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The Female Quotient


The obstacles standing in the way of female entrepreneurs

2 October 2023 in The Female Quotient

What’s stopping more female entrepreneurs from setting up or scaling-up their businesses? It’s not ambition, but a lack of female investors – and a fear of taking control of the finances....

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What’s stopping more female entrepreneurs from setting up or scaling-up their businesses? It’s not ambition, but a lack of female investors – and a fear of taking control of the finances.

Female-founded and operated businesses are set to increase. The 2023 Biz2Credit Women-Owned Business Study found that such businesses last year experienced an increase in overall annual revenue by 2%. Their earnings rose by 27%; higher than male-owned firms grew over the same period. 

This is good news beyond the boosting of gender-parity statistics: it generates jobs, and – given the subsequent empowerment of women in economic spheres – sets in motion a series of positive knock-on effects for these women’s children, households, and wider communities.  

Growth is good, but the Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs showed that just seven out of every 100 entrepreneurs are women, says Vinita Bimbhet, G20 Gender Advocate, Director of CXO Consulting, and India Chair of FLO India ASEAN Womens Business Forum. 

To take the economic empowerment of women to the next level, substantial strides need to be made in both women’s entrepreneurship and employment.  

Networking lethargy and a weak finance voice 

Women are less inclined to network among fellow founders than their male counterparts, especially in instances in which they don’t need the money do it, says Aarti Gupta, Chief Innovation Officer at Family Office DM Gupta and DBR Ventures, and one of the top 50 women investors in India. “Be part of conferences and spend time with people when you don’t have any agenda. Men are very good at this!” she advises. 

Women founders also suffer from a paucity of information. Anisha Singh, Founder of She Capital, a female-focused venture capital firm that funds innovative and next-generation start-ups, is making strides to buck this trend: “We have created a WhatsApp group that puts out information for female founders so they don’t miss anything relevant. We also put together by-invite events for female founders to network with investors in an informal environment. Women find it hard to find their own kind.”  

Singh also feels women don’t manage their finances until they stumble across debt or divorce. “They are oblivious to it. We started a campaign to get women to take control of their finances, including start-up founders. When I’m sitting as an investor, it’s cringeworthy when women can’t talk about finances in a formal setting. We seem scared of it. I get it, but I’ve made a conscious effort to overcome this, and we all need to,” she says. 

“Well-off”, pregnant, or not the chief decision-maker in the room 

Kairavi Bharat Ram, Founder and CEO of Typsy Beauty, says hers is one industry where women dominate. “Even so, I did face prejudices: my age (I was a young girl and people thought being so passionate about make-up made me frivolous); I didn’t have experience in the corporate world; and I was considered a ‘well-off kid’.”

coffee break
Be part of conferences and spend time with people when you don’t have any agenda. Men are very good at this!

These headwinds were further compounded by the fact her father didn’t want to fund her until she got an external investor as he didn’t understand the space. 

“I had mental health issues and, actually, I therefore couldn’t afford to fail, even if could financially,” she says about setting up in the highly capital-intensive world of beauty brands. 

But in terms of being a woman, she says she feels fortunate about the industry in which she operates. “I wish more industries were like mine,” she said. “Sometimes I want to hire women only and I realise that’s not very inclusive. I don’t think make-up should be about your gender; I like to give a chance to anyone who enjoys it as feminism in my mind is about all of us being equal.” 

Anisha Singh was one of the first female internet founders and also pregnant at the time. “It was a double shock for many people. I had to ignore the ‘she’s pregnant; she’s gonna go’ comments.” 

She believes that the saying ‘Founders have to be too dumb to die’ rings true, meaning that you don’t have to listen to everything that comes your way. “As female founders, you are going to get a double dose of that!” she cautions. 

But women, she stresses, are “not a cause. I hate the word ‘empower’. Nobody needs to empower us; we are empowered.” At She capital, they are trying to change that vibe: “We gave the quickest cash exit back to our investors in one of the largest all-cash fashion deals: we are proving that women do great business.” 

Aarti Gupta explains that she faced real struggles to get where she is, despite six years of education she describes as “great” in Boston: “I married into a family [in India] with a huge media business. I joined with a ceremonious role, but I wasn’t enjoying it; given my father-in-law was struggling with money I started looking into that.” She proved herself through this work. 

“We [in India] are not wired to think beyond marriage. I came from a privileged background and had all access granted from my family, but I still faced so many biases from the bankers’ side. The game is rigged. They would pitch to me and then go to my father-in-law and ask what he had decided. He had to put his foot down and say, ‘I’ll sign where she says.’” 

Female investors as important as female entrepreneurs  

“I’m a big believer in creating not only an ecosystem of entrepreneurs but of investors,” says Gupta. 

“In life, you get what you have the courage to ask for, and lots of us women don’t have the courage to say:  ‘I want to learn start-up investing, to look after my family’s money or my own, and to be part of decision-making processes.’”

She believes that the saying ‘Founders have to be too dumb to die’ rings true, meaning that you don’t have to listen to everything that comes your way.

Gupta’s firm, FICC FLOW, which has some 9,000 members, gives women masterclasses in angel investing. She cites some 12,000 angel investors in India, of which 100-120 of them are women; her firm recently certified 93 women as angel investors within just one week. 

‘Money will pour where there is merit’ 

It’s not a case of giving preference to a woman just because she’s pitching for funding, says Gupta. 

“At the core of it, money will pour where there is merit. You need a good idea, product or service that solves a real problem for a large enough market, and a great team able to execute it, regardless of gender, class, or geographical location. “ 

That said, it’s human nature to relate to people who are like you. FemTech happens to be one area Gupta is passionate about because she understands PCOS and IVF, having dealt with these issues. “A man wouldn’t relate. And that’s where conscious or unconscious biases come into play.” 

Singh says some female founders say to her ‘Why do we need this funding, this gender lens?’ Then, she says, there are others who say it’s really needed. 

“A pitch is not a sure fund. We all care about our investment giving great returns. Yes, it’s about the founder and the idea, but more than that, it’s about people’s ability to get back up when they’re kicked down. Being a founder, as glamorous as sounds, is pretty hard.” 

This article is based on a panel discussion from The Female Quotient’s (FQ) Equality Lounge sessions at the G20 Summit in New Delhi. IMD is an academic partner of The Female Quotient, which joins forces with companies and leaders to curate experiences, thought leadership, and solutions designed to achieve gender equality in the workplace and beyond. 

Vinita Bimbhet

G20 Gender Advocate and Director, CXO Consulting and India Chair, FLO India ASEAN Womens Business Forum

Aarti Gupta

Aarti Gupta

CIO, Family Office DM Gupta and DBR Ventures

Kairavi Bharat Ram

Kairavi Bharat Ram

Founder and CEO, Typsy Beauty

Anisha Singh

Founder, She Capital


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