Women entrepreneurs break the glass ceiling
By Sajo Sasidharan / ENS - CHENNAI
31st July 2012 09:22 AM
Being a trend setter is never easy, especially if one is a woman and if one has been conditioned to opt for conventional careers. The latent ability to identify the necessity for a sought after product or service and the grit and perseverance to launch and run a business, is something that many of us shy away from.
However, there are women in the city who decided to leave their comfort zones and give up secure corporate careers to launch successful and sometimes unconventional businesses that are not just economically sustainable but have also given them the independence and job satisfaction that all desperately seek.
The Child-care Giver
Despite an increasing number of mothers taking up jobs and the concept of joint families with enough people to care for children having long vanished, not everybody thinks of babysitting as an enjoyable, respectable or lucrative business idea. However, Sridevi Raghavan would like to differ. Sridevi who graduated from Harvard Business School in 2008 is the Co founder and CEO of Amelio Childcare Pvt. Ltd, a day care centre with six branches in Chennai including one which operates on site within HCL.
Studies reveal that with over 270 lakh births in the country annually, and with over half that number having working parents, the market for child care in the country is enormous. Chennai alone sees 1,10,000 births annually, and with just over 20 private day-care centres, each handling about 70 children, quality child-care is in short supply. Industry experts estimate that in terms of monetary value alone, the Indian child-care industry is worth between `3,000 and `5,000 crore approximately.
And it is this untapped market that, Sridevi, whose idea of daycare as a feasible business while at Harvard, received a good response from venture capitalists who were Harvard alumni and who funded her business plan when she chose to return to India.
“To run a successful business, identify the gap and look for a localised soultion that delights the customer. Ultimately, what wakes me up every morning is the fact that working parents trust me with their children,” said Sridevi.
Sridevi says that while she did not face specific issues while setting up Amelio Child-care because she was a woman, the very idea of child care as a business drew flak from some quarters. However, the primary challenge she mentioned is the lack of skilled child-care professionals unlike in the United States where there are specialised institutions to train people for the job.
The Business of Inexpensive and Eco-friendly Mobility
A typical commute for most of us today involves a two-wheeler. Statistics reveal that the number of two-wheelers in Chennai was 25,21,583 while in Tamil Nadu it was an astonishing 1,15,30,362 as of August 1, 2011.
While the large majority of these vehicles are petrol-driven, the concept of electric bikes, which first came to India in the late 1990’s, but which failed to be considered a viable commute until around 2005, and saw sales of approximately 800 vehicles nation wide, has been catching up, alebit slowly.
According to industry sources, while the current e-bike market in the country is presently worth `450 crore with about 40 players, owing both to their low maintenance costs and rising fuel costs, it is estimated that this market will grow over ten fold and over three lakh electric vehicles are expected on the roads by 2020.
Hero Electric sold 20,000 units last financial year and aims to sell 70,000 units this year with the Southern states contributing 40 per cent to its total sales. Besides enabling savings of over `3,700 crore in foreign exchange over the next eight to 10 years, e-vehicles would mean a reduction of over 16 lakh metric tons in emissions.
It is this unconventional market that Hemalatha Annamalai, 44, Founder and Managing Director of Coimbatore-based electric vehicle manufacturing company Ampere Vehicles Pvt. Ltd, plans to tap into. Ampere, which was set up in 2008 with a paid-up capital of `3.6 crore, manufactures E-cycles, E-Scooters, E-trolleys and special purpose vehicles for the differently abled and has carved a niche for itself as an innovative technology creator in the nascent Indian Electric Vehicle Industry.With the expanding market for electric vehicles, Hemalatha, plans to scale up production to more than 2000 electric vehicles shortly, from the 500 she manufacturers and distributes through 140 dealers in three Southern states. She says that her plans are to scale up her `12 crore company to a `100 crore company within a span of three years.
Interestingly, Hemalatha’s target market is not the metros, where she feels people find it difficult to switch to alternative sources of energy or fuel due to the quick pace of life. “The company’s focus is on rural markets, where we expect to bring about far-reaching social transformation by empowering individuals to commute at a low cost and enhance their dignity by enabling mobility,” she said.
A Bachelor of Computer Science from Government College of Technology, Coimbatore and an MBA from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Australia and Hemalatha is a serial entrepreneur who spent the last 15 years creating and driving entrepreneurial ventures in industries spanning professional services, electronics, travel and automobiles.
Her primary challenge today is that financial institutions are unwilling to give loans to people opting for e-bikes. “The e-bike is a revolutionary and disruptive product that people are reluctant to embrace due to the large and existing market captured by petrol vehicles. As a result, mainstream financiers are reluctant to offer credit to enable people to buy them,” she stated.
The Business of Hardskills Training
Despite a humungous number of graduates being churned out by our colleges and universities today, the question of how ready they are for the job market is questionable. According to a NASSCOM report, over 90 per cent of graduates and 75 per cent of engineers who graduate each year are unemployable.
Attempting to bridge this gap is Shobana Anand, Director of Chennai-based, RedRock (India) Offshore Consultants Pvt Ltd., a boutique consulting firm which trains bankers and financial analysts.
Shobana, who graduated from IIM-Ahmedabad in 1990 and had successful careers with Office Tiger and Crisil before she started RedRock, feels that opportunities abound and all one needs to do is look.
Having headed the research and analysis section of Office Tiger during Wall Street’s ‘arrogant’ days as she puts it, Shobana says that one needs to learn to look at problems as opportunities.
“When I wanted to train my team and make them competent enough to deal with our clients on Wall Street, I was surprised to find that while there were a few agencies that provided soft skills training, there were none in the country that could offer skilled financial training. That is when I realised that there is a huge market for hard skills training in India,” said Shobana.
Redrocks’ clients today include Government departments and the World Bank. The company now has diversified into corporate consulting and infrastructure consulting as well.
With the Indian economy expanding, she feels that funding is a primary concern for small businesses like hers and that with heightened competition, investors are reluctant to extend credit unless they are convinced about the revenue model and are sure of tangible returns within quick time frames.
The World’s Youngest CEO
Sindhuja Rajaraman, is all of 15 and a student of Class 11 (Computer Science) at Velammal Matriculation School, but she already heads a company. As CEO of Seppan Entetainment Private Ltd, Chennai, a web and graphic development company that provides an array of services including 2D & 3D animation, concept sketch, caricature art designs, interior art work and website design, Sindhuja broke the barriers of both gender and age as the world’s youngest CEO when she took charge of Seppan at thirteen.
Sindhuja’s talent at animation was spotted by Kumaran Mani, CEO of Tenth Planet Technologies who provided both the seed capital and the moral support to incubate and establish the business.
“Initially, I did not even understand the meaning of CEO or comprehend the responsibilities that go with the title. Besides, I used to be diffident while approaching my team, all of whom are men. But now I am confident and know that the key to accomplishing anything is to believe in what you are doing and to make it enjoyable. Managing my school life and my corporate life is a challenge. But I have learnt that managing time is critical,” she said, bubbling with enthusiasm and hope.
While Seppan in Japanese means ‘entertainment,’ Sindhuja says that her objective is to combine business with entertainment. “For me, work does not involve drudgery and I believe in simplifying the complex,” she said with a wisdom uncommon even in grown-ups.
Vijayalakshmi Rao, Advisor and Mentor, Women Empowerment and Entrepreneurship, said, “Women today are playing an ever increasing role by entering the economic framework of our society as entrepreneurs. Surprisingly, women in tier 2 and tier 3 cities receive more support from their families than women in metros. Contrary to popular belief, families in rural India have realised that an educated and working woman is the greatest asset to the family unit. These women too have the drive and come up with innovative business ideas.”
Vijayalakshmi, who is a B Sc from Osmania Universtiy and who graduated from IIM-Ahmedabad in 1982, had successful careers with organisations like the Murugappa Group, Steel Authority of India and Scope E-Knowledge centre, where she worked as Chief Operating Officer and Head, Human Resources, took a sabbatical from the corporate world to mentor and support underprivileged women through the Association for the Non-Traditional Employment of Women (ANEW). She is also the co-founder of e-WIT, an NGO for women who work in the information technology industry, which helps them sustain their corporate careers and rescale themselves to climb the corporate ladder.
Despite the the gamut of challenges they face, these women have been game changers who dared to think out of the box and took the risk to start a business that provided an often ignored but much needed service.
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