How Innovative Women Are Moving Us With Ideas And Inspiration!

by Priya Kapadia, Head, Marico Innovation Foundation

Innovative thinking can sprout anywhere and anyone can come up with a disruptive idea that can address a large enough market need. When we witness a discontinuity, or experience a challenge in our lived reality we naturally rummage for a solution and it is this seeking that forms the genesis of most innovations we see around us and consume today.

However, it is never an idea alone that changes lives. The story may begin with the idea or an innovation, however, it is the support that the idea received in order to grow and flourish into a full-fledged business that changes the way we consume things or solves problems that have existed around us. Most importantly, innovation never was and never will be a function of gender but one of a capable mind that can look beyond the obvious.

Take for instance Marie Van Brittan Brown. She was a nurse who was often home alone and felt unsafe owing to an increase in crime rates and slow police responses of the 1960s. In order to feel safer, she designed the first home security system with a camera and a monitor in her bedroom armed with an alarm button.

Need to create a level playing field

Like so many other industries, there is a growing, albeit slowly, number of driven and innovative women entrepreneurs in FinTech, Media, EdTech, Ecommerce and HealthTech to name a few.

The Sixth Economic Census released last year by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation revealed that women constitute around 14% of the total entrepreneurship i.e. 8.05 million out of the total 58.5 million entrepreneurs. Currently the numbers might not be very encouraging, but they are seeing a rise.

A recently released funding report by YourStory revealed that the total amount of funding raised by startups with a woman founder or co-founder between January and September of 2018 comprised just 5.2 percent of the $9.14 billion raised in overall funding. This is a number higher than last year, even if not by much, when women-led startups got only 2 percent of the total funds raised.

Women-led Companies are achieving scale

The times we are living in makes it easier to give form and voice to innovative thinking, but alongside presents a complex, volatile and highly competitive market to do it in. High production costs, poor administration, competitors or a lack of funds can create a downward pull impacting all start-ups alike. Women have the additional challenges thrown in the mix like conscious or unconscious gender bias, challenges of work-life balance and not having enough experience of working in top managerial roles owing to lack of equal opportunity.

Despite these odds women-led companies are able to scale even though the numbers might right now be small. According to the report cited above, women-led companies saw a decline in the number of pre-Series A and Series A rounds, however these companies saw a spike in funds raised in the Series B, C and D rounds and also in the number of PE funds.

Though still underrepresented at innovation conferences and key innovation debates, successful women entrepreneurs are certainly paving the way for more innovative women to come forward.

I myself have had the opportunity to come across several impressive start-ups with women at their helm.  Some of these success stories powered by women and identified by Marico Innovation Foundation for the stellar work they do include:

  • Niramai which stands for "Non-Invasive Risk Assessment with Machine Intelligence". Geetha Manjunath, CEO Niramai led venture provides a very effective substitute for mammography. Their novel software offers a low cost, accurate and most importantly, non-intrusive imaging method from which women as young as 25yrs can benefit.

First of its kind, this AI based thermographic non-contact technology is being used for regular preventive health checkups and according to Niramai, can also be used for large scale screening in rural and semi-urban areas. They are already conducting free screenings at rural healthcare centers with this cost-effective technique.

Niramai has so far screened 4,200 women and detected cancer early-on in some of them. Having found investor backing, they are now planning on going international as disclosed to TOI, proving once again that a great innovation cannot be held back.

  • Educate Girls established in 2007 by Safeena Husain (Executive Director), focuses on mobilizing communities for girls’ education believing that if girls in educationally backward districts are educated, they will have the potential to enter the formal economy, gain employment and lift their families out of poverty. Focusing on bridging the gender-gap in education, Educate Girls has brought over 1.5L young girls into school and retained them in formal education.

Finding enabling partners equally invested in their cause helped the model find sustainability and scalability enabling Educate Girls to consistently expand operations to include more districts. Actively working in rural communities across 13,000+ villages in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, reaching millions of children and addressing gender-disparity in some of India’s most remote areas, they now are aiming to expand operations to reach over 16 million children in education-backward rural India between 2019 to 2024. These to me are very impressive and heartening stories on the kind of potential a great idea holds and the level of impact it can unleash when scaled-up.

We are living in times of a changing mind-set where women entrepreneurs are gaining acceptance, investors are looking for merit and not biased by the founder’s gender, collaboration with the right partners is easier and a growing enabling ecosystem is available to tap into for support. These are all very favorable contributors to the growth story of women entrepreneurs who are willing to come forward armed with a great idea and some gumption.

 

 

Priya Kapadia heads Marico Innovation Foundation (MIF), a not- for- profit organization in India founded by Marico Limited in 2003. Their mission is to make meaningful contribution towards innovation in India. With nearly 20 years of experience in Business Planning, Brand Management, Promotions and Marketing Operations, Priya also has expertise in Advertising, Media Marketing and Financial Services. As the Head of MIF, Priya has strong insight to identify innovations that have the ability to scale. In the past, Priya has led successful marketing initiatives and campaigns. Proficient in analyzing market trends, for the purpose of formulating and implementing marketing strategies, Priya has also conceptualized and implemented programs encompassing mass media, activation and digital outreach.