10 Inspiring Indian Female Entrepreneurs

This decade has proven to be a breakthrough for the feminist movement, and women are closer than ever to shattering the glass ceiling. This holds true for every sector, including the entrepreneurship world, where women have battled gender stereotyping and carved out a niche for themselves. India’s speedily growing startup ecosystem has seen a corresponding rise in female entrepreneurship, and this can perhaps be linked to a variety of factors: from an increasing sense of social awareness, to easier access to education and finance. Emerging Indian female entrepreneurs have had a small pool of role models to look to for inspiration, but the
ones that do exist, however, have proven that women can rule the business world as well as men.
1. Indu Jain:
– Indu Jain is the chairperson of Bennett Coleman & Co. Limited (commonly known as the Times Group), which is the largest mass media company in the country, and the owner of the Times of India, which is currently the largest circulating English newspaper in India.  The company, thanks to Ms Jain’s leadership, remains a family- owned business, holding the majority stake in shares. It has over 11,000 employees and an annual revenue exceeding $1.5 billion.

– The Times Group also owns The Economic Times, Femina, Times FM, Filmfare, Zoom, Times Now, ET Now and Radio Mirchi.

– Other than her entrepreneurial interests, Ms Jain’s keen interest in literature led her to be named the President of the Ladies’ Wing of the FICCI (FLO), and the Chairperson of the Bharatiya Jnanpith Trust, which awards the highest literary award in India, the Jnanpith Award. The Times Foundation also regularly runs community service, research and disaster relief fundraisers. She was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2016.

2. Kiran Mazumdar Shaw
– Kiran Mazumdar Shaw is one of the most well-known names in the Indian
biotechnology industry, and the founder of Biocon, the country’s largest biopharmaceutical company, which has attained a global reputation for its innovation and affordability.

– She proved herself as an internationally acclaimed influencer when she was ranked among ‘World’s 25 Most Influential People in Biopharma’ by Fierce Biotech, Forbes magazine’s ‘World’s 100 Most Powerful Women’ and Fortune’s ‘Top 25 Most Powerful Women in Asia-Pacific.’ She is the only Indian woman on Forbes’ list of the ‘World’s Self-Made Women Billionaires.’

– She started Biocon India in 1978 in the garage of her rented house in Bengaluru with a seed capital of Rs. 10,000. She was instrumental in directing its expansion, and admitted that her gender raised hurdles in her attempts to procure finances, among other things.

– Her staunch belief in ‘affordable innovation’ stems from the need for affordable medicine in third world countries, and has resulted in the development of cost-effective techniques to produce drugs. Her ideas include the need for pharmaceutical companies to be cost-sensitive when operating in developing countries to cater to the less wealthy population.

3. Indra Nooyi
-Indra Nooyi is an Indian-born American businesswoman who was PepsiCo’s longtime CEO (2006-18) and a key in its lucrative international expansion into diverse brands. She is currently serving as Board of Director of Amazon, the largest eCommerce business in the world.

– Upon graduating from Yale School of Management in 1980 and joining food and beverage giant PepsiCo in 1994, Nooyi lead a major restructuring within the company which included the many chains of restaurants it owns: KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and more; as well as a spin-off of PepsiCo’s bottling operations. She became CEO in 2006, and oversaw important events like an acquisition with Tropicana and a merger with Quaker Oats Co. PepsiCo’s decision to branch out into healthier products was taken under her reign.

– She was the first woman and first foreign-born individual to lead the company and one of eleven women in the list of chief executives in Fortune’s 500 companies. She has been uninterruptedly ranked on Forbes’ list of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women. Fortune magazine named her No.1 on its annual ranking of Most Powerful Women in business from 2006 to 2010. She was awarded the Padma Bhushan in
2010.

-Interestingly, she narrowly missed out on getting her second degree (and thus, continuing to head PepsiCo) because of pressure from her parents to marry instead.

4. Vandana Luthra
-Vandana Luthra is the founder of VLCC Health Care Ltd, a beauty and wellness conglomerate in Asia and Africa, as well as the chairperson of the Beauty & Wellness Sector Skill Council, an body that provides training under the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana scheme.

-She has been awarded the Padma Shri and the Women Entrepreneur Award to honour her contribution to the beauty sector in India, which was a previously untapped area in entrepreneurship.

-She began VLCC in 1989 in New Delhi, and proceeded to expand it into a national, and then globally thriving company that now offers a variety of programmes that include weight management, haircare treatments, dermatology and cosmetology. VLCC has established its presence in 153 cities in 13 countries, with over 4,000 employees. It also launched a vocational training institute that operates in over 50 cities.

-Luthra began the company using a small bank loan, and is said to have denied her husband’s help in kickstarting business. She has often spoken about the hardships women once faced when raising finances to start a company.

5. Naina Lal Kidwai
– Naina Lal is primarily known for her tenure as Group General Manager and Country Head of HSBC India, and retired from her longtime post of 13 years as Chairman of the company.

-She was the first Indian woman to get an MBA from Harvard, the first female president of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), and the first woman to head a foreign bank’s operations in India.-Today, she work with her husband on tackling issues like environment, sanitation, access to water and women’s empowerment. Her multiple conferences on climate change and water availability during her tenure with HSBC helped bring various environmental issues to her attention, for which she has written books. She also works with her husband Rashid Kidwai on his project SEWA, an association of self- employed women.

– Time magazine selected her as one the 15 most-promising young executives in 2002, and she has appeared in Fortune magazine and India’s Business Today on their lists of the most powerful women in business. She was also awarded the Padma Shri for her endeavours in banking and finance.

6. Chanda Kochhar
– Chanda Kochhar is the former MD and CEO of ICICI Bank, the largest private bank in India. She is well known for influencing retail banking in India.

-She lead the bank through a prosperous era, in which it won awards like “Best Retail Bank in India” award in 2001, 2003, 2004 and 2005 and “Excellence in Retail Banking Award” in 2002. She herself has been awarded a multitude of awards for her leadership skills and contributions to Indian retail banking. She is a consistent mention in Fortune’s list of “Most Powerful Women in Business” since 2005, and has also appeared in Forbes “World’s 100 Most Powerful Women” list. She was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2011.

-She stepped down from her position in 2018 after allegations of corruption involving the investigations into Videocon bad loans, and was named as a beneficiary in financial fraud by the Central Bureau of Investigation.
-Despite the unfortunate end to her career, her legacy at ICICI Bank endure, such as her many women-friendly policies that include fertility leave and adoption leave.

7. Ekta Kapoor
-Ekta Kapoor, commonly known as the Queen of Soap Operas, is the current Joint MD and Creative Director of her entertainment company, Balaji Telefilms. She is a director, producer, venture capitalist and entrepreneur, and reigns supreme in the Indian entertainment industry.

-Balaji Telefilms is currently the most popular disseminator of entertainment for television in India, and it produces a multitude of soap operas, reality shows and game shows in several Indian languages.

-She established herself as a household name with the creation of cult favourite soap operas such as Kahaani Ghar Ghar Kii, Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, which aired on a variety of Indian television channels like Star Plus, Zee TV and Sony Entertainment Television. She has created over 15,000 hours of television content through her career.

-Throughout her illustrious career, she has come under fire for her puzzling, dualistic approach to feminism; from regressive television shows to feminist breakthrough films like Lipstick Under My Burkha, her career has seen her verge to both extremes of the hotly burning social issue. Because of this, she is widely acknowledged for her powerful role as a social influencer.

8. Suchi Mukherjee
-Suchi Mukherjee is the founder and CEO of LimeRoad, an  an e-commerce and lifestyle and accessories website that launched in 2012.

-LimeRoad is an innovative social shopping platform for men and women that works as an outfit planner, as well as a shopping portal that extends to products ranging from clothing and accessories to shoes and beauty products. It has grown in the past few years from a women only site to one that now caters to a variety of departments, including home decor. LimeRoad also promotes user-created content, including hundreds of scrapbooks designed by its millions of users.

-Mukherjee’s idea was conceived while on maternity leave, and expanded into a desire to create a unique online platform that made it easier to view and order clothes. The company also grew to promote the vast amount of fashion products being manufactured in South East Asia, which had previously been an untapped sector for online sales.

-She won the Woman of the Year award by Infocom in 2015. She has spoken about the hardships women face in the entrepreneurship world, stating that ‘you need the fighter gene to succeed.’ Mukherjee has also signed an MoU with the government of Madhya Pradesh, to develop the handicrafts industry of the state.

9. Richa Kar
-Richa Kar is the owner of the hugely popular online lingerie shopping site, Zivame, the first of its kind in India.

-The startup launched in 2011 after Richa conducted a study on the lingerie market in India and realised that lingerie shopping for Indian women was more a challenge than an enjoyable experience. It was then that she co-founded, along with Kapil Karekar, an online site to revolutionise lingerie shopping in India.

– Kar has spoken extensively on the criticism received for her project, including hesitation on the part of her conservative family. Her experiences with acquiring lodging and capital as a woman launching a lingerie site were often harsh, but today, her company claims a growth of 300% annually.

10. Aditi Gupta
-Aditi Gupta is one of the pioneers in breaking taboos surrounding menstruation in India. With the inception of her site Menstrupedia, she aims to educate girls and women about periods and shattering the various myths and backward traditions that have surrounded the topic for centuries.

-Menstrupedia was created in 2012, and it stemmed from Gupta’s childhood in Jharkhand, where she experienced firsthand the result of backward thinking surrounding the bodily phenomenon. Her website today has a publication that reaches over 30,000 Indian women, as well as areas in South America, Nepal and Nigeria. It also has a corresponding YouTube channel to reach more online audiences, as well as a regular comic strip on the topic of menstruation. The site has over a 100,000 visitors every month, and is still growing.

-Gupta is a World Economic Forum Global Shaper and made it to the achiever’s list of Forbes India 30 under 30 in 2014 for her work. She has also been featured in international publications like the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, CNBC and BBC. Although most of the entrepreneurs on the list have openly voiced their struggle as women in the male-dominated world of entrepreneurship in India, their success has ushered in an era of change that paints a more hopeful picture for the women of generations to come. Female entrepreneurs have often risen to the top of the ladder and their triumph continues to serve as inspiration for budding entrepreneurs in India.