Social networking has a significant impact on the early-stage entrepreneurial journey: Archanna Das, ASCENT Foundation

As Archanna Das Head of ASCENT Foundation expresses her views on various facets of MSMEs, entrepreneurship, she says, networking can being in the ease to obtain finance aid or credit, with much support for a business

Archanna Das-ASCENT Foundation

Indian MSMEs run the economy. And the current plans and policies along with budgetary allocation of Rs 6000 crore gives them a conducive environment to thrives, states, Archanna Das, Head of ASCENT Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation conceptualised by Harsh Mariwala of Marico.

Yet she feels, there so much to be done for the growth of the MSME businesses in India, especially for women-led businesses. “We have yet to see equal or near-equal involvement of women entrepreneurs in the ecosystem,” she tells us during the interview. However, she strongly recommends entrepreneurs to network, as it can pave the way to resolve their challenges.

As the foundation head, Das so far has enabled the scaling-up of the member base of this peer-to-peer platform from 150 to over 700. In a brief discussion with SME Futures on the state of MSMEs, women entrepreneurs and initiatives for them, Das put forth her views on various facets of entrepreneurship culture.

Edited excerpts:

Even if the degree of digitisation is up; adopting digital is still an obstacle. Meanwhile, govt is interlinking all portals. How do you decipher this step towards, a) digital transformation and b) credit facilitation?

Digitisation has had a huge impact on every industry, and India is on its way to becoming a digitally advanced country. Traditional corporate practices have been pushed out of the way by the embrace of digitisation. Covid-19 has slain the resistance in organisations and inspired entrepreneurs’ mindsets to adapt automation technology and digitise their working paradigm. Some businesses took longer to reap the benefits since they needed to train their personnel and invest in technology because they were unprepared, but others saw returns right away.

The advantages of digital transformation are undeniable. It has a significant impact on the way a company runs. The advantages of digital transformation can be found in a variety of industries: It allows firms to modernise, improve process efficiency, and increase profitability. However, there is a disadvantage to digital transition. Talking about linking all portals in one. We are putting all of our eggs in one basket by centralising power over our wealth and personal information. With the rise in cyber-attacks, the threat of security is always lurking around the corner.

Hence while linking all of the portals, the government must also educate all stakeholders on how to use and enable digital transformation in their businesses successfully and efficiently.

In case of credit facilitation, the banking, financial services, and insurance (BFSI) industry, in particular, has benefited from digitisation with digital lending services altering loan processes and disbursement techniques.

As the name indicates, digital lending is the new-age practice of financial services asking for and disbursing loans or credit to borrowers via a wholly online or digital platform. Factors contributing to the rise in popularity include increased smartphone usage, internet penetration, credit range flexibility, and the convenience and efficiency that digital provides. Direct benefit transfer, which linked a bank account to an Aadhar card, was the first step in supporting digital credit facilitation. Women entrepreneurs can now get loans without a male guarantor thanks to the rise of tech-enabled financing, which only looks at their credit.

But women entrepreneurs often face challenges in gaining capital. How must they aim to secure financial independence in their business?

Women entrepreneurs have the ability to influence and inspire future generations. Women start their own enterprises for a variety of reasons, but the majority of them are motivated by necessity. As a result, equitable chances for women to earn a living, develop a feeling of self-worth, increase their financial and social status, and express their independence are essential.

Women entrepreneurs must aim to increasingly move away from dependence on male counterparts or family members to manage the hard-core operations of the business, especially managing the finances. There is a persistent challenge of female participation in a company’s finances, even if the founder is a woman.

In most uprising, women-led startups or businesses one can notice the omnipresence of male representation. Women entrepreneurs must overcome these societal stereotypes and must lead by example of handling their funds, rotation and cash flow, funding and investments. This will even set the tone for future female entrepreneurs and enables the growth and sustenance of businesses that are founded and led by women alone.

Inside article-Archanna Das-ASCENT Foundation
Archanna Das, Head of ASCENT Foundation

Also, how can networking right enable women entrepreneurs to manage their finances better?

From building a personal brand to opportunity perception, idea validation, resource discovery, business negotiations, and the ultimate birth and survival of the organisation, social networking has a significant impact on the early-stage entrepreneurial journey.

Women entrepreneurs need to network, even more, to break free from age-old indoctrination, worried familial guidance, and cultural expectations. They, like male entrepreneurs, need to surround themselves with like-minded entrepreneurs in order to become tomorrow’s leaders. In today’s fast-changing fintech and start-up environment, another advantage of networking is the ease with which credit, finance, and capital can be obtained.

By digitising financial aid, the women’s entrepreneurial ecosystem will be less reliant on men, paving the way for more purely women-led businesses. Seeking funding for the business, being aware about the various women-specific schemes, non-traditional credit lending opportunities etc. can be ensured through the right networking. This is bound to play an integral part in the financial independence of women entrepreneurs.

What are the key expectations for the sector’s growth and development in the current fiscal year? What additional measures do you propose?

As we all know, MSME’s are the backbone of our country’s economy, and current plans and policies are supposed to help them thrive even more. And with the declaration of an extra Rs. 6000 crores in budgetary allocation for MSME’s, the growth of MSME’s to mature into huge enterprises would undoubtedly accelerate in the years ahead.

While the government has already introduced a number of women-centric programmes, we have yet to see equal or near-equal involvement of women entrepreneurs in the ecosystem, and I believe the focus should now be switched to training and encouraging women entrepreneurs to start their own enterprises.

What are the various initiatives you are working on, particularly to bring women MSME entrepreneurs on par with the rest of the ecosystem?

We don’t believe in tokenism when it comes to women entrepreneurs at ASCENT Foundation. Currently, 7 per cent of our cohort is made up of women entrepreneurs. And women entrepreneurs in our cohort do not feel like they’re in the minority because we’ve secured a similar participation in the diverse peer learning groups (Trust Groups), that each ASCENT Entrepreneur is part of, like they would in the real world.

Being part of ASCENT would require time commitment from entrepreneurs over and beyond their already hectic work schedule. Women, given their responsibilities at home find it difficult to give time for a Trust Group. ASCENT is constantly working in building awareness, especially among women entrepreneurs, about the importance of being a part of a group of like-minded entrepreneurs and learn from one another. Women entrepreneurs in the cohort are actively coming forward to share their experience and the value ASCENT brings in enriching their entrepreneurial journey to motivate and inspire fellow entrepreneurs.

ASCENT, apart from building a strong ecosystem of Trust Groups, aims to create a holistic learning platform for entrepreneurs. As part of this effort ASCENT designs an array of value adds for the entrepreneur members.

One such programme is PowerUp, a mentoring platform, that pairs thought leaders and domain specialists from the industry with entrepreneur members for one-on-one probono mentoring session.

Workshops and masterclasses are created throughout the year based on the needs assessment conducted with the entrepreneur cohort. Design thinking, adaptable functioning, result-oriented corporate strategy, and personal branding are just a few of the topics of discussion.