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Five Women Entrepreneurs in India who are in a League of Their Own

By Samridhi Singh
mumbai india
Shutterstock

Over the last decade, the Indian startup ecosystem has grown tenfold to emerge as the third largest startup ecosystem in the world. Despite this growth, there’s a noticeable lack of female founders leading the charge. Just 10% of founders in India are women, ranking the country 52 out of 57 countries surveyed in the Index of Women Entrepreneurs 2019. Even worse, the number of funded startups with at least one female co-founder declined from 17% in 2018 to 12% in 2019.

In a country where women business owners struggle with less favorable conditions, peer networks and role models are crucial to pave the way forward. Here are 5 women who are tearing down barriers and subsequently opening doors for more women in entrepreneurship.

Falguni Nayar, Nykaa (Beauty)

After a successful 25 year career in finance, Falguni Nayar put her money where her makeup is to launch Nykaa in 2012. Boasting partnerships with L'Oreal, Johnson & Johnson, Unilever, and others, Nykaa is India’s leading e-commerce platform for beauty and personal care.

Nayar started the company after she had a revelation when she visited Sephora abroad for the first time. The dedicated guidance to pick the right products left her feeling empowered and she decided to bring this model to India to become the country’s first and only ‘one-stop-shop’ for beauty and personal care. Four years ago, Nyka launched its in-house brand and has since seen a 35% yearly growth. With hands full, Nayar said in an interview, “I love make-up but I don’t have time to put it on anymore!”. With $150M in funding, a$5B valuation, 850 brands and a growing presence in offline retail, Nykaa continues to take the $20B Indian beauty industry by a storm.

Shradha Sharma, YourStory (Media)

Shradha Sharma writes her own story by sharing others’. After spending years at Times of India and CNBC as Assistant Vice President, Sharma noticed a gap in media outlets focused on India’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, which had started gaining momentum a decade ago but wasn’t quite making headlines.

“It’s easy to write about successful people. What about less celebrated people who have dreams and a sense of purpose, and are just beginning to fulfil that?” Sharma shared in an interview. So in 2018 she founded YourStory, a digital platform for entrepreneur and startup related news, and bootstrapped the company until 2015. Going beyond just stories of entrepreneurs, YourStory has now become the go-to publication for funding analysis, emerging trends and startup resources for the Indian market. With over 72,000 stories in its database, 12 languages, a team of 100+ and over a million readers, Sharma hopes to make YourStory the biggest platform of its kind in the world.

Lizzie Chapman, ZestMoney (Fintech)

Founder of India’s largest consumer lending company, Lizzie Chapman dreams of “making life affordable” for every Indian. Originally from London, Chapman made India her home 7 years ago to become the Executive Director of DBS Bank. Shortly after, she noticed a gap in credit access in India – over 300 million households did not have any formal financing options. Only 10 million individuals own credit cards in India, a miniscule percentage given the country’s 1.3 billion population, meaning that most people have insufficient credit history and a lack of credit score.

Chapman dove right in to change the face of India’s fintech market by launching ZestMoney - an innovative platform that uses digital banking and AI to provide consumers with access to credit from their phones. With $57M capital raised from investors including Xiaomi, Omidiyar Network, and Ribbit Capital, ZestMoney sees over $500M in annual turnover and $200M in annual loan disbursements.

Meena Ganesh, Portea Medical (Healthcare)

A successful serial entrepreneur, Meena Ganesh has spent the majority of her career launching and exiting businesses in technology, healthcare and education. Ganesh launched her first business, CustomerAsset, which was a tech company creating products for other internet startups. However, in the 2000 internet bust, after quickly switching to a BPO model to ride out the crisis, the company was acquired by India’s leading bank ICICI.

Her second venture was Tutorvista with her husband Ganesh Krishnan. The company offered a full stack solution for schools from curriculum design to pedagogy and teacher training to administrative management. On reaching 35 schools and 35,000 students on the platform, the company was acquired by the global education giant, Pearson. Now, Ganesh’s latest venture, Portea Medical, has become India’s largest homecare company. In just seven years the company has hired over 5,000 medical staff, sees over 120,000 home visits a month and operates in 24 cities across India. Hitting home runs with all her ventures,Ganesh is unstoppable,”the thought is to always to build a business, scale it up, and make it the best in its space,” she shared in a 2017 Forbes interview.

Upasana Taku, MobiKwik (Fintech)

The PayPal mafia isn’t just limited to Silicon Valley superstars. When Upasana Taku moved to India in 2008 after 3 years with PayPal in the Bay Area, she was surprised to learn ‘e-wallets’ were unheard of in India. Users couldn’t imagine a cashless world.

Within a year she launched India’s first mobile wallet, MobiKwik, with her husband, Bipin Preet Singh. While it took the duo 10 months to onboard their first banking client and 3 years to break even, the investment community had their eyes on Mobikwik, and in 2015 the company raised $31M in Series A from notable investors like Sequoia, American Express and Cisco. Living by her mantra, “kick up a storm or die trying”, Taku has grown Mobikwik to 107 million users, 3 million merchants and over 250% yearly growth.

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