We revisit Telangana´s women startups incubator to check their progress report through the crisis of COVID-19.
When Women Entrepreneurship Hub (WE-HUB) launched back in 2017 as India´s first state-led incubator for women entrepreneurs, the then newly appointed CEO, Deepthi Ravula, spoke to The Tech Panda about her plans for bringing in women entrepreneurs.
Recently, WE-HUB celebrated its third anniversary. We decided to catch up with Ravula about the journey so far, especially in a post-pandemic landscape.
She informs that they have been able to work with 4,527 women entrepreneurs. They incubated 247 startups since 2018. They raised funding to the tune of US $7.2 million and have supported 276 startups across the ecosystem while making 63 partner connects.
Our team at WE-HUB put in a lot of effort where, we started engaging with our entrepreneurs, one-on-one phone calls, not at our convenience but at their convenience. And not to say that, ´you are an entrepreneur go for it´, but more in terms of ´how are you doing, is there something we can do for you?´
“We just celebrated our third anniversary and I’m really happy to share that what I had spoken to you about when we first spoke in 2017, is actually happening now. We are headed in the right direction,” she says.
As the pandemic posed unforeseen challenges for the incubator, it threatened to shut down work and undo all that they had achieved in the past two years. Ravula recalls that she and her team kept working throughout this harrowing time to keep their women entrepreneurs motivated.
“Our team at WE-HUB put in a lot of effort where, we started engaging with our entrepreneurs, one-on-one phone calls, not at our convenience but at their convenience. And not to say that, ´you are an entrepreneur, go for it´, but more in terms of ´how are you doing, is there something we can do for you?´” she says.
Move to Virtual and Ensuring Digital Literacy
As a starting point, they immediately made sure that everything moved to virtual.
“We started out by doing basic support mechanisms. If they needed passes or essential licenses or any kind of diversification or financial intervention, we supported that very much,” Ravula recalls.
We started out by doing basic support mechanisms. If they needed passes or essential licenses or any kind of diversification or financial intervention, we supported that
Secondly, their impact team made sure that the women entrepreneurs who did not have digital literacy, were trained via the phone on how to use digital tools, so that only less than 5% of their entrepreneurs dropped off.
“Because of that, a lot of women have sustained and continued on the path of entrepreneurship. Many are continuing and thriving quite well,” she adds.
Deciding Not to WFH
Ramya Madhavaram, Partnership Manager at WE-HUB, says they realized that working from home (WFH) was becoming a deterrent for them. Ravula and the facilities team ensured that proper sanitization was in place at the office, so that the team could return to work confidently.
I think we, as a team coming back to work, also inspired a lot of our entrepreneurs. They took that as an inspiration and the startups started coming back to work as well
“Because we were back at work, the impact of the work that we were doing as a team was highlighted a lot more, and there were a lot more avenues that opened for us,” says Ravula.
“I think we, as a team coming back to work, also inspired a lot of our entrepreneurs. They took that as an inspiration and the startups started coming back to work as well,” recalls Madhavaram.
Fine-Tuning Startup Strategies
WE-HUB also helped startups fine-tune their business strategies to tap newer opportunities unfolded by the pandemic. For example, they helped Radius EdTech, a startup accelerating with them, to go beyond e-delivery of academic content to schools and colleges and develop a video-conferencing offering.
They are also creating a network of like-minded organizations in India and abroad.
Crisis or no crisis, businesses should run well. Instead of telling them what to do over webinars and through lectures, we are engaging with them one-on-one to understand their issues, solving them and connecting them with investors and global partners
“Their reach should not be restricted to the local markets. It should transcend borders. Crisis or no crisis, businesses should run well. Instead of telling them what to do over webinars and through lectures, we are engaging with them one-on-one to understand their issues, solving them and connecting them with investors and global partners,” says Ravula.
The incubator is also helping startups keep papers ready, so that it is easier for bankers to vet them and consider providing them with credit.
Milestones Amidst the Pandemic
WE-HUB´s work during COVID has given them much traction. They started eight new programs during the COVID crisis. They received more than US $157,000 in funding during this time to create four new projects.
They have received funding from the Australian High Commission for enabling more urban tech enabled women entrepreneurs, for which they’ve launched a program called Upsurge. They have also collaborated with an initiative of Stanford University to train about a hundred girls in data science.
These are just the tip of the iceberg
They also received CSR grant from a private individual, based on which, they created a revolving fund for women entrepreneurs looking for basic stop gap funding.
They were also able to create a new program with the tribal welfare department in Telangana to support 37 tribal women entrepreneurs across the state. In addition, they have received support and funding to create a program for 400 women led businesses in one municipality of Telangana.
They have also successfully disseminated an amount of INR 12 crore to women entrepreneurs through their Credit Linkages Drive during COVID.
Not Just Telangana
WE-HUB is engaging with women entrepreneurs across the country, through their incubation program, which is open to urban tech enabled enterprises across the country. In the first cohort, they had 26 entrepreneurs from seven cities in India. In the second cohort, they had 26 startups from 16 cities in India.
They are presently working extensively in 23 districts of Telangana, which include Adilabad, Bhadradri Kothagudem, Jagitial, Janagoan, Jugulamba Gadwel, Karimnagar, Khammam, Mahabubabad, Mahabubnagar,, Medchal-Malkajgiri, Mulugu, Nalgonda, Narayanpet, Nirmal, Nizamabad, Peddapally, Rangareddy, Sangareddy, Siddipet, Suryapet, Warangal Rural, and Yadadri Bhuvanagir.
Coming to different states in India, they are working on preincubation, incubation, and startup exchange programs with different states in India, including Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir, and Assam.
Some Startup Stories
WE-HUB has changed many lives in the three years that they have worked.
Kalpana Gajjala approached WE-HUB to gain assistance in translating her idea of a business manufacturing herbal drinks and juices, into a reality. Her startup Sahajakalpa Pvt. Ltd. has been now created a product prototype, tested and ready for market.
Kotla Jayamma, who established her business in manufacturing cold pressed oils with Arogya Dayini, approached WE-HUB to formalize her production process and receive assistance in business development and strategy.
— WE Hub (@WEHubHyderabad) March 9, 2021
Within six months, she increased her production capacity, generating a profit of close to INR 1 lakh per annum. Going forward, she plans to diversify her product range and further increase her customer base.
Odapalli Vijaya Lakshmi and her daughter started Nurture Fields, which sells solar dehydrated fruits and vegetables, in 2018, generating an average monthly profit margin of 30%. They presently have 15 product variants and plan to diversify into the produce of organic vegetables and fruits soon.
Ravula says that a lot more is there to come, and she looks forward to the near future.
“These are just the tip of the iceberg,” she says proudly.