I have been binge-watching Shark Tank, and it’s heartwarming to see the spirit of entrepreneurship become a mainstream one – where startups, equity and fundraising are dinner-table conversations. What pleasantly surprised me was the variety of female entrepreneurship scenarios I saw on the show – a bhabhi and nanad starting a pickle venture in Darbhanga, a saas and bahu from Indore trying to revolutionise the packaging industry, sisters building a male hygiene brand together. Shattering glass ceilings, but also shattering stereotypes. This brings me to the conclusion that entrepreneurship is universal. And female entrepreneurship is even more universal.
Yet, if I look back to my growing up years, it does strike me that female entrepreneurship is no new phenomenon. Rather one that’s been around since the last few decades. And there are several instances of this.
A win-win situation for these commercial ventures and for the women. Many of these business models even went on to become case studies at B-schools, because they were pathbreaking attempts at employing latent talent in women that had otherwise been traditionally ignored. And, in the process, allowing women, who had mostly been financially dependent on menfolk, to earn their own livelihood.
The ones who usually were female acquaintances of my mother through her personal network of friends, family and kitty party members. Ones who would come home with glossy catalogues of kitchenware items and cosmetics, trying to make use of salesmanship training they had acquired through becoming representatives of these companies, almost always convincing my mother that the products advertised in the catalogues were far better than their retail counterparts. And each of these women ran her own show as a company affiliate, growing her clientele, and sales volume through her own efforts. Some of them even managed to employ other women under them, creating their own sales hierarchies. And running them profitably.
The ones who ran tiny ventures out from home. Making pickles and lunches for those who didn’t have the time to make their own. And becoming indispensable in most cases.
Each one of these women is an entrepreneur. Irrespective of the size of the venture they ran.
And the trend hasn’t stopped, for even today, there are several women who run successful small-scale businesses, from within their homes. And we’d all probably agree that they are as important as are the women who build unicorns. For they contribute in many ways, to our social economy. And personally, I have an extra element of respect for them. Because even without B-school degrees, venture capital and sometimes even a basic education, they did everything that is included in the definition of an entrepreneur. Take risks. Create value. Solve pain points. And in the process, earn identity and profit.
The Indian woman entrepreneur comes in many different kinds and colours. She could be a sari-clad homemaker, who realises that her grandmother’s skincare recipes can cause a stir in the beauty industry. Or an IIM educated business-suited woman, who understands finance and technology as well as her male counterparts. In all her forms, she deserves to be appreciated, encouraged and celebrated.