10 Women-Led Startups in India to take Inspiration From
By Eximius Ventures | Posted On : 20/07/2020
Stefan Bollmann’s widely read book, “Women Who Read Are Dangerous,” has struck a chord with women worldwide. The book was published at an opportune time when Indian women were gaining courage to put themselves outside preconceived societal notions of a woman’s job is to raise a family. Bollmann’s words proved to be the fuel that stole the hearts of millions inspiring them to more than just read — to paint, to run businesses, to work full-time, fly planes and pursue their passions.
Since then, India has seen a surge in female entrepreneurs who are raising companies along with families — all while generating income for the masses. As per a joint report by Bain & Company and Google, by 2030, women entrepreneurs in India can generate 150–170 million job opportunities — more than 25% of the new jobs required for the entire working age population.
To document this rise of women-led startups and encourage others who are dabbling with the thought of being a boss, this article explores 10 Indian companies — big and small, old and young — that are a true testament to female empowerment.
Falguni Nayar, an investment banker-turned-entrepreneur, is perhaps the first name that comes to mind when we think — female role model! In conversation with Peacock Magazine, she says, “My advice to young women is summarised in our brand name ’Nykaa’- which means you are the actress of your own life. Women need to be at the centre of their own life.”
As the founder and driving force behind Nykaa, Falguni willed the escalation of her brand to reach new heights and partner with top labels, the likes of L’Oreal, Johnson & Johnson and Unilever.
With a network of over 850 featured brands today, Nykaa is the go-to platform for customers keen on buying cosmetics and receiving fashion advice. With a heart full of gratitude for her past achievements, Nayar looks ahead at exponential growth and teaches women that there are no “traditional roles” when it comes to pursuing one’s passion — even a make-up artist can be the country’s next millionaire.
With complete faith in her abilities to soar high, Suchi quit her high-paying job as a UK executive at eBay, to pursue what she was born to do. Realizing that the Indian marketplace had little to no options when it came to discovering and buying fashion products, Mukherjee took it upon herself to find a solution: and thus birthed — Limeroad — India’s first women’s social shopping platform featuring clothes and accessories.
While discussing with Legalwiz, what it means to be a woman entrepreneur, Suchi says, “You need the fighter gene to succeed, and that requirement I think is gender agnostic. You have to be prepared for failures.”
Amongst the 15 women voted for ‘Rising Talent — Global Leaders Under 40’ at the World Women’s Forum in Paris in 2010, Mukherjee is proof that necessity, when not ignored, is not only the mother of invention but also that of miracles.
“I decided to take external funding because I realised I needed a strong wind beneath my wings if I were to achieve my vision of making every story matter,” says, Shradha Sharma, founder of YourStory and “the biggest storyteller of India’s digital space.”
A former employee of media brands — CNBC, TV18 and Times of India, Sharma shattered the glass ceiling when she decided to go one step higher by launching YourStory. Initially envisioned as a non-business platform, Sharma had minimal expectations of her startup and allowed the fruits of her journalism skills to surprise her.
Inching forward, slow and steady, her digital-media platform flourished — and has now published over 60,000 stories of entrepreneurs and assisted more than 50,000 entrepreneurs with networking and funding opportunities.
The lesson we learn from her is that growth is imminent if perseverance is strong.
Kar founded Zivame in 2011, inspired by a common issue faced by Indian women — embarrassment and undesirable attention while buying lingerie from stores. Tackling a socialist issue in a largely patriarchal society, Richa Kar has brightened the future of women across the country.
Knowing that more than 80% of women wear wrongly fitted bras, Kar decided that she would pave the way for women to be fearless when it came to personal hygiene and health. In an interview with Womensweb, Richa discusses her motivation behind this dream project, and says, “That thousands of women in India have now found a respectable way of making their intimate choices is a gratifying feeling, and I feel driven to reach out to every woman in India and make them experience Zivame.”
Today, she teaches us the importance of not only personally steering away from harmful social taboos, but also empowering the masses of the society to debunk them.
Amongst the many e-commerce clothing websites that tempt you with new deals every season, stands Uptownie, a home-grown fashion label, that designs and produces much of the clothes you yearn to own. Built from scratch by Priyanka Agarwal, a graduate in Math and Economics from Duke University, USA, and the London School of Economics, Uptwonie manufacturers apparel to dress the average Indian woman from head to toe.
Noticing how most of the country bought clothes from international fashion brands even though the products were made here in India or neighbouring Bangladesh, Priyanka decided to put together her love for the garment industry along with her aptitude with numbers to launch Uptownie.
To answer why fashion, Priyanka writes — “Contrary to popular belief, Fashion, along with its content, has the power to provide an unbiased insight into people as they really are, without stereotyping. Fashion is capable of giving an accurate character analysis of that bystander in the club. Perhaps, Fashion is the solution to rise above the cloud of hypocrisy when all else fails.”
She leads us to believe that a background in tech is not a prerequisite to being an entrepreneur, all you need to do is gather your strengths, and work on them.
“In today’s day and age, women leaders are not defined by gender but by the ability to lead successful projects and enterprises that prioritise profit, drive employee welfare and generate a positive impact on society,” says Sabina Chopra, a champion woman leader in the travel industry.
Former Head of India Operations of eBookers, and ex-employee of Japan Airlines, Sabina was lucky to find her calling in the travel industry early on. Playing it safe, she ensured she gathered extensive professional experience before venturing out with her own startup. She co-founded Yatra.com in 2006 at an opportune time — when travel commerce in India was just taking off and has since then won several accolades that acknowledge her hard work and courage.
The humble awardee of the Winner’s position in the Travel and Tourism group at the second annual Women Leaders in India awards, 2010, Sabina is the wind that lifts women off their feet when they are hesitant to pursue a career in travel-tech.
After resigning from a prestigious job with PayPal in the US, Upasana Taku was wanted by all the best companies in the corporate sector. However, Taku had other plans. Realizing the need to be her own boss, she teamed up with her husband to launch a recharge platform, which eventually moulded into the mobile wallet that Mobikwik is today.
In her interview with Forbes India, Taku discusses what made her return from the US. “I wanted to solve a really big, first-generation problem in a large country and India turned out to be the place to do it.”
Her path was riddled with tribulations, but at the end of the day, it was all worth it, for it helped a nation feel secure while transacting monetarily.
For all of us wondering which country might be most suitable to start up at, Upasana’s answer would be here and now!
“There is so much talent and hard work everywhere, it just needs direction.” -Aditi Avasthi, founder of Embibe.
Launched on the grounds of Aditi’s desire to increase the literacy ranks in India, Embibe is an AI-backed educational platform that has been successful in raising a funding of Rs. 90 crores by Reliance Industries.
Recognized by Economic Times Prime as the “Accenture Vaahini Innovator of The Year,” Avasthi ranked among BBC’s top 100 Women in 2017 for being the brain behind this Bangalore-based educational tech company.
For all those who are not surprised on entering a computer science class to find a majority of men staring back at them, Aditi is heralding a new generation of women who code!
With the inception of Sheroes in 2014, Sairee has spent every waking day towards supporting women and aiding them with all the resources they require to embrace their dream career. By fearlessly pursuing her own calling, Sairee was able to allow several women to realize theirs.
While over a million women from 20,000 locations around India have achieved their career goals thanks to Sheores, Sairee continues to sail on uncharted seas — teaching us that when it comes to helping the female tribe flourish, no sea is wild enough to swim across.
Knowing that a startup is more than just an exciting venture that comes with the pride of owning a company, Sairee recommends taking this path only when we recognize a passion that makes us jump out of bed, and keeps us awake at night. In an interview with Bankbazaar she says, “Do not venture into a start-up business because you want to make money.”
10. Heyday Care
Better known as the Pad Woman of India, Deepanjali Kanoria realized her calling while working a desk job as a consultant in Ernst and Young, NYC. In an interview with Forbes, she recalls this shift in career and says, “I realised there was a fire in me that needed to be channeled in the right direction.”
Hence, she launched Heyday in 2017 with the sole humanitarian aim of manufacturing innovative personal care products that are as healthy for the body as the planet.
Her first product of organic sanitary napkins, reached 3.5 lakh customers in only two years, due to their special organic and compostable ingredients of corn and bamboo.
Applauded by CNBC, Vogue and YourStory, Deepanjali sends home the message that to be a businesswoman, we have to be more than just entrepreneurs; we must be inventors building products that the world could never have imagined!
These 10 entrepreneurs prove that there is nothing a woman can’t do, no industry she can’t tap into, no army she can’t lead. Women are blazing forward new paths in entrepreneurship, and it’s only just begun! Their grit, intellect and acumen have made them icons in the Indian industry, and we predict a future of women founders scaling every peak while ensuring we join them.
Written by Shreya Bose. Edited by Aradhita Saraf.
Eximius Ventures is a pre-seed stage investment firm investing in young and dynamic Indian Entrepreneurs with a precedence for female founders. You can reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.