The entrepreneurial journey is never as easy a road to tread upon and often comes with its share of challenges. However, when we talk about women entrepreneurs, the word “entrepreneurs” preceded by “women” itself conveys a lot! This is because women face unique challenges in business as they tend to take on more responsibilities within the household. Gender bias in the workplace- be that consciously or unconsciously- has been a matter of concern that needs to be addressed by organizations to embrace diversity and inclusion.
Men can play a crucial role in closing the gender gap in the workplace by supporting women in business to create an inclusive environment. Gender equality and getting more women into leadership roles can also bring a positive change as it is necessary for more and more women to fight against all the odds and climb the corporate ladder. Though the times have changed and women from different walks of life are setting examples in their efforts to build a more equal, inclusive future, free from gender discrimination, we still have a long way to go! At the same time, we must remember a famous quote by E. O. Wilson, “Change will come slowly, across generations, because old beliefs die hard even when demonstrably false”.
As Women’s day is celebrated all March long, we have complied short yet very inspiring success stories of the 21 most influential women entrepreneurs in India to look out for in 2021! We hope you’ll also find these stories interesting and worth sharing!
- Falguni Nayar, Founder of Nykaa
Falguni Nayar is the Founder of Nykaa, a brand that doesn’t even need an introduction as it has become the one-stop destination for cosmetics and other beauty range for women across the country. Falguni, who owns a little more than 50% of the beauty retailer, started her journey at the age of 49, a time when most people think about retirement, she started a new chapter in her life.
Falguni Nayar was previously the Managing Director of Kotak Mahindra Capital Company, India’s leading investment bank. It was after resigning that Falguni started to think about various ideas but Nykaa was never really in her head until she noticed the impartial approach used among retail and online beauty shop sales managers to select the best brands and products. She closely observed how her friends in the States relied on Amazon shopping. She also realized the lack of good beauty sale experience in India and this is how combined the two to launch Nykaa in 2012 with $2 million as seed capital from family savings.
In a very short period, Nykaa started gaining traction and several well-renowned brands started listing themselves on the platform. And soon enough Nykaa’s turnover crossed 200 crores, along with 850 brands disrupting India’s beauty market. Currently, Nykaa offers more than 700,000 products, emerging as India’s largest omnichannel beauty destination and became a unicorn last year.
As per the latest article published by Forbes, Falguni Nayar looks set to become a billionaire and India’s second-richest self-made woman.
- Ashwini Asokan, Co-founder at Mad Street Den
Ashwini Asokan, Co-founder of Mad Street Den (MAD) is a brave tech entrepreneur who quit her job at Silicon Valley and established MAD. Her vision was to build models of generalizable intelligence that can be used by billions of people from various industries across the globe.
Ashwini has never planned about being a tech enthusiast. She might have been a dancer, singer, or musician. However, her plans changed when she went abroad to study Product Design. She got a job in Intel at Silicon Valley where she developed her interest in Artificial Intelligence.
MAD, an Artificial Intelligence and Computer Vision company, building an AI Architecture of the future, has grabbed the attention of various retail giants and investors due to automated workflows and bringing in operational efficiency.
- Vandana Luthra, Founder at VLCC
Vandana Luthra, Founder of VLCC is an inspirational women entrepreneur. She is an Indian businesswoman, philanthropist, and chairman of the ability council for the beauty and wellness sector (B&WSSC) who had successfully set up VLCC in 1989.
Vandana started her journey when there were hardly any women entrepreneurs in India. She decided to become an entrepreneur when the first of her two daughters were only 3 years old and today she is a grandmother to three kids!
VLCC is widely recognized brand in the beauty and wellness services industry and is present in 11 countries throughout Asia, Africa, and the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council).
- Aditi Gupta, Founder of Menstrupedia
Aditi Gupta, Co-founder of Menstrupedia belonged to a conservative middle-class family who wanted to break the chain of silence on periods. Her urge to spread awareness about menstruation was so huge that she successfully challenged a lot of stereotypes. However, her efforts didn’t go in vain and she created a unique platform working towards breaking the taboo around menstruation.
She along with her team is not just providing the much-needed knowledge about a woman’s body, but she is also changing the way menstruation is looked at by people.
- Vani Kola, Founder, Kalaari Capital
Born and brought up in Hyderabad, Vani Kola is a venture capitalist and founder & managing director of Kalaari Capital. She has completed her Electrical Engineering from Osmania University, and eventually, she moved to the United States to pursue her Master’s degree from Arizona State University. During her 22 years in Silicon Valley, she founded two company Rightwrok and Certus software, and worked with some big names like Empros, Control Data Corporation, and Consilium Inc.
In 2006, she returned to India and started her journey as a Venture capitalist. Soon, she spent all of her time researching, traveling, meeting people, visiting malls, and understanding the Indian market and subsequently did a partnership with NEA (New Enterprise Associates).
In Sep 2012, Kalaari Capital started operation with a 150-million-dollar fund and the team’s idea was to create an entrepreneur from a smart brain. In 2018, she was recognized with the TiE Delhi-NCR 5th Edition of Women Entrepreneurship Summit Award. She has also received NDTV Women of Worth award for entrepreneurship.
- Shahnaz Husain, Founder of Shahnaz Herbals
Shahnaz Husain is the Founder of one of the most popular and celebrated brands Shahnaz Herbals. No one could ever imagine that a girl who got married at a teenage and had a daughter at 16 would build a beauty empire someday and become one of the most famous women globally. However, when there is a will, there is a way and she had decided to overcome all the challenges that could stop her. Shahnaz fought against all the odds and eventually became a brand in herself.
Known as the “Queen of Herbal Beauty Care”, Shahnaz was awarded Padma Shri by the Government of India in 2006. Shahnaz Husain is considered as one of the most successful businesswomen in India, who has her business running over 138 countries, which has around 600 franchises and associated clinics across the world- isn’t that great! Shahnaz was also invited by Harvard Business School to share her views on how she established an international brand without commercial advertisements.
- Sairee Chahal, Founder & CEO of SHEROES
Sairee Chahal, Founder & CEO of SHEROES launched a community platform for women with an idea to help women get ‘more from life’—from careers and jobs to health, family life, and wellbeing.
As someone from a small town, Sairee was quite familiar with the challenges being faced by women to get good career opportunities. She decided to move out of her house and later on pursued her education while working simultaneously. In a very short time, she was creating job opportunities for the needy.
SHEROES soon started gaining recognition and in just two years they had almost 1M women and 20 thousand companies signed up and would post 100k job listings a month. Over a million women have been directly benefited, and the team under Sairee’s leadership aims to transform the lives of over 100 million women in the near future. SHEROES also set up a helpline for women with an idea to provide direct support so that they can talk to a professional if they had any type of questions or queries related to their career.
Sairee is a globally recognized women entrepreneur and is also the convener of The SHEROES Summit – India’s largest women’s forum. Moreover, she is a Devi Award winner, and also received various awards including Femina Achievers Award, Cartier Award, Editor’s choice for L’Oreal Femina Women’s Award, Business Today, and Most Powerful Women in Indian Business. In 2018, Sairee was ranked 53 on Onalytica’s “Future of Work Top 100 Influencers” list and still, she has a long way to go!
- Ankita Gaba, Founder at Social Samosa
Ankita Gaba, Co-founder of Social Samosa, is a social media enthusiast and an ace multitasker. She is also a lecturer and a consultant. Before this, Ankita had also been a part of the founding team of Superchooha, which was India’s first social media firm. Under the leadership of Ankita, Superchooha devised and conceptualized various online media solutions and strategies for several popular brands such as Mahindra, Idea Cellular, Ponds, Colors, Zapak, among others.
Subsequently, Ankita founded Social Samosa which is working dedicatedly towards providing experienced and professional services running in various social media projects and campaigns by virtue. However, the journey so far has never been so easy for her. She had her own share of struggles and challenges which she faced bravely and overcame all of them to be the woman she is today.
Growing at a rapid pace, Social Samosa is harnessing the power of social right through the lifecycle of their product/service.
- Priya Paul, Chairperson, Park Hotels
Priya Paul ranked by Forbes as one of Asia’s 50 most powerful businesswomen, Priya Paul is the Chairperson of the Apeejay Surrendra Park Hotels. Initially, she worked as a marketing manager for one of her family’s hotels — which she thinks gave her a “leg-up in one sense.” She was very young when she lost her father and chairman of the Apeejay Surrendra Group, Surrendra Paul, and it was the time when she had to take on the responsibility of looking after three hotels at the age of 24. However, she was brave enough to overcome all the challenges and obstacles, notwithstanding her lack of experience.
She follows her heart and believes that innovative and creative ideas are very vital for successfully surviving in the market. With her positive attitude and confidence, she was able to achieve business success and witnessed a 400 percent expansion in the hotel business her father had left her. The Park Hotels are managed by the Apeejay Surrendra Group which was established in 1910. THE Park is present in India’s major cities and tourist destinations, ensuring global standards of product quality and service excellence.
She has been recognized greatly for her efforts and unique and innovative contribution to the hotel business. She received the Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Association of India award as the ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’ in the year 2000. She was conferred the Padma Shri award by the Indian Government back in the year 2012.
- Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Founder of Biocon Limited
Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw is an Indian woman entrepreneur who, as chairman and managing director of Biocon India Group is running a globally recognized, innovation-led organization.
Kiran, who attained her knowledge of brewery from Melbourne in 1975 returned to India and could not find a job in India. She wanted to work as a brewmaster after returning to India but was told that she could not be hired because according to a few people, it was a man’s work. As she was very well aware of the cultural norms that often limited the social mobility of women, she started looking for job opportunities outside India.
It was in 1978 she started Biocon India, producing bio-industrial enzymes in the garage of her rented house in Bengaluru with a seed capital of INR 10,000.
Fueled by Kiran’s passion, Biocon evolved from an industrial enzyme manufacturing company to a fully integrated bio-pharmaceutical and a year later became the first Indian company to export enzymes to the US and Europe. In 2005, she was conferred the Padma Bhushan Award, one of India’s highest civilian honors, for her distinguished work in industrial biotechnology.
- Upasana Taku, Founder at Mobikwik
Upasana Taku is the Founder of Mobikwik and Zaakpay who founded these two platforms- bringing in the cashless revolution. Founded in 2009 by Bipin Preet Singh & Upasana Taku, Mobikwik is an easy replacement for the wallet which makes payment easier through mobile phones. Nowadays, people find it comfortable making payments through their smartphones. However, back then the concept was fairly new for the market to accept. Upasana took it as a challenge and was calm enough to build her idea into a successful venture.
Upasana completed her Bachelors of Engineering from NIT, Jalandhar, and later on pursued Masters in Management Science from Stanford University. Being a woman entrepreneur who manages finance has never been easy but her strong background in payment was her biggest strength.
She established it as a simple yet secured recharge platform and very soon it found its way in every individual’s phone as an e-wallet. Having raised $50 million (Rs 332.6 crore) in Series C round in 2016, the company has gone from being a just digital wallet to a horizontal fintech platform. With her vision and team’s dedication, Mobikwik has clocked a 4x growth in transactions on YoY basis and also announced its foray in wealth management with the acquisition of Clearfunds. She proved herself as a leader, making it to Forbes’ Women to Watch List 2016 & Asia’s Power Businesswomen 2019.
- Jaya Jha, Co-founder of InstaScribePothi.com
Jaya Jha is the co-founder of InstaScribePothi.com, a publishing platform, alongside her partner, Abhaya Agarwal. The platform was created to make it easier for budding authors to publish their work.
Jaya, an author, and speaker herself, has three Hindi poetry collections and a novel to her credit. She discovered that there existed a very tedious nature of traditional book publishing, which made her come up with the idea of a self-publishing platform for aspiring writers.
She was working full-time on Pothi.com since March 2008 and it was in 2017 when she and her partner Abhaya got this idea to publish a book. She knew that traditional publishing would require a lot of effort and all she wanted was to publish the book for people around her. This is how she started exploring self-publishing options but could not find any in India. That was the time when she realized that it would be a good idea to start something of their own. Like any other entrepreneur, Jaya had faced a lot of hurdles during her journey but her persistence and passion had helped her create her own identity in the business world.
- Sugandha Agarwal, Founder at Docttocare
Sugandha Agarwal, founder of Docttocare, an online healthcare service provider saw the importance of telehealth much earlier. She launched Docttocare which is an online platform that provides information to its users about the best doctors, clinics, hospitals, and diagnostic centers. The platform also offers virtual walkthroughs of the hospitals and their facilities.
Docttocare has been quite successful to gain trust from doctors and patients alike. The company has enrolled in all the major hospitals like Apollo, Manipal, Medanta, and a lot more. In a short period of time, Docttocare is getting around 300+ appointments per day, and 4000+ medical tests have been done through Docttocare. Along with this, 500+ clinics, 100+ hospitals, and 2000+ doctors are registered with Docttocare, making it a one-stop platform for healthcare services. Moreover, it makes booking appointments online very easy and assures the confirmation of online appointments through call, SMS, or email.
Through this platform, Sugandha aims to bring many positive changes in the healthcare scenario of India.
- Chitra Gurnani Daga, Co-Founder at Thrillophilia
Chitra Gurnani Daga is the Co-founder of Thrillophilia, an Indian adventure travel company that curates the best local experiences with hand-picked guides and vendors who tried to combine adventure and tourism for travel enthusiasts.
Chitra belongs to a family with high designations in the service industry but did not have any exposure to the family business. She wanted to build something independently which she finally did in 2019 after a lot of debates, research, and discussion.
Eventually, she hired adventure experts, experienced professionals who are equally passionate about traveling. She is a woman who is passionate about taking risks and also worship her work. She is an influencer who inspires women across the country to travel, explore, take a break from stress and listen to their hearts.
- Suchi Mukherjee, Founder at Limeroad
Suchi Mukherjee is the Founder and CEO of Limeroad which is an e-commerce website for urban women. She has combined the fun of picking clothes from a magazine-like layout while giving the convenience of an online portal.
Suchi is the first Indian to receive the Cambridge Commonwealth Trust Scholarship for studying Economics at Cambridge University in 1994 and has studied Economics from the London School of Economics.
Previously, she has worked for some of the most noted organizations globally like Lehman Brothers, Virgin Media, and eBay. She was also a part of the initial development of both Skype and Gumtree and gained tremendous experience.
It was during the time while she was on her maternity leave that she noticed a gap in the e-commerce market and wanted to create a platform purely dedicated to women shoppers. After gaining more understanding about the consumer business and how to achieve the balance between demand and supplies, she established Limeroad.
Limeroad has a focus on the organic community driven by the scrapbook, social platforms, and vendors. The website is full of customer-created content like scrapbooks and posts leading to more than 50 million visitors on the website as well as the app.
- Divya Gokulnath, Co-founder of ‘BYJU’s – The Learning App
Divya Gokulnath is the co-founder and director of the ‘BYJU’S – The Learning App’, based in Bangalore. She has effectively blended her passion for teaching with her students’ needs and turned this enterprise into an education giant.
Divya wanted to pursue Science and Maths for her higher studies and also dreamt of studying overseas. However, her dream was overcome by a more powerful passion for teaching. She started teaching at the age of 21, at the coaching classes conducted by Byju Raveendran to whom she got married soon. Later on, they found a company together in 2011.
Divya’s envisions deep respect for each student’s unique learning journey. She greatly emphasizes the importance of ‘how to learn’ instead of ‘what to learn’, as proven by estimates of Economic Forum, about 65% of primary school students will end up in jobs not properly defined yet.
- Sheetal Ramkumar, Founder & CEO of WhiteGlobe
Sheetal Ramkumar is the Founder and CEO of WhiteGlobe- a leading Translation and Localisation Services Company. As a successful businesswoman in tech, she is leading in the Language Service Provider Industry in India, offering services such as Translation, Localisation, Interpretation, Software Localisation, Dubbing, Language Training, etc. in over 350 languages.
Though the APAC region has been quite popular for its diverse cultures and languages, the LSP industry was much unorganized—especially in our country. Sheetal noticed this huge gap and decided to create a professionally managed language services company that will help break the language barrier and eventually support businesses globally.
Initially, she faced various challenges in her journey as the LSPI in India was highly fragmented with no documented methods of assessing the competency of language experts. She worked tirelessly as she had to invest a lot of time and effort to develop a multi-dimensional competency assessment for language experts and facilitate their collaboration to offer high-quality services based on competency mapping.
Today White Globe is one of the leading LSP’s but the journey towards has never been easy. Sheetal has been bold and ferocious with her decisions for the company and has never afraid of taking risks. This is a major reason why White Globe is known for its higher-than-average risk appetite. Her leadership skills are very well recognized and she has also been rewarded with many awards and accolades. Let year, she was awarded “Business APAC’s Most Influential Women of 2020.”
- Khushboo Jain, Co-founder of ImpactGuru.com
Khushboo Jain co-founded the crowd-funding platform ImpactGuru.com along with Piyush Jain in the year 2014, with a focus to make healthcare more affordable in India. She acts as the Chief Operating Officer and also heads the company’s marketing arm along with communications and design teams.
Being born into an entrepreneurial family, Khushboo knew it a very early age that she was going to run a business one day. She was just 15 years old when she started getting trained at her father’s office while juggling college and extra-curricular activities. Khushboo earned an MBA with a focus in Marketing from WE Business School – Welingkar Institute of Management Development & Research, and subsequently went on to further study Fashion Marketing at Parsons, the New School of Design in New York.
During the initial phase of her career, Khushboo has worked as a fashion marketer for Valiram in Singapore, handling a portfolio that included globally recognized brands such as Hackett, La Martina, and Jimmy Choo. She has also worked with one of the most celebrity fashion designers, Manish Malhotra in a fashion merchandising and buying role and with the popular Bollywood actor Malaika Arora Khan’s The Closet Label (now The Label Life).
Finally, Khushboo decided to take the first step to her entrepreneurial journey and co-founded ImpactGuru, which was incubated at Harvard Innovation Lab in the USA in 2014. It has now emerged as India’s largest crowdfunding platform uniquely designed for medical expenses, personal causes, and non-profits.
Having its presence in Mumbai, New Delhi, Singapore, and San Francisco, ImpactGuru had raised INR 3.3 crores in April 2016 and INR 13 crore in May 2018.
Khushboo left a career with Gucci just to set trends for changemakers and she is all set to impact the lives of millions with a team that shares the same passion.
- Shradha Sharma, Founder & CEO of YourStory
Shradha Sharma is the Founder, and CEO of YourStory, a media platform that brings forward the success stories of entrepreneurs and change-makers, funding analyses, industry updates, and latest trends from India’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. While working for CNBC in Mumbai, Shradha got the opportunity to interview several entrepreneurs and know their success stories. She found it very interesting and wanted to feature these but several channels rejected this idea. This is when she realized that ’n’ number stories are storming around but there is no platform to cover them.
Shradha was brave enough to call it quits as she decided to come up with one such platform. Being a media professional, she was well exposed to the business practices of news channels and print media so she used her knowledge and expertise here. Soon the platform became one of India’s biggest platforms that cover start-ups and entrepreneur-related inspiring stories.
Shradha was conferred the L’Oreal Paris Femina Award and was also featured in the list of Worlds’ Top 500 LinkedIn Influencers. In 2019, she got the opportunity to interview the Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi.
- Richa Kar, Co-founder of Zivame
Richa Kar is the Founder of one of women’s favorite online lingerie stores-Zivame. Before taking the entrepreneurial plunge, Richa worked in the SAP department and tracked the online sales of Victoria’s Secret which is America’s largest retail company of women’s lingerie. Eventually, she witnessed that the sales and profits had crossed the target, but there was no such brand for Indian Women and this is how she saw an opportunity to come up with something of her own. She was also very well aware of the fact that in a conservative country like India, women feel shy about purchasing lingerie offline, as most shoppers in such stores are generally male. Adding to this, women could not ask for and even expect fitting and styling tips from those male storekeepers.
Richa came up with the idea of founding the company in 2011 and named it “Ziva” which means Radiance in Hebrew. However, that name was not available so she ended up with Zivame, which means Radiant Me.
Zivame has not just created an online marketplace for lingerie shopping but has also educated women across the country about intimate wear.
Richa boldly removed the awkwardness of exploring and buying essential lingerie online and even added a fashion element to it. Her journey has never been very smooth but she was firm to rise above all else, which she ultimately did.
- Isha Choudhry, Co-founder of ZoloStays
Isha Choudhry co-founded the company ZoloStays in 2015 along with Dr. Nikhil Sikri, Akhil Sikri, and Sneha Choudhary. She conceptualized the idea of a tech-driven co-living space along with her team members. The idea was to make it easier for people to hunt for accommodation, which gave wings to this concept.
She is presently working to standardize the paying guest segment in India for a customer using technology while making stays as hassle-free as possible. Within just three months of operations, she and her team had received excellent reviews from customers which showed that they were going in the right direction. Their clients can find booking a branded Zolo paying guest very simple reliable with guaranteed quality of service in 10-plus cities across India, including Chennai, Mumbai, Gurgaon, Hyderabad, and Kota.
She, along with her team has worked hard to make ZoloStays India’s leading and fastest-growing provider of managed co-living spaces for all the travel enthusiasts!
These women entrepreneurs have proved that it’s never too early or never too late to believe in your dreams. You just need to take the first step and keep working hard towards achieving your goals. Eventually, success will be yours.
Though we have been able to cover some of the most successful and accomplished women entrepreneurs in the country in this story, many other successful women entrepreneurs have made a mark in the Indian startup ecosystem. Gradually but steadily, we have witnessed the emergence of women entrepreneurs over the past decade and we hope this story will inspire all the ladies to follow their passions and create their own legacies!
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