Looking back on 2021; how it fared for women start-up owners and their plans for 2022

Considering the fact that the pandemic threw a spanner in the works for everyone in 2021 and is still showing no signs of abating, SME futures talked to some female start-up owners and asked them to look back at how 2021 was for them and moving forward, what were their plans for 2022.

Remembering 2021, how it went for female startup owners and their 2022 plans

According to previously published data, 17 to 19.3 million women became unemployed in India during the March-April 2020 lockdowns. This happened just during the first wave. The second wave was far more damaging to the economy in 2021.

This has only served to make us realise that the pandemic is not gender blind and has ravaged everyone equally.

In fact, it has disproportionately affected women across the globe. The impact being in the form of more unpaid chores for women and more job losses for them compared to their male counterparts. On top of that, women-led businesses too were unequally affected by the crisis.

Unfortunately, there is little or no clear data on how many women must have gone bankrupt or shut their firms or lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic. However, many organisations have studied and documented this aspect of things.

According to a Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) research, women entrepreneurs in India appear to have felt the strongest impact due to the pandemic as compared to those from the other countries in this region, with two thirds of them attributing their recent business closures to the pandemic.

However, there is always a bright side.

Despite the challenges, women entrepreneurs are forging ahead in spite of the sea-changes brought about by the pandemic.

Today, women entrepreneurs account for roughly one-third of all growth-oriented entrepreneurs in the world. And the established business ownership rate for women is 5.6 per cent, representing one in three established women globally, reports GEM.

One out of the many trends has been a slow shift in the numbers regarding women entrepreneurs. Globally, women and men were more or less on par in reporting that the pandemic provided new business opportunities to them (40.6 per cent vs 42.2 per cent).

The same trend can be seen in India, where female entrepreneurs are expanding the start-up ecosystem. As we approach 2022, we spoke with a few female entrepreneurs about how 2021 went for them and asked them about their plans for 2022.

2022 will see a rise in the alternative assets class: Aashraya Rau

2021 was a year of constant evolution, comments Aashraya Rau.

She is the founder of YuGenie, an app-based social network focused on modernising the social welfare industry. In short, the platform is there for discovering and connecting with social organisations and for people who are passionate about social causes.

“As an impact-focused tech company, coming out of 2020, we fortunately navigated through the pandemic. We helped non-profits to jump through supply chain bottlenecks and focused on building an impact-content driven platform. Also, we are educating millennials & Gen-Z about what is happening around the world and bringing attention to the critical issues in our country, through YuGenie’s media channels,” she tells us.

2021 was also the year for new things says the blockchain enthusiast. “We tested the limits on what we can achieve by leveraging the DLT technology and the possibilities for YuGenie,” Rau says.

“We were able to successfully evolve our product and are now preparing to launch our web 2 & web 3 products simultaneously. Blockchain technology has seen a year of tremendous growth for digital assets, especially crypto, NFTs, tokens, DeFi tools and DAOs, ”she continues.

For Rau, 2022 is going to be exciting as she feels a renewed sense of excitement similar to that from the early days of the internet. “2022 is going to see the rise of an alternative asset class with the boom of crypto and blockchain technology,” she says.

Her company, incubated by WE HUB, an exclusive incubator for female entrepreneurs, is gearing up to launch Illuminated DAO (Decentralised Autonomous Organisation) early in 2022.

“We’re thrilled to be one of the first DAOs in the country and excited to further our mission of democratising access to social impact through blockchain,” says Rau.

According to her, illuminated DAO will decentralise philanthropy, skip the entire bureaucratic banking system, and enable us to direct resources and funds to the unbanked, remote and underserved communities in India.

Aashraya Rau-Founder-YuGenie

In 2022, Rau hopes to work in tandem with foundations, non-profits, people, and governments from around the world— building a global network of impact creators through YuGenie and Illuminated DAO.

“The infrastructure surrounding DAOs is at a very nascent stage, and we expect to add more tools and capabilities to further decentralise philanthropy as the DAO-tooling ecosystem matures over the course of 2022,” she elaborates.

Her goal is to digitise and modernise the impact industry that has long remained disorganised, highly fragmented, and largely offline.

“We’re hoping to scale Illuminated DAO and YuGenie globally to allow us to pool in the resources, the funding and the manpower required to solve some of the most pressing issues across the world and to directly reach the vulnerable geographies that remain unbanked,” she says as she tells us about her roadmap for 2022.

Year of collaborations for SMEs: Vasanta Chigurupati

“SMEs were the ones that were most affected during the pandemic owing to their limited resources to combat uncertainties on such a tremendous scale,” says Vasanta Chigurupati, founder of Hyderabad based The One Shop, an online store for return gifts and corporate gifts.

For Chigurapati, there are a few key takeaways from 2021.

The only way to grow is by taking everyone along on the journey. Companies are run by people, and it is on us to ensure that we are compassionate towards our staff and those around us during difficult times. We should not have a knee-jerk reaction towards our teams when our businesses are going down due to external circumstances beyond our control. Markets will eventually improve and so will the business, she tells us.

“2021 has shown me that even if we do not have an adequate marketing budget, word of mouth will continue to work as the best form of marketing as long as we adhere to our ethics and remain steadfast in our commitment to our customers,” she adds.

She anticipates that 2022 will be a year for collaborations for the SME segment.

Vasanta Chigurupati-Founder-The One Shop

“My primary focus will be on building strategic partnerships both on the supply and demand sides. We can aim to achieve growth much faster and overcome unforeseen challenges with the extended network of resources built with these collaborations,” says Chigurapati.

“There should be access to experts as shared resources for everyone, so that the cost of hiring them comes down. Like technology experts, design, and packaging experts. More networking events should be organized where we can explore the scope for business development,” she adds.

User obsession + domain expertise, never fails: Bhakti Deshpande

Education has taken a giant leap in the era of the pandemic. Platforms have jumped on the education-as-a-service bandwagon, with the start-ups at the top. While there are plenty of online edtech start-ups, there is still a vacuum in the field of the performing arts.

Seeing this void as an opportunity, and being a passionate educator herself, Bhakti Deshpande, a professional Kathak dancer founded Artfill in April 2020.

Innovation in education was one of the key takeaways from the past year, she says. “While ed-tech saw a boom, many joined the fray to address this huge overnight demand. In this environment we bootstrapped our way to 14,000 learners on our platform with high completion rates, healthy ARPU & an excellent NPS of +60. While listening to users has been the key; in a specialised field like art education, domain expertise plays an equally important role in solving our users’ needs,” she tells us.

At a time when start-ups are a lucrative market for investors and their valuations are soaring, there will be much happening in 2022, she opines. “With emerging technologies, the disruption caused by the pandemic, the maturing start-up ecosystem, and the promising prospects of a developing economy, we can be quite sure that Indian start-ups are just getting started!” Deshpande says.

With high hopes from 2022, Deshpande thinks that this year will be equally disruptive and a defining year for Indian education.

“On the whole we are excited about these opportunities and the impact that art education can have on its students. The new education policy will start getting implemented. Traditional and new models of education will co-exist with the rise of hybrid models of learning. I believe that the fastest growing segment will be that of extra-curricular activities. It is a large unorganised market; and due to the online ways of learning, demand will be strengthened as the NEP puts extra-curricular learning at par with curricular learning,” she explains.

Bhakti Deshpande-Founder-Artfills

Talking about the 2022 roadmap for her company, Deshpande’s plans are to increase her platform user base and her revenues by 10X in the FY23.

“We leverage technology for a personalised, adaptive & application driven learning experience. Our plan is to offer the in-depth learning of Indian art forms, so we aim to cover more major Indian artforms soon at Artfills. Also, we are customer obsessed and are building our product for the unique needs of Indian users across all age groups with our regional language offerings,” she tells us.

Digital first approach to continue: Nishtha Yogesh

Nishtha Yogesh founded Hunar Online Courses; a learning platform aimed at empowering women through courses ranging from fashion design to management. When it comes to 2021, she believes that it will be a difficult year for everyone. “Uncertainty has been rampant,” she says.

“However, our key takeaways have been that conviction in your vision, speed of execution, feedback from customers and constant experimentation are even more critical in times of crisis. Internally, staying lean and ensuring that our teams are motivated, taken care of and have support systems has proven critical to our resilience and growth,” she asserts.

For 2022, she feels that some of the key trends witnessed in 2021 will continue. “Customers will continue to take a digital first approach, and businesses will continue to build lean, resilient, and virtual teams. Businesses will start making attempts to re-visit, experiment and test the validity of the pre-COVID ways of conducting business and will finally adapt a hybrid structure to cater to their goals,” she says.

Nishtha Yogesh-Founder-Hunar Online Courses

Her vision for 2022 is one of well-funded female entrepreneurs. “Less uncertainty would be great! On a more serious note – better access to capital for female founders, more opportunities for mentorship, increased access to talent, and the strength, agility and ability to keep building and keep growing would be the asks on my dream list,” she tells us.

Eyes on new markets: Mythreyi Kondapi

For Mythreyi Kondapi 2020 and 2021 were challenging. “We were in a growth phase with plans for manufacturing and sales which got delayed because of a lack of funds coming into the company at proper intervals. However, despite all the challenges, Startoon Labs has been very resilient and succeeded through all the odds,” she tells us.

She is the founder of Startoon Labs, a medical devices company headquartered in Hyderabad along with her husband.

Despite the challenges, in 2021 her company managed to raise angel round funding and investment from IKP Knowledge Park. “Our team grew as we started B2B sales in Hyderabad and we gained 50+ pre-orders. Also, we began our first lot of production of 1000 Pheezee (a wearable device) units,” she tells us.

In 2022, Startoon Labs hopes to expand their business in the international markets. “Both for its existing product Pheezee and the new variants of the same. We also wish to capture a good share of the market in India this year, as we have started scaling to other geographies than Hyderabad. Overall, we see the new year opening up new avenues for the company,” she avers.

Mythreyi Kondapi-Founder-Startoon Labs

Besides that, Kondapi’s roadmap for her company is to constantly innovate to solve the problems in the healthcare sector and they are also planning to launch more products in the market. They are looking forward to launch Pheezee in the foreign markets and are setting up an international standard manufacturing unit to accomplish that.

Mission is to innovate: Shobana Uthayashankar

For Innogle’s founder Shobana Uthayashankar, the best part of 2021 was when she got the patent, copy right and trademark for ‘Kadalcompass’.

It is a display device that has 26 unique features in a multilingual, user-friendly interface integrated with IoUT (Internet of Underwater Things). When fixed on fishermen’s vessels; this device shares real-time data about potential fishing zones.

“In 2021, we successfully created 5G enabled devices. This was awarded as one of the best 5G use cases by DoT. Also, our solution was selected by the ministry as one of the best use cases to educate and introduce how IoUT works with 5G on the ocean, conducted by the National Research Policy Committee (NRPC) with the top 34 ministry officials in India,” she tells us.

Innogle is India’s first oceanography deep tech company. The solutions that they are creating can be used to mine granular ocean sensitive data using 5G, IoUT, Robotics, AI and Bigdata for profitable fishing and for protecting lives on the ocean.

In 2022, Uthayashankar’s focus is to innovate more. “Our mission is to create a 5G Integrated digital ocean and digital under water solution. This will assist in saving the lives of 24,000 ocean workers and help us in focusing on mining granular data to collaborate and fine tune the data gathered by satellites for the government agencies, towards better managing the ocean’s wealth,” she informs us.

Shobana Uthayashankar-Founder-Innogle

Among other things, their priority will be to boost the implementation of Kadalcompass. “We can achieve measurable outcomes in the next 2 years, as we are focusing on a domain which is unique. Our focus would be on becoming a unicorn which creates an evidential impact in this sector,” she asserts.

Say no to plastic bottles: Samiksha Ganeriwal

Samiksha Ganeriwal is the name behind India’s first paper bottle, Kagzi Bottles.

As the name suggests, these one-of-a-kind bottles are made from a patented packaging technology to replace single-use plastic. Incubated with WE HUB, Kagzi Bottles started their journey in 2021. Ganeriwal touts 2021 as year of many great achievements, as she talks about how it went.

“We launched our company this year and received many accolades for our work. The encouraging environment helped us push our development further in the right direction,” she tells us.

Samiksha Ganeriwal-Founder-Kagzi Bottles

Wishing for more people to say no to plastic, Ganeriwal will be launching Kagzi Bottles in the market this year. “In 2022, we look forward to a brighter and more productive year for everyone. The post pandemic recovery is expected to be on an upward trend. For us too, we will be commercially available with our product. This would be a step towards replacing plastic bottles,” she says.

These bottles are 100 per cent compostable and are made from paper waste that is sourced from Himachal Pradesh. And the start-up has already completed trial tests with a popular personal care brand, she informs us.