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How I-Venture @ ISB is Empowering 2500 Indian Women Scale Their Micro Enterprises

DiscoverShe by the Indian School of Business (ISB) provides a platform for women entrepreneurs to come forth and pitch their ideas, engage with investors, mentors, and other stakeholders.

How I-Venture @ ISB is Empowering 2500 Indian Women Scale Their Micro Enterprises

This article has been published in partnership with I-Venture @ ISB

In the past decade, India has been a witness to innovation and entrepreneurship taking centre stage. The Economic Survey of 2023 highlights a surge in entrepreneurship which is not only setting a precedent for the future generations but changing the concept of employment. The report also indicates that the startup ecosystem in India will create over 10 lakh jobs in the coming years. Indian School of Business (ISB), through their one-of-a-kind ‘I-Venture @ ISB’s’ programme is providing the required support to this ecosystem and championing entrepreneurship for every section of the society

Under its purview, there are various programmes all fostering entrepreneurship and nurturing startups by providing them with ‘Start-to-Scale’ support that will accelerate their conversion into profitable ventures. One such recently launched programme ‘DiscoverShe’, brings together the goals of a profitable venture while upholding the inclusion of women in business by empowering women micro-entrepreneurs to scale.

Through a series of yatras (roadshows) in Tier 2 and 3 cities of India, DiscoverShe is set to provide a platform for these women entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas and engage with investors, mentors and other stakeholders. But as Saumya Kumar, the Director of I-Venture @ ISB highlights, a significant obstacle hindering the growth of women-led businesses in India is the lack of micro-financing options.

Women entrepreneurs often encounter challenges due to low CIBIL scores (a numerical figure that denotes one’s creditworthiness and is a reflection of how well they have managed their finances) which impacts their creditworthiness and raises speculations about their ability to manage the finances of their own business. As a result, women entrepreneurs with brilliant ideas and business acumen find it particularly difficult to procure financing for their business ventures. 

I-Venture @ ISB has launched a novel programme 'DiscoverShe' that empowers women entrepreneurs to scale their businesses
I-Venture @ ISB has launched a novel programme ‘DiscoverShe’ that empowers women entrepreneurs to scale their businesses, Picture source: ISB

So, is it fair to clip the wings of exceptional ideas before they can take off to higher skies solely because a woman entrepreneur is unable to arrange financing? 

This is where DiscoverShe steps in.

“The objective is to empower these enterprising women by alleviating financial constraints through micro-financing support, ensuring their progress remains unhindered,” Saumya says.

With this in mind, DiscoverShe kicked off with the aim to empower 2,500 women across India, particularly from tier II and tier III cities. However,  a lack of financial empowerment is not the only struggle faced by women entrepreneurs. Hence, the team of DiscoverShe took it upon themselves to be more than just a financing program and become a safe space for women entrepreneurs to exchange ideas, learn and grow their business ventures.

Infusing confidence into ideas

Socio-cultural barriers and financial constraints shouldn't hinder women from becoming business owners
Socio-cultural barriers and financial constraints shouldn’t hinder women from becoming business owners, Picture source: ISB

Interacting with women entrepreneurs through the journey across tier II and tier III cities in India served as an opportunity to understand the mindset and approach in the business world. As Saumya points out, there were two significant gaps — one was storytelling around the product and the other was a lack of confidence.

Saumya emphasises, “The first part of sales is to go talk to people.” Shy demeanour and hesitancy often resulted in women not networking effectively. Consequently, the program’s focus shifted from mere financial empowerment to providing comprehensive support for women-led businesses.

The workshops and sessions were designed to get women to speak up, and channel their storytelling skills by encouraging them to speak about the inspiration behind their ideas, their goals for the business, and what they are looking to achieve. Only once these details were in place, the women were guided concerning the maintenance of the product, the packaging and other logistics.

Connection and collaboration are the pillars on which entrepreneurship rests. The multi-city boot camps and incubation stages were decided keeping this in mind. Elaborating on the nuanced design DiscoverShe follows, I-Venture @ ISB shares that it involves a three-phase approach that is divided into four stages.

DiscoverShe provides women with mentorship, access to investment opportunities, a business plan, tools to scale an idea into a successful startup
DiscoverShe provides women with mentorship, access to investment opportunities, a business plan, tools to scale an idea into a successful startup, Picture source: ISB

Before commencing the first stage, there is a great deal of awareness created about the endeavour. Through outreach campaigns and talks, over 5,000 women are made aware of the opportunity and encouraged to come forward with their ideas. The next stage shortlists women through a set of eligibility criteria such as age, aspirations, and educational background.

Scouring through thousands of ideas is tough. But this is where local partnerships and ambassadors play a role.

Not only do these ‘ambassadors’ fine-tune the number of applications received, they also play a bridge between ISB and the entrepreneurs.

Filtering thousands of ideas to find the best ones is done by these ambassadors through a host of speed-pitching sessions and ideation workshops. The goal is to end up with 2,500 women with incredible ideas and passion. It is these 2,500 businesses that find their way to the multi-city boot camp.

Aside from playing the role of helping hands through the process, the presence of these ambassadors also ensures that connections are not lost. 

Through roadshows in tier 2 and tier 3 cities the best 2500 ideas are zeroed upon and these women will gain access to the bootcamps
Through roadshows in tier 2 and tier 3 cities the best 2500 ideas are zeroed upon and these women will gain access to the bootcamps, Picture source: ISB

Saumya shares, “The women also have a sense of security that there is a middle person who is there to solve their problems and relay them to us if needed. In that way, we can continue guiding them through the process of different aspects of the business.”

The boot camp falls into the next phase and takes place over the span of six months. During this time, the 2,500 startups (100 from 25 cities) interact with mentors and finetune their business plans and pitches. They are guided with the necessary knowledge that they need to further scale. This includes their social presence and their pricing strategy.

The top 20 businesses that perform well enter into the incubation phase which will last for 90 days. These businesses go through a rigorous training and mentorship process during which the women entrepreneurs are provided with training and capacity building, material support, access to schemes and technology, and skills and mentorship at the I-Venture @ ISB.

Customer connect, investment opportunities and pilot testing also take place during this phase. The idea is that every business that emerges from this phase is ready to dive into the real world of business.

The businesses spans sectors ranging from dairy farming to parlour services,
The businesses span sectors ranging from dairy farming to parlour services, Picture sources: ISB

What is fascinating is that the businesses span sectors; both traditional and modern. From photography, tailoring, and beauty services, to disposable plate making, educational coaching, and healthcare, I-Venture @ ISB believes no idea is too small to scale. As Saumya points out, having dairy farming and poultry on the list ensures that even women who wish to take up businesses close to home are not overlooked.

DiscoverShe strives to support these women, unleash their potential, and transform their dreams into reality. The programme rests on the belief that limited access to capital, infrastructure constraints, and socio-cultural barriers shouldn’t stand in the way of a great business idea.

With the aim to bridge these gaps, DiscoverShe wants to provide support where it’s most needed.

Edited by Padmashree Pande

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