Startup U.S. Vs. Startup India: Women Entrepreneurs' Perspectives

During June 2012, Dell and Intel co-sponsored a Dell Womens' Entrepreneur Network (DWEN) global conference in New Delhi. This was the third DWEN global conference with previous events held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Shanghai, China.

The DWEN conference (see part one of my coverage here) spotlights female entrepreneurial success and creates an atmosphere where women can connect with one another, share best practices, build business opportunities and recognize female influence in business and technology.

Not all women command the media attention of Marissa Mayer, the new Yahoo CEO. Yet, there are incredibly talented, energized, successful women entrepreneurs who offer a lot to their communities and other entrepreneurs. I asked to interview a few DWEN women to see what could be gleaned beyond the statistics I wrote about in the previous Fast Company post. I had the pleasure of interviewing:

Any entrepreneur would be hard-pressed not to become giddy about the growth opportunities in India. Just as California had a gold rush in the mid-1850's, India may be where the 21st century gold rush plays out. Here's why from the perspective of two women Indian entrepreneurs.

Shoba Purushothaman tells me that 110 million manufacturing jobs will be created in India by 2020, a staggering number. For the sake of comparison, an article in The Huffington Post by Hal Sirkin titled Manufacturing in America published in August 2012 reported that the U.S. "is at the start of a manufacturing renaissance that will generate two to three million jobs and provide $100 billion of added economic growth over this decade." While two to three million jobs would be very nice, it's a mere drop in the bucket for what is contemplated in India.

Shoba's company, Training Ventures, Ltd., will provide training for the future managers in industry. However, her bigger objective is to create a global brand, a brand that she sees being most easily created starting in India. What does she see as some of the advantages?

  • Demographics: 700 million of 1.2 billion population is under age 35, birth rate is high, very large middle class
  • Margins tend to be higher
  • Lots of opportunities for products and services
  • Easier to get a business off the ground
  • Huge influx of manufacturing companies coming into India
  • 500,000 university students in Pune, India, the eighth largest city in India, where Shoba's business is headquartered. [Note: The San Francisco Bay Area has about 150,000 university students.]
So what does she see as some of the challenges in India? The infrastructure isn't as robust as it needs to be; it is challenging for the government to keep up with growth. And, yes, India infrastructure issues are largely outside an entrepreneur's control.

Shoba sees that buyers are becoming more discerning and are beginning to differentiate between price and value. She also believes that relationships will become more and more critical in India. For a long time, there was a certain arrogance that people didn't need to know you to do business with you. That is changing.

As jobs are created in India, a thriving middle class is evolving that major global brands want access to. Stuti Jalan's company supports major luxury brands entering the Indian marketplace. Her business is 10 years old; she started it when she was 23.

Stuti's road to entrepreneurship is far from traditional. She started attending boarding school when she was 8 and always had a goal to get into a great college in New Delhi. Education wasn't seen as important in the state she grew up in India but that did not deter her in any way. With respect to starting a business, she believed she had nothing to lose—she could always go back and get a job if things didn't work out.

Her business has 35 employees in three locations in India. She will expand into 2-3 new locations this year. Client demands are fueling her growth. She continues to expand her network and contacts in vitally important ways:

  • She attended the Fortune US State Department Global Women's Mentoring Partnership program which is under Hillary Clinton in April 2011 which connects Fortune's Most Powerful Women, connecting women business executives in the United States with emerging women leaders around the world
  • She was invited to attend the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit by Fortune Magazine & Solera Capital in October 2011 in California
  • She has networked with Marissa Mayer and Warren Buffet, both of whom have expressed keen interests in India
  • She is seeing Indians moving back to India to be part of this economic explosion—there isn't the brain drain to America that there once was
  • She wants to have a global business and sees no reason she can't have a Fortune 500-level company
Stuti sees her success being attributed to the right infrastructure, having the right team and delivering results for her clients.

Lauren Flanagan, Managing Partner of BELLE Capital, is an entrepreneur's entrepreneur. She has started companies, sits on the boards of companies, invests in companies, and is a business veteran. Her insights and perspective are worthy of a book.

Lauren is from Berkeley so she has Silicon Valley roots and has watched entrepreneurial opportunities grow spurned on by angel investors and venture capitalists. She is not seeing much angel investing in India, though some U.S. venture capital groups are beginning to go to India in search of new investment opportunities.

One of Lauren's companies is Current Motor, a company that has designed a high-tech, green electric scooter for a global marketplace in Michigan. The scooter is being manufactured in Michigan; some components are sourced outside the U.S. She believes she has the right product at the right time in the right place. She is currently expanding her sales and marketing into Brazil due to relationships she cultivated at an earlier DWEN event there.

Lauren tells me that women are currently starting 3 of every 5 new businesses in the U.S. The glass ceiling is driving many women to create businesses. There is frustration for many women that they are not getting promoted fast enough. Women, like men, are creating lifestyle businesses without much investment other than credit cards, bank financing, friends and family while others contemplate scalable businesses requiring an exit strategy to repay external investors within reasonable time frame. Some grow businesses with no external capital. While women do more lifestyle businesses, scalable businesses are increasing rapidly which is why this is an attractive, underserved market for savvy investors.

I asked Lauren about the challenges U.S. women entrepreneurs face:

  • Access to capital
  • Getting venture backing, in spite of the fact that women tend to be about one-third more capital efficient
  • Investment in early stage companies is much weaker for women-owned firms
  • Investment and working capital is tough
  • Tougher for women to gain entry to the right relationships and networking (good ol' boy vs. new girl network)
  • There are challenges getting their stories out
  • More and more women are in science and engineering—this has traditionally been a challenge
  • Finding women who face similar challenges in a community and having women to share the journey with
One thing was clear: these women are driven, capable entrepreneurs. They have great stories to tell and inspire others with their success. They are tireless, driven, fearless, focused and know they cannot fail.

Dave Gardner is a member of Dell's Customer Advisory Panel. He can be reached on Twitter and via his website at Gardner & Associates Consulting.

[Image: Flickr user Dell]

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