Iti Rawat was working in the corporate world when she was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug in 2018. At 31, she decided to start up on her own with a training and consultancy business, Thinkhall. Two years into the business, she hit a slump.
She needed funds and help to bring the company out of the situation, but couldn’t find the resources to do so. That’s when she realised that women entrepreneurs would benefit from a support system to help them tide over such crises.
“This made me go deeper and dig out the numbers. I realised that women-led startups comprised only eight percent in the country. Most of them were not scaling up and were doing business that generated an annual revenue below 10 lakh, creating between 0-2 jobs,” she tells HerStory.
To help other women entrepreneurs, she created Woman Entrepreneurs for Transformation (WEFT) – a not-for-profit organisation to provide support and a networking platform for women entrepreneurs.
Solidarity in sisterhood
Entrepreneurship is rife with challenges. However, women entrepreneurs face a unique set of challenges different from their male counterparts. From financial and social constraints to gender-biased economies, women entrepreneurs have to bear the brunt of patriarchal norms, in business and from society.
Echoing this, Iti adds, in most parts of the country, women are just seen as homemakers and primary childcare givers. This leads to many women giving up their dreams of entrepreneurship or a professional career because of familial pressures, childbirth, and other reasons.
“There are not enough incubators dedicated to women. Venture capitalists and investors see them from gender-biased lenses; they are not given equal opportunities. They are also expected to take care of the household and look after their children while running their startups, whereas their male counterparts are expected to only take care of their business,” she explains.
With WEFT, she envisions solutions to tackle these issues and aid more women to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. Iti believes a solid support system backed by the right technology and a growth-oriented ecosystem can definitely make a difference.
Bringing more women into business and the workforce can result in better economies, creation of more jobs, happier families, and safer workplaces.
For championing this cause, Iti was awarded the ‘Social Leader of the Year’ award by the Indian Business Women group in 2019.
How WEFT helps women entrepreneurs
Started in August 2018, WEFT has over 1,000 women entrepreneurs in its network. With Iti running most operations of the organisation, she has volunteers to help organise services and events for networking and building an ecosystem for the entrepreneurs.
WEFT organises events such as open mics, speakup events, marketing events, and pitching competitions to help entrepreneurs get funding and network with investors and like-minded people for growth opportunities. It also helps them build a network of clients, referrals, and vendors, and share their ideas and resources.
On International Women’s Day, WEFT brought together women entrepreneurs and investors at its annual conference, Power is Within, where entrepreneurs pitched their ideas to investors and venture capitalists. It also recognised and facilitated inspiring women entrepreneurs.
Apart from events, WEFT highlights and recognises women entrepreneurs through video blogs and series, and awards and recognition. It also helps bring to the fore inspirational women like Gayitri Handanhal who started her waste management company at the age of 60. It also interviews mentors and leaders of the industry for the WEFT Dialogue Series, a valuable resource for entrepreneurs in the network.
“We are working towards a sustainable development goal of 50:50 gender equality in startups. This will take all-round development, starting from awareness building to recognition and rewards,” Iti says.
Women entrepreneurs can become a member of the network by paying an annual membership of Rs 5,000, and access to all the resources, events and opportunities provided by WEFT.
Iti is currently working towards integrating all its services on a digital platform, to assist women to connect, seek legal advice, marketing help, financial advice and funding opportunities in one place.
Power of togetherness
With the WEFT network, entrepreneurs have found co-founders, mentors, and incubation centres like NSRCEL and investors. It has helped women entrepreneurs grow their businesses and reach audiences through various digital media platforms.
However, Iti believes more needs to be done.
She believes dedicated incubation centres for women entrepreneurs can help the cause. Venture capitalists can pitch in with a percentage of their funds to support only women-led startups. Iti is also seeking help from the government to make workplaces safer and build awareness against societal pressures. She is also working towards parental leave guidelines instead of maternal leave, like in New Zealand where leave is for ‘first childcare givers’ rather than just mothers.
Summarising the journey, Iti says,
“The power of togetherness is the greatest power of all. This journey has made me stronger and humbled me through lessons about women who have defied cultures, societal norms, and at times abusive relations and financial adversities, to emerge winners.”
(Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan)
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