We have entered the 21st century where change is part of our everyday lives. It’s not just the new emerging technologies, but also the changing mindset of our society that is helping us progress. It somehow feels like we are talking more on WHY we need a change rather than focusing on HOW we ARE changing. I noticed and realized this when I was reading up various articles on changing scenario for women in the startup ecosystem.
Yes, shades of sexism in the tech world can be seen across the globe. But we have got notable examples of women who have gone against all odds to make it as tech entrepreneurs in this male dominated tech world. Sure, we do hear stories of startups with pregnant women founders not getting funded. But women are fundraising and running startups while pregnant and after they have kids. Through our accelerator program, various bootcamps, workshops and demo days at Zone Startups India, we noticed that a lot of our proud success stories are startups that are being run and lead by women founders. These women entrepreneurs, despite facing various challenges that exist for them in the startup ecosystem, were doing great in their field with some support from us.
We realised having a dedicated accelerator program for women entrepreneurs – complete with mentoring, workshops, case studies of successful women led startups, industry connect, peer network and investor connect – will be a great platform to empower women who are trying to break barriers for themselves in the startup ecosystem . This led us to launch empoWer – India’s first accelerator for women entrepreneurs – last year. We received 191 applications; of which 15 women entrepreneurs were selected for a 6-week accelerator program followed by a 1-year support. The 8 winners selected from the cohort of 15 entrepreneurs went on to gain financial support of INR 70 Lakhs from the program, with 15 founders going onto raise in excess of INR 150 Crores post program. The first edition turned out to be a huge success and a great motivation for us to keep continuing this.
The application process itself involved a detailed primary research based approach, to build a program on the lines of the “Need-Gap” experienced by Women Entrepreneurs. Here is how we designed the program based on the points that the respondents replied as “Challenging” or “Very Challenging”.
Lack of information on Markets
59% Challenging & Very Challenging – this paved way to form specific mentorship sessions with subject matter experts
Procedural delays and complexities
81% Challenging & Very Challenging – this helped us focus on the need for professional guidance on basics pertaining to company formation, legal guidance, accounting procedures and other secretarial services fro smooth functioning of business operations
Absence of role models
53% Challenging & Very Challenging – we onboarded a few successful women leaders and entrepreneurs to talk about their journey. Also, the objective of having empoWer as a 15-member cohort was to form a strong peer community. This will go on building year-on-year and lead to a strong community of women entrepreneurs.
Access to Finance
90.1% Challenging & Very Challenging – one of the reasons we attached an equity free seed funding at the end of the program, was to provide some degree of financial support, and belief in the venture.
Access to markets (sectors & customers)
77.4% Challenging & Very Challenging – we ensured that every week we brought in senior industry leaders, or organized an industry visit, for providing exposure to the cohort members; as well as open up access to these potential partners and clients.
61% Challenging & Very Challenging – during the course of the 6-week program, every week had a networking session that helped the cohort build their network. Also, the end of program Demo Day was largely to put these entrepreneurs on the big stage, and help them with a profile with a larger audience.
We are now in middle of the second edition of empoWer. We launched the 2017 edition on 1st September. The applications are live on empower.zone till 6th October 2017. Starting this year, empoWer expands itself to become an ecosystem for nurturing women entrepreneurship through a conference, accelerator, skill bootcamp, community and access to funding as a year round initiative. The overall objective of empoWer is to be able to identify some solid women entrepreneurs build great, fundable businesses and provide them the support pivotal in taking their business to the next level.
– Kainat Ahmed, Team empoWer