As they ring in 2023, here’s how women entrepreneurs look back at 2022

After two years of COVID, 2022 proved to be a year of revived growth. It threw up many daunting challenges but also opened the door for a slew of opportunities. SME Futures spoke to some women start-up owners to know how 2022 shaped their businesses and what plans have they chalked out for 2023

   
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Every storm leaves behind a trail of destruction. After it wreaks havoc, we pick up the pieces and try to gather ourselves.

COVID-19 rendered many women jobless in 2020 and 2021. In the second wave, the women unemployment rate shot up to 17 per cent, more than double the rate for men, according to data from the private research firm Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy in 2021.

The ripples of the lockdowns were felt far and wide and hit the core of many businesses which were helmed and spearheaded by women. Some of them were forced to wrap up overnight. However, most of these went unreported.

Apart from triggering the loss of livelihoods, the pandemic took a heavy toll on the economy as a whole. When they got robbed of their jobs, it led to a shrinkage in the contribution of women towards the GDP of the country.

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2022 witnessed an economic revival of sorts with COVID restrictions being eased initially and then lifted altogether. Even though many women had to restart from scratch, they did it with an unwavering and relentless spirit. The new-age entrepreneurs drove the economic surge from the front and took innovation to a new level.

As we draw the curtains on 2022, we look at how businesses got a breath of fresh air and how it shaped women-led enterprises. 2022 paved the path for new opportunities and learnings after two stormy years. Despite encountering various odds and an economic slowdown, the women entrepreneurs of the country took the challenges head on and came up trumps. While some of them have plans to further consolidate on their business’s revival in 2023, many have already made a mark in their respective arenas and wish to foray into new territories.

More focus on areas to invest in: Bhargavi V

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“Year 2022 was the year of coming of age for Java Capital. Java went from being an angel syndicate to a full-fledged AIF (SEBI registered Alternate Investment Fund),” says Bhargavi V, Co-founder & Partner, Java Capital, one amongst the handful of Indian VCs founded by women.

“This also meant that a lot of our time in 2022 went into fund raising. We have made 4 investments from the newly launched fund across deep tech, fintech and in the SAAS sectors. This was a particularly difficult year for start-ups with a slowdown in funding and budget cuts across sectors resulting in a slower growth in revenue. So, we spent a significant time working with our portfolio and chipping in wherever they needed support,” she adds.

What are the Bangalore-based Java Capital’s investment strategies & plans for 2023? Bhargavi explains, saying, “We are coming out of 2022 with more focus on the areas that we would like to invest in for the next 3 years. In 2020 and 2021, we were more of a sector-agnostic fund. The new fund will focus more on SAAS, deep tech and on climate & sustainability investments.”

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She continues, “The first principles of Java Capital’s investment philosophy remain the same where we look to back visionary founders building innovative solutions in large markets with passion, empathy and customer centricity. Apart from the above-mentioned sectors, we are always eager to engage with founders developing disruptive business models and technology in any domain and take opportunistic bets.”

And the key takeaways from 2022? Says Bhargavi, “2022 bolstered our belief that long term bets on disruptive technologies and business models will pay off in any economic cycle. Our portfolio firms Legistify, Xeno, Codingal, Yellow Metal and Kindlife grew their revenues strongly in a difficult climate. Deep tech bets like ePlane and Agnikul showed that if you put your head down and keep working towards your milestones, funding is not an issue irrespective of an upcycle or a downcycle.”

2022 was massive in terms of growth: Aashka Goradia Goble

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“The year 2022 has been massive in terms of growth for RENÉE. We have expanded our product portfolio with a series of clutter-breaking products, and we have also ventured into the fragrance category with three EDPs (Eau de Parfum),”

says Aashka Goradia Goble, founder of RENÉE Cosmetics.

She adds, “We have created a whole new product line called ‘Princess’ by RENÉE, a makeup line exclusively for pre-teens. All the products from Princess by RENÉE are dermatologically tested, free from nasties, cruelty-free and vegan.”

And where has the company spread their wings to? “We have strengthened our retail presence through 650 shop-in-shop stores; In 2022, we also launched our flagship stores in Ahmedabad, Mumbai and Lucknow. After receiving a lot of overseas demand, we now have a beta presence in marketplaces in the US, Australia and the UAE,” she underlines.

“Moreover, we have recently raised $25 million in series B funding, which led to a total funding of $35 million to date and a valuation of $100 million, helping us strengthen our position as one of the leading beauty brands in the country,” she adds.

What are RENÉE’s plans for 2023? And how are they preparing for it?

“Our company’s roadmap for 2023 includes growing our team, strengthening our online and offline presence by further building our product portfolio, and facilitating our marketing efforts. On the retail front, we are already operating through 650 shop-in-shop stores and the target is to reach 1,000 stores by the end of this financial year. We are also working towards increasing our influencer activity from 200-400 influencers per month to 1,000. After becoming one of the fastest-growing D2C beauty brands to reach the 100 crore ARR mark in only two years, the target here is to reach an ARR of 500 crores by the end of the financial year 2024, and become a globally recognised Indian beauty brand,” Aashka asserts.

Core of success is designing a good solution that’s human-centred: Sashwati Banerjee

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“2022 taught me that a human-centred approach along with a focus on technology can be a great tool for impactful transformation,” points out Sashwati Banerjee, the founder of Top Parent, an organisation supported by the venture philanthropy platform ACT. Top Parent’s free mobile app empowers low-income parents to support their children’s learning.

“Today, it is critical to become user-centric and keep them at the core of every approach. At the heart of success is designing a good solution that is human-centred. From what are the colours that they want to what is the language that they understand, to UX/UI, pedagogy, and the curriculum – anything and everything needs to be tested by the users. You give them what they need, not what you want,” she elaborates.

Talking about her key goals and objectives for 2023, Sashwati says, “We wish to launch TP 3.0 based on the ALF framework and target a total of 1Mn+ downloads by December 2023; we also want to launch the TP Marathi version, plan our distribution and target ~150K downloads; we also want to collaborate and develop strategic partnerships and create scholarship funds to facilitate a performance-based rewards system; and finally we want to firm up our collaboration with a B2G/B2B entity to grow the TP user base further and institutionalise Top Parent.”

Decisions, direction critical for business growth: Vanita Prasad

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“For any start-up, it’s always a challenge to ascertain what to do and what not to do, as everything looks important. The learning we’ve had in 2022 is that taking strategic decisions and setting the direction is critical for business growth. To scale up the business, we should hire the right talent to create an in-built competency. Also, internal communication is equally important as that helps to set the tone for effective work execution,” says Vanita Prasad, Founder and CEO of REVY, which transforms waste into reusable resources.

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What does the start-up plan for 2023? Vanita says, “We have successfully completed REVY STUB’s product development and completed its field trials with support from ACT (a non-profit venture philanthropy platform) and Green Earth and are now focusing on its wide scale implementation during the next cropping season.”

“Overall, our technological solutions help in a significant reduction in the carbon footprint to support SGD13. Our vision is to implement these solutions with an aim to mitigate about 175 Mmt of CO2 next year,” she says as she signs off.