces, lab facilities, and all forms of advisory. Some like the Women Biotechnology Incubator supported by BIRAC (Biotechnology Industry Assistance Council) are sector-specific, allowing for the exchange of technology and increased collaboration.

ATLAS Edge Program

The ATLAS Edge program recognises the need to increase the number of growth-oriented women entrepreneurs and the catalytic effect it will have on overall female labour force participation rates. The program for women entrepreneurs has been developed keeping in mind the needs of start-up founders at various stages of their entrepreneurship journey. It will help women develop a fully implementable GTM strategy and give them a platform to pitch to investors for further financing. The aim is to make investments in creating a robust entrepreneurial support ecosystem to fulfil the varied needs of women entrepreneurs.



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