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THE BOYS CLUB

The dismal share of women among founders of Indian tech unicorns captured in emojis

Employees work on their laptops at the Start-up Village in Kinfra High Tech Park in Kochi
Reuters/Sivaram V
No room.
  • Ananya Bhattacharya
By Ananya Bhattacharya

Tech reporter

Published

The leadership at India’s elite startups is mostly a boys’ club.

The world’s third-largest startup ecosystem has been churning out tech unicorns at a faster pace than ever before, but this success—just like the tech industry in general—is heavily skewed towards men.

The majority of founders at India’s unicorns (private companies valued at over $1 billion) are men, according to data from Tracxn, a startup that tracks startups. Over 13% of the current tech unicorns in India, in fact, have no female co-founders. And even the unicorns with the highest female representation among its co-founders—beauty e-tailer Nykaa, have more male (four) than female founders (three).

This data is unsurprising considering women still comprise a sliver of the startup community in the country.

Less than a third of India’s engineering aspirants are women. Nearly 40% of women engineers don’t have jobs because of rampant sexism in the workplace.

In 2018, only 9% of startup founders in India were women. Part of the reason for the paucity of women is that they struggle to raise funds. “There are not many woman investors who come out and who actively invest,” Arpita Ganesh, who founded Bengaluru-based lingerie retailer Buttercups, told Quartz then. The biggest venture capital (VC) firms in the country have almost no women among their top brass.

Then, biases plague the process. Nidhi Agarwal, founder of fashion website Kaaryah.com, told NDTV in 2016 that she had been rejected over a hundred times while seeking funding. Pregnant women have felt slighted while trying to engage investors.

India’s not an anomaly when it comes to such prejudices. The questions asked to male and female entrepreneurs raising funding are different in the most developed of countries, a 2017 study by Harvard Law found.

The disparaging environment has only gotten worse in India. The number of funded startups with at least one female co-founder declined from 17% in 2018 to 12% in 2019, according to venture debt and lending platform Innoven Capital. “There is lack of institutional support system for first-timers so even at smallest obstacle they give up,” Ranjana Kumari, director, Centre for Social Research, told daily newspaper Live Mint in February.

But things are apparently looking up.

“We’re seeing some amazing online businesses—in the makeup space to the lingerie space. I think people are building really sound business around women-catering-to-women doing some really phenomenal break-out stuff that has never been done online,” Anisha Singh, the founding partner of a venture fund SheCapital which invests in women-led startups, told Business Insider earlier this year.

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