On an average nine out of ten startups fail. Nevertheless, youngsters today are very much aspired on becoming entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurial eco-system has gathered momentum with the initiation of Startup funding and business acceleration programs including one by the government of Nepal.
In 2008, Entrepreneur for Nepal (E4N), an informal group was formed and is now a Facebook led group with over 50,000+ members managed by Biruwa Ventures. Fast-forward eight years and various parts of Nepal is seen to be embracing the startup culture. Yet the case for women is totally different.
So what is a startup?
Kavi Raj Joshi, Founder and Managing Director of M&S Next Venture Corp opines it to be a process rather than a business. He says “If you don’t have a fixed business process that can be repeated over and over, then it is a startup.” A fairly new terminology, the definitions vary with some calling it an attitude and others defining it as a company working to solve a problem where the solution is not obvious and success is not guaranteed. Yet others have said that it is a culture and mentality of innovating on existing ideas to solve critical pain points.
Kathmandu: A hub for startups
Kathmandu has become a hub for aspiring entrepreneurs and startup culture in Nepal. The valley is incubated with facilities and services which other parts of the country are yet to know. A lot of organisations have found their place in helping young entrepreneurs settle faster into business and assist in their growth. Incubation centers and mentoring are on the rise and words like networking, exposure, planning, business model and strategy have become part of the urban dictionary. More young people see themselves as their own boss rather than get a routine office job. Yet women are shadowed in this process. “According to the statistics of Startups Nepal, there are less than five percent woman led enterprises in the valley,”says Arisha Maharajan, Senior Business Development Associate, M&S Next Venture Corp. Mandeep Karn, Program Officer, Udhyami Initiatives, believes that less than 0.1% of total startups are women led.
Kavi Raj Joshi
Founder and Managing Director, M&S Next Venture Corp
If you don’t have a fixed business process that can be repeated over and over, then it is a startup.
Senior Business Development Associate, M&S Next Venture Corp
According to the statistics of Startups Nepal there are less than five percent woman led enterprises in the valley.
Program Officer, Udhyami Initiatives
All other factors can be tackled and overcome by laws and regulations except for perception. The perception of society will eventually change but it will still take time.
What is holding women back?
Women are the more creative gender, equally committed and passionate as their male counterpart, yet underrepresented in a field which demands creativity at its core. So what could be the restricting factors?
Kavi Raj Joshi says, “Women don’t hesitate to enterprise. But they do hesitate to come at the forefront as business owners. Even today’s woman is struggling to establish her identity in the work force. She still shares a larger responsibility at home, is often not allowed to work late hours, is restricted in travel and not looked favorably when engaging in after work socialization. Many thus simply opt for a desk job. Mandeep Karn of Udhyami Initiatives says societial perception is a big hurdle for women to come into the startup culture. He says, “All other factors can be tackled and overcome by laws and regulations except for perception. The perception of society will eventually change but it will still take time.”
Women’s access to finance is very difficult and a huge constraint in starting their own venture. A majority of women do not have property ownership rights which could allow them to use it as collateral for bank loans. Arisha Maharjan says “Women shouldn’t sit back and feel inferior. They must participate in decision making and should use every opportunity to hone their skills to compete in a competitive environment.”
Why startups need female participation
“We need women at all levels, including the top, to change the dynamics, reshape the conversation, to make sure women’s voices are heard and heeded, not overlooked and ignored,” stated Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook.
It couldn’t be truer for Nepal where the female population is 51.4%. It would be unthinkable to leave behind half the population in the nation’s race towards globalization and development. Most consumer decisions, whether it is buying a house, a car, airline ticket or the cooking oil is influenced by a woman. Women also have a different approach to human resource management. These are all potential indicators of why women need to be in business. Kavi Raj Joshi says “With more women in the startup process, we will have more innovation. When ten male heads discuss an idea as opposed to ten male and female heads, the discussion will be totally different… and this difference can transform industries”.
Role of government and accelerators
The government has been encouraging women entrepreneurship. Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB) has a provision for collateral free loans to women entrepreneurs. There are many training programs initiated by the government. But often we lack in proper implementation. The government must focus on implementation and access to information and opportunities for women in a more targeted manner.
Accelerator programmes have helped entrepreneurs grow and bridged the gap between them, investors and mentors. Niraj Khanal places great emphasis on mentorship. Mentors guide and assist startups. According to him, having a mentor will help an entrepreneur get correct and rational advice to overcome challenges associated with business. He says that the market needs to hear success stories of women entrepreneurs. Media should highlight women entrepreneurs.
Kavi Raj Joshi lays emphasis on including women in the entrepreneurial ecosystem and with his initiation of Udhyami Seed Camp, a rigorous 5-day long business skills training program designed to turn idea-preneurs (i.e. people with ideas) into entrepreneurs, the only criterion is that every team should at least have one female founder. He feels women have a lot to offer to the industry and the economy.
We can easily agree that the key attribute of a startup is its ability to grow. We need more women in the forefront of these initiatives giving us companies with ability to grow even as they find real solutions to everyday problems today, and who better than women to understand what really matters.