Facebook has announced its new ‘SheLeadsTech’ programme for women entrepreneurs in India, which will nurture and mentor start-ups founded or co-founded by women. The idea behind the programme is to encourage more women founders, who wish to have their own startup or business.
Facebook’s own survey showed that out four out of the five women interviewed want to have their own startup. However, out of the 800 or so odd startups in India, only 72 have been founded by women.
“The barriers in India are substantial. There are, of course, cultural barriers, and we need to challenge our own beliefs. Men and women both believe women don’t have the confidence to succeed in a business. There’s a lack of investor confidence along with gender bias. We see that women are asked a lot more personal questions when they try to raise funding,” said Namrata Kohli, Manager Strategic Product Partnerships at Facebook.
The SheLeadsTech programme by Facebook will change some of that. For starters, any woman who is startup founder can apply for the program online. The startup will need to have either a bot on Facebook Messenger or a native mobile app in the Google Play or Apple app stores related to their core business idea.
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Once the startup’s application is approved, Facebook will provide them access to FBStartup, which will help in gaining technical support, free credits to tools and training on Facebook Developer Tools, etc.
Facebook’s ‘SheLeadsTech’ will also help set-up a mentorship programme and these women founders will get support and advice from an all-women mentor panel. The list of names includes Durga Raghunath, who is the co-founder of Juggernaut, the mobile publishing startup, Naiyya Saggi who is the CEO and founder of BabyChakra, Shalini Prakash who is a Principal at 500Startups, which is a venture fund. There’s also Shikha Uberoi who is founder of Indi.com as well as Shradha Sharma, the founder and Chief Editor of YourStory.com. Facebook’s Christine Chia, who is Director Of APAC Product Partnerships, will also be one of the mentors.
The programme will be a year-long effort, and Facebook will have monthly sessions for the women founders, along with meetings with Facebook team and will help them with networking. It will also help the women-founded startups build up their brands.
In a panel discussion, three of these mentors discussed the challenges that women entrepreneurs face in India. “It took me awhile to get the confidence to say I’ll do this. Boys have years of confidence, and it just comes with conditioning. For women, there’s also the challenge that they don’t have enough role models,” said Durga Raghunath in the discussion.
BabyChakra’s Naiyya Saggi, who was also part of the panel, spoke about how women entrepreneurs often face much more personal questions than their male counterparts. “Starting a venture is a very fundamental chicken and egg problem. Every step you face different challenges. I didn’t know how to code, I was bootstrapping. I was trying to figure out if BabyChakra would even work,” said Saggi. She pointed out how she comes from a Law background with an MBA, and that she was often asked how she expected to survive this IIT-IIM economy.
“I was often asked by VCs whether I plan to have a baby, and when,” recalls Saggi. For women entrepreneurs, she says it is important to find and build the right team, and also nurture their networks.
“I’ve had a higher proportion of nos than yes. I think if you have a mental framework where you expect to fail, you tend to pick up yourself,” said Shikha Uberoi, who is co-founder for Indi.com and also a former tennis player.
She also stressed that it wasn’t necessary for women to be coders to come with a tech startup. “I’m a terrible coder, and you don’t have to be good at everything. It’s about solving problems, and figuring out how to make them better. I may not be the best coder, but it doesn’t mean I can’t find the problem in the app,” said Uberoi.
“Very few people come with absolute knowledge of the job. It is very important to define the problem: you don’t have to know code to run a tech startup. Consumer internet startup is really about defining a problem and solving it,” added Raghunath.
Facebook’s ‘SheLeadsTech’ is not the only programme they are running around women entrepreneurs. ‘She Means Business’ is another such programme, which was launched on Women’s Day in 2016. The programme has been running in six states for the last one year, and Facebook plans to take it to eight more states, including Jammu and Kashmir for 2017. The programme provides women entrepreneurs with training, networking sessions, and resources to help build their businesses.