Women In Comms

India's Startups: No Longer a Man's World

The Indian market for startups may be buzzing with youthful energy and enthusiasm, but women have been largely absent from the picture. In 2013, just 6% of startups were founded or co-founded by women, according to data from India's National Association of Software and Services Companies.

Some experts reckon this may now be changing. "Women entrepreneurs have started to gain a foothold in the startup industry and have begun to make their presence felt," says Sangeeta Gupta, National Association of Software & Service Companies (Nasscom) 's senior vice president for events, research and communications.

Yet others question whether the percentage of entrepreneurs who are women is really increasing. "The number of startups has increased in the country and so the number of women tech entrepreneurs has also gone up, but it is difficult to say if the percentage of women entrepreneurs has gone up," says Geetha Kannan, the managing director of India operations for the Anita Borg Institute.

The organization works on increasing the participation of women in technology, and recently teamed up with the Indian government and the Indo-US Science and Technology Forum to bring six Indian female entrepreneurs to the US, where they were introduced to venture capitalists and other players in the start-up community.

What is beyond any doubt, however, is that women face unique challenges in this area. "Some of the challenges women face in this sector are pressures from within the family and society, competing roles women play within the household and a lack of childcare support systems," says Nasscom's Gupta. "All these factors combined with gender discrimination discourage women from exploring and initiating new ideas and following them."

Even so, the recent success of some female entrepreneurs -- including Sairee Chahal of Sheroes (a jobs site aimed at women); Ashwini Asokan of Mad Street Den (artificial intelligence); Prukalpa Sankar of SocialCops (big data); Neha Behani of Moojic (online music); and Pranshu Bhandari of CultureAlley (English language tuition) -- has turned the spotlight on them. Women certainly appear to be making a mark in sectors such as ecommerce and biotechnology and in the business-to-consumer area.

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Moreover, nearly 30% of engineering graduates in India are now women, and as that number grows the proportion of entrepreneurs who are female is also likely to increase.

Next page: Question of funding

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