In early 2019, we initiated our search for implementation regions for Her&Now support programmes. We were specifically focusing on geographies that did not have easy access to entrepreneurship development and business support programmes. We also wanted to ensure that the selected regions/states were as diverse as possible. With Telangana being India’s newest state and the state government having very recently established an incubator for women entrepreneurs, it was a natural choice as an implementation region in the southern part of the country. When we approached the Telangana state government and WE Hub, the state-led incubator set up exclusively for women entrepreneurs, we realised that we share a common goal - that of promoting women entrepreneurship in tier-II and tier-III cities. The vision of our project, to design and deliver a business support programme to women entrepreneurs that covers critical business concepts, offers customised support through mentorship, access to market connects and credit linkages, was exactly aligned to that of WE Hub’s. This made them the perfect implementing partner for Her&Now in Telangana.
We implemented two incubation and two acceleration cohorts in the region. The outreach was focused on driving applications from cities like Karimnagar, Khammam, Medchal, Mahbubnagar, and Warangal. Through collaborations with district administrations, government agencies like District Rural Development Agencies, Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty, and Mission for Elimination of Poverty in Municipal Areas, and press campaigns, we were able to reach out to the kind of women entrepreneurs we hoped to have in our programme.
Across the two cohorts, we received over 1700 applications, out of which 119 entrepreneurs were selected for the support programmes (30 in cohort 1 and 89 in cohort 2). The entrepreneurs selected came from more than 20 different districts of Telangana, with enterprises from diverse sectors like handloom and textiles, handicrafts, manufacturing, food processing, and technology.
The 119 entrepreneurs not only received support in enhancing their understanding of critical business concepts but were also paired with mentors on the basis of their needs. Capacity building sessions were organised to ensure they had the requisite skills to manage all aspects of their enterprise, from product development and standardisation, to operational and financial management. Sector specific exposure visits as well as consultations by service providers, such as, chartered accountants and legal experts were also facilitated.
When the pandemic made in-person programming impossible, the implementing partner had to move most components of the support programme to the digital medium. All sessions and workshops were delivered virtually. The mentor interactions were done via phone calls as well. We soon realised that many entrepreneurs required digital literacy training. WE Hub offered them one-on-one support to learn to install and use digital applications to attend sessions online, to create, upload, and share documents online. Specific efforts were also made to address challenges brought on by the disruption caused due to the pandemic. Entrepreneurs received assistance in redefining their business strategy, pivoting their business, enabling digital payment options, navigating the changes in market and consumers, and credit linkages to tide the business over.
As a result of the support programmes, we found that:
61% of the entrepreneurs confirmed an advancement in their business organization.
75% of the entrepreneurs from the cohorts formalised their enterprises and became recognized as small and medium businesses meeting various sector specific statutory requirements.
45% of the entrepreneurs received access to credit linkages totalling to over INR 20 Crores.
34% of the entrepreneurs linked to e-commerce platforms and retail markets.
One of our most senior entrepreneurs, Jayamma Kotla, a Cohort 1 participant, shared that she was able to formalise and establish her enterprise, Arogya Dayini, with the support that she received through the Her&Now programme. From understanding statutory compliances to product diversification and standardisation, as well as developing strategies for scale, the expertise offered by WE Hub was valuable.
Kavitha Gopu, Founder of Good Food Box, and a Cohort 2 participant, credits the programme for helping her develop product variants targeted at women and children, and not simply focusing on a generic customer base. Her&Now support programmes also helped her build a strong presence through retail channels.
Similarly, participant of Cohort 2, Co-founder of Nurture Fields, Keerthi Priya, experienced challenges in accessing funding opportunities, a well-known major roadblock for women entrepreneurs in setting up their enterprises. WE Hub enabled them to raise collateral-free credit under the Stand-up India scheme to the tune of INR 83 Lakhs. They are currently using these funds to establish their industrial unit.
With the implementation in Telangana coming to an end in June 2021, we reflect on the work done and realise that WE Hub took women entrepreneurship support to parts of the state that had never had access to anything similar. We have been able to mobilise women entrepreneurs from small cities and towns to become role models for other aspiring and budding entrepreneurs around them. WE Hub’s commitment to continue to support the entrepreneurs that participated in Her&Now and further expand support to other women entrepreneurs with micro and small enterprises, will most definitely nurture a sustainable women entrepreneurship ecosystem in Telangana, and beyond.
We hope that the Her&Now programme remains an important milestone in the journeys of all the women entrepreneurs that were supported, as they continue to grow and create large scale impact.
Neha Kanitkar is the implementation lead for Project Her&Now. With a background in communications and international relations, her experiences from implementing goal-oriented campaigns for New Zealand's agency for trade and enterprise, as well as economic empowerment and gender focused development projects in India have fuelled her motivation to work on improving women entrepreneurship support in India. Coming from a family of small business owners in a tier-II city in India, she hopes to play an active role in creating a robust entrepreneurship ecosystem that goes beyond the big cities of the country. She is currently overseeing the implementation of Her&Now support programmes in the North East Region, Telangana, and Maharashtra.