The other day, while going through Times of India, Raipur Edition, my eyes caught a piece of article titled “That the startup ecosystem remains a boys club makes it difficult for women” by Anand J & Shalina Pillai. The article contained Q&A series with a woman named Telle Whitney (President and CEO) of Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, who shared her views on the challenges, which woman entrepreneurs face in India and elsewhere.
This drove me to read about the prominent and the upcoming female entrepreneurs, in India. Mostly, Google showed me the life story of prominent stalwarts in this industry, by the likes of Kiran Majumdar Shaw (Founder of Biocon), Shahnaz Hussain (founder of Shahnaz Herbals), Shraddha Sharma (Founder and editor of Your Story), Sabrina Chopra (founder of Yatra.com) and few more. My mind wondered, why is that there are only a handful of woman starters, and still less in technological innovations.
Now let's focus on the main agenda. Why is it so difficult, for women to get into start ups? As I decided to explore further, surprisingly as per article in 'Your Story', it is mentioned that only 18-20% of start-ups are founded/co-founded by a women. What makes it so difficult, for a woman entrepreneur to get into this male dominated arena? Well, statistics say it's mostly due to lack of funding from investors. Investors in most of the cases are not convinced by the fact that a company is to be run by a woman. According to a report in 2015, only 7% of women received the total venture capital money. Also, approving loan amount for women startups is significantly lower - 15-20 percent than, it is for men-initiated start ups. Unless the idea is unique, start ups can be a different game altogether. Investments from venture capitalists, financial organizations and other money lenders etc. is difficult to find for a woman entrepreneur. I feel, woman are already facing problems in initiation of start ups, and if gender disparity gets into the way of business and making money, then it will make the task all the more difficult.
Problems faced by women entrepreneur are:
Marketing problems, Lack of proper training, Lack of confidence Compliance to legal formalities, Procuring raw materials, frequent travelling, Lack of support from parents, friends and society etc., opinion and advise not taken seriousl, Lack of confidence, Lack of trust from investors etc etc.
After going through the secondary data available on internet, I decided to explore further and try to understand the actual problems faced by women entrepreneurs, and to find out if there is any permanent cure to it? I got in touch with one of my close friends, who in turn introduced me to his XIMB senior, Amrita Sabat. I decided to talk to her. With certain framed questions in my copy, I called her up. Around 8 pm, I gave her a call and after introduction and exchange of pleasantries, I was all set for interview. My first professional interviewing session!
Amrita Sabat is the Managing Director of Sabat Exports Pvt Ltd. dealing in exquisite handcrafted treasures, handicrafts, handlooms, jewellery, spices from Odisha. At a very young age, Amrita by her singular achievements has done her state proud and tried to carve out a niche for herself..
Some excerpts from the interview with Amrita Sabat:
Tell me something about yourself.
Amrita- I and my sister Anita Sabat are Founder-Directors of the company and our premium brand name is Utkalamrita which is a collection of exquisite handcrafted items from Odisha, like handcrafted arts, paintings, handlooms, jewellery and spices. I have completed my Engineering in Instrumentation and Electronics Engg. from CET Bhubaneswar. After that, I worked with Wipro, Chennai for 2 years. Post that, I completed my MBA from XIMB, Bhubaneswar in 2011 in Finance and Strategy. Later on,I worked with Fidelity Investments, Bangalore for a stint of 1 year. I left my job in the year 2012 and came back to Odisha.
Please brief us more about your business venture and what brought you into this?
Amrita- It was year 2012, when I returned to Odisha because my mother fell sick.
I was there with my mother when she passed away. Our family has been in turmeric business for the past 80 years. However, my father Shri AK Sabat has been a thorough professional and is a well-known and highly respected Chartered Accountant of Odisha. My grandfather, Shri Abhimanyu Sabat is still alive and kicking at 93. He is known as 'King of Turmeric' and has been known as an iconic businessman.Also, a 33 year old firm called Sabat Investment and Trading Private Ltd. (SITL) had been initiated by our grandfather. As it's our family business, we subsequently became the directors of the firm. Following my mother's death I started full time work in SITL as a Director. Somewhere in the year 2015 in the month of March, me and my sister thought about taking our turmeric worldwide and promoting our own state arts, weaves and paintings, which are hardly known outside. So, under the brand of Utkalamrita, started by me and sister, in May 2015 around Rath Yatra, Nabakalabera year(It is the re-embodiment of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra, Devi Subhadra and Sudarshan when the Lords relinquish their old bodies and assume a new body), we decided to sell our products through online e-commerce sites likeFlipkart, Amazon, Snapdeal and Craftsvilla.The brand was launched as a sincere effort, to keep our handcrafted arts and paintings alive. We mostly deal with things like Pattachitra(traditional scroll based cloth painting), home decorative like idols, fridge magnets, crafts, jewellery like traditional silver filigree items, and other innovative and creative handcrafted and handwovenitems. We mostly focus on Jagannath items which are rare to find, and we are the few sellers who deal in selling of Jagannath items online.
We mostly wanted to improve the standard of living of life of artisans and weavers of our state, who are leaving the age old traditions and moving towards cities for a meager job. Also, arts and crafts from Odisha have not yet got the recognition at domestic and international level which it needs to get. So, our love for our state and taking the beautiful artifacts of Odisha to higher level brought us into this venture.
What were the initial hurdles that you faced?
Amrita- We started during Rath Yatra 2015 and launched online with Jagannath items.We expected it to be fast moving revenue item. But that was not the case. Jagannath items and handicrafts are very specific items and people buy it mostly during Rathyatra, and then sales reduce, which became a challenge for us. Secondly, finding the correct source for these items is important.
Our state people sell the exquisite handicrafts to other states' traders at a very low rate but they try to charge a very high price from us. It's saddening to know that Odisha's crafts are sold in other Indian states and Chinese markets as Gujarati/Rajasthanihandicrafts. Thirdly, people want good quality products at a very cheap price. But our items are authentic handcrafted, so keeping the price at customer's expectation is a real challenge. When we went to Singapore, China, and Australia in the 1st year of business to understand world market, wefound Chinese people selling many of our Indian products at a very low rate.Fourthly, supply chain and inventory management needs to be improved.
What is your business model?
Amrita- It's a mix of manufacturing and trading. The Unique items are being sourced and directly sold to customers. There are some other items which we buy and do some value addition to it, like pattachitra paintings on garments, handicrafts etc. While in manufacturing section, we design our own clothes. We try to add some new innovation in clothing and textiles. We have our own catalogue of designer Odisha sarees, shirts, dupattas etc.
What are your future plans?
Amrita- Right now, we are mostly focusing on selling unique products in Indian markets and slowly we will try to cover international markets also. We have visited Singapore, China, and Australia to study the international market. We are also focusing to sell our productsonline through social media marketing. We are promoting our products through craft fairs in Delhi, Mumbai, and meeting new clients also. Also hiring a good photographer, creating a unique website and an app, is on the list to market our products properly. We are also trying to focus on our supply chain management, so that we are able to deliver the products in a shorter time. Mostly we want to improve our services. Customer service is what matters at the end.
Did you face any objection from family when you decided to get into start up?
Amrita- No. Our father was very supportive regarding this.
How do you maintain work life balance?
Amrita- Smiles. Ahhh. 1st of all I am single. I guess that makes it bit easier. Well, some or the other day I will be married. So that's okay. For the time being I am working from 10 to 8 pm evening. I make it a point to be with my family at 9 pm at dinner table, which is very important time for me, to be with my loved ones.
What are your hobbies?
Amrita- I write blogs in my free time, interested in reading and writing(two of my poetry books were published in the year 1995 and 2003. My first book is 'Whispers of my Soul'- a book of poems which was published when I was in class 6 and the other one is 'A Palette of Reflections'). I also sing in free time, participate in contests etc.I was also selected amongst the 11 Youngistanis of 'Pepsi Change the Game Competition' and watched all of India's matches of World Cup 2011 live in the stadiums.
Any tips to upcoming woman entrepreneur?
Amrita- Don't hold yourself back for any reason. Both hard work and smart work are important in life. When you have an idea and have a passion to achieve that, the door of universe will open for you. Work with honesty and integrity.
Let's turn the tide in our favour
To conclude, let's focus on how to turn the tide in our favour and set a strong foothold in the male dominated ecosystem. Let's discuss a few steps which can be taken to overcome the hangover and get a permanent cure:
1) Challenging social norms-Many a time women feel they need to get into the male avatar, like being more competitive, contentious, having a strong voice, adopters of technology, making friends at high places etc. But, the real truth is that, you have been blessed with natural some traits and there is no need to get into the man boot's. Just be confident the way you are. The qualities that women can bank upon are, that theyare more focused, good negotiators, have more patience, perseverance, good financial analyst, multi taskers, good team players, good honest hard workers, highly persuasive etc.
2) Restrained funding– In the starting of this article, we have discussed that lack of funding makes it difficult for a woman to get into start ups. However, we need ways to get more funds in our kitty, like approaching a VC firm with more woman partners in it. Remember the base purpose is that, Ideas should be UNIQUE and a good product needs to be worked out, so that it's valuation will grow over time. You should try getting more funds from female entrepreneurs and also through strategic educational workshops.
3) Having a strong network- You need to find the right support network like womencom, women in technology are some of the support network to name a few. These support systems work through your hard times. Also, your friends and family can be your pillar of support through good and bad times. The emotional support that our loved ones provide us, can help us sail through tough times.
4) Don't be afraid to take a chance
5) Stop listening and start doing- Many people will try to generalize you and start commenting about your abilities. Please stop listening to their comments and be fully aware of your strengths and abilities. As Steve Job's rightly says, “Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow know, what you truly want to become”.
6) Boost your confidence- Try to boost your confidence level with more of training workshops, take help of a mentor, do one work at one time, try to have hands on expertise on technological innovations and keep yourself updated.
Gender diversity at large still remains an argumentative topic in the modern workforce, especially for women who are leadership in roles/top management role. Although women have put in a lot of work to get where they are, many still struggle to be recognized as the smart and equally capable leaders that they are. Many a time their talent is not recognized nor given importance they desefce . It's although more difficult in startup world.
With inputs from- Times of India, Your story, India business times
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