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Learning to be a woman entrepreneur

Prof. Rajeev Srinivasan

Women-enterpronrAn entrepreneur is one who builds up a new firm. This activity has been defined as “the pursuit of opportunity beyond resources controlled”. It would surely be a good idea for Kerala’s students to try to become job-creators rather than job-seekers, because often the life of an entrepreneur has been more satisfying than that of an employee in a large firm.

In some sense, India is a highly entrepreneurial country: all those ‘informal’ jobs you see that account for 2/3rds of the economy are created by small entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, most of them lack the basic necessities, capital and knowhow in particular, to scale up their activities.

In particular, women can make good entrepreneurs, because they have several valuable traits: they are careful in taking risks, they tend to be good at understanding and forecasting customer needs, and they may be better at managing capital. It is this recognition that led to the huge success of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh: it only funds women, and that too, in groups.

For well-educated and creative middle-class women, starting small firms may be a very good outlet for their talents. Recognizing this, a number of institutions have created programs for intensive training of women entrepreneurs. One is a program at IIM Bangalore, where budding and early-stage small-business owners can attend sessions lasting a few weeks, with breaks.

Often women entrepreneur programs are considerably less expensive than the full-fledged MBA/PGDM programs on offer, because they are sponsored and partially funded by corporations. If there is sufficient interest and support, my school, ASB, would also be happy to run such a program.

There are many college programs for entrepreneurs available abroad: for instance at https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/majors/business-entrepreneurial-studies and a good focus on the subject can be found at www.entrepreneur.com

IIM B has its N S Raghavan Center http://www.nsrcel.org, and IIM A has Sristi and the Honeybee Network. (www.sristi.org/hbnew).

In Kerala, there are business incubators (for example, Technology Business Incubator http://www.technoparktbi.org/ at the Technopark) which help get businesses off the ground in their early days; there are also business plan competitions (eg. At IIM Kozhikode) where your idea can be evaluated for its potential.

One of the things that aspiring entrepreneurs should do is to write a proper business plan. They may have good ideas, but turning them operationally into reality requires a great deal of work, and writing the plan provides the discipline that enables you to identify all the risks as well as the opportunities. The entrepreneur herself should write the plan, not an accountant or consultant. A template for a business plan from the US government can be found at http://sba-gov/business-plan and similar templates are on other websites.

In Kerala, the environment may be particularly good for women entrepreneurs. Given the state’s socioeconomic history and generally high status of women, as well as the relative affluence and disposable income, all manners of small businesses can be run profitably and well. Here are some especially popular among women: restaurants/catering/baking, interior design, designer clothing, floriculture, education, and music/dance.

In addition to the traditional creative skills that many women use to bring their dream projects to reality, they must also learn more logical skills: for instance, predictive logic, using financial research, data analysis, strategic planning and competitive analysis. In addition, they need to understand larger socioeconomic trends (eg. Smaller families, more women in higher paid jobs) to be able to tune their offerings to the needs of their customers.

Prof S Rajeev, Director, AsianSchool of Business