After the 8th Annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit ended in Hyderabad Nov. 30, women business leaders pondered whether the three-day conference had any tangible take-aways for female entrepreneurs.
The theme of the three-day summit — “Women First, Prosperity for All” — was aimed at supporting female entrepreneurs to take their ideas to the next level. Ivanka Trump — who led the U.S. delegation of more than 200 business leaders — described the hurdles faced by women during her Nov. 28 speech.
In developing countries, 70 percent of women-owned small and medium-sized businesses are denied access to capital, noted Trump, adding that the result has been a nearly $300 billion annual credit deficit for women entrepreneurs in those countries. In the U.S., female entrepreneurs in 2016 received less than three percent of venture capital funding, said Trump, noting that her father’s administration is seeking to increase opportunities for women.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi unfathomably invoked the presence of strong goddesses in Hindu mythology to make his case for India as a country which respects women.
“I saw very positive energy for women entrepreneurs,” Sangeeta Agarawal, Indian American founder and CEO of Helpsy, told India-West. Helpsy — helpsyhealth.com — brings together people suffering from various ailments together with 130,000 health care professionals through its platform. Agarawal, a former software engineer who changed courses mid-career to become a nurse, said she used her own experience with healthcare to develop the platform.
The entrepreneur said she attended GES in the hopes of learning how to market her nascent business, how to scale it to increase users, and to find global opportunities. “I wanted to connect with potential investors and leaders in health care,” said Agarawal, adding she is still in the family and friends round of investors.
Agarawal added that she found it difficult to connect with investors at the summit. “There are very few factors to relate with,” she said, noting that investors tend to gravitate towards entrepreneurs with whom they feel a connection.
“I’m 39 years old, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, and I’m a vegetarian. It’s hard to find investors with the same demographics as me,” said Agarawal with a rueful laugh. “With male founders, the questions are more positive, such as growth strategies. With women founders, the questions are more negative, focusing on handling risk,” she said, noting that the question of risk is moot, as women are more conservative in taking on risk.
Ivanka Trump somewhat overshadowed the event, said Agarawal, adding that the focus was on the president’s daughter, rather than women entrepreneurs who seldom have opportunities to be in the limelight.
Purnima Voria, founder and CEO of the National U.S. India Chamber of Commerce, told India-West she was inspired by Ivanka Trump and her message for global female entrepreneurs. “People want to see successful women in business,” she said, noting that Ivanka Trump — who has her own line of clothing, shoes and accessories — understands the challenges of start-ups, as an entrepreneur herself.
“I told her ‘Ivanka,’ you rock,’” said Voria of her brief meeting with Trump at GES.
Voria went beyond the summit to attend a meeting with the Goa Chamber of Commerce and Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, India’s former defense minister, at which a memorandum of understanding was signed to promote bilateral trade and investment between the U.S. and Goa.
Voria said one of the ideas she discussed at the summit was an “Older Women’s League,” for women entrepreneurs over 40 to help them get back into the business world and to create new businesses. Voria has created the model in the U.S., and now hopes to bring it to India, adding mentor-mentee relationships between leaders in both countries. She also wants to bring the model to women in India’s villages, and in Tier II and III cities, which are often overlooked by investors.
Indian American investor Venktesh Shukla, managing director of Monta Vista Capital, chaired a panel discussion on the first day of the summit: “The Missing Middle: Making the Leap.” Panelists Vani Kola, managing director of Kalaari Capital, and Lavanya Nalli Ramanathan, vice chairman of the Nalli Group of Companies, discussed opportunities for financing for companies in the mid-stages of growth, where capital is often unavailable.
Shukla told India-West: “India is one country which does not discriminate in business on the basis of gender.” He added that discrimination was more likely to be based on caste and class. “Investors are considering ‘does this get me more money?’” he said. “There is a fundamental shift in India, where the idea of taking control of your destiny and doing things for yourself has become fashionable.”
Shukla said he was impressed by the many women entrepreneurs he met at GES. “They all had such original ideas,” he said, noting that women were innovating in several different sectors, including genetics, social media, and education.
Agarawal of Helpsy told India-West the summit was a start in the right direction. “I hope there will be many programs to sprout from the conference,” she said.