The Women Entrepreneur Quest (WEQ) contest was created to recognize and support women entrepreneurs and their contributions, from developing innovations to founding new companies.
WEQ—an annual contest sponsored by the Anita Borg Institute India and the Government of India’s Department of Science and Technology (DST)—highlights and rewards exceptional technology startups founded by women. The Indo-US Science and Technology Forum (IUSSTF) also played an integral role in supporting and organizing WEQ 2016.
The Top 10 winners of WEQ receive an expenses-paid trip to Silicon Valley. During this trip, these entrepreneurs make new connections, learn to raise funding for their businesses, and are exposed to the valley’s entrepreneurial culture.
We got to catch up with one of the WEQ 2016 winners, Tanvi Bhardwaj, CTO of MishiPay India Pvt. Ltd. One of Tanvi’s goals during her trip to Silicon Valley was to meet people interested in supporting MishiPay, which allows brick-and-mortar shoppers to scan product bar codes and pay without waiting in line.
“It’s been an eye-opening experience,” said Shrishti Sahu, another WEQ winner Founder and Director of the online lending platform Aqaya Exim Pvt. Ltd., which creates access to transparent and affordable credit. “Many of us on this visit have never been to Silicon Valley before,” she pointed out.
“The WEQ delegation includes a good mix of women from different industries and experience levels,” said Dr. Anita Gupta, Director/Scientist-F and Associate Head of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, DST, Government of India. As one of the WEQ Ecosystem Partners who supported and guided the women entrepreneurs during the trip, Anita saw that, despite the differences between these entrepreneurs and their businesses, they all share the same drive to succeed. “All of these women are passionate about what they do,” she said.
“We bring entrepreneurs who are making waves in India,” Anita told staff members during the WEQ group’s visit to the Anita Borg Institute. These women are not only breaking gender boundaries but are, in some cases, directly changing their industries.
Dr. Binal Doshi, Co-founder of PlexusMD, connects doctors and healthcare organizations through an online professional network. PlexusMD members can keep up on the latest medical news, collaborate with other doctors, and discover career opportunities. A growing network of 70,000 doctors and more than 500 healthcare organizations make PlexusMD India’s leading doctor network.
As Co-founder and CEO of Saral Design Solutions Pvt. Ltd., Suhani Mohan addresses the taboo subject of menstruation and feminine hygiene. Currently, 88% of women in India do not have access to sanitary menstrual pads, which causes many young girls to drop out of school when they reach puberty. Saral Design Solutions helps produce and sell high quality, affordable pads using smart distributed manufacturing technology.
Richa Singh, Co-founder and CEO of YourDOST Health Solutions Pvt. Ltd., is helping the community address mental health concerns. More than 20% of India’s population suffers from depression, yet very few receive help due to the taboo nature of depression and mental illness. YourDOST’s online platform allows community members to anonymously seek emotional support and connects users to counselors, psychologists, and other experts.
This trip provided the WEQ winners an opportunity to visit leading tech companies, speak with mentors, and learn ways to increase their companies’ visibility and impact. “We got to meet a diverse set of people and learn from each other,” Richa said of her trip to Silicon Valley.
In addition to visiting tech companies, WEQ participants also got to practice their business pitches in front of local venture capitalists.
“We had a wonderful experience and the entrepreneurs received excellent feedback on their pitches,” said Anita.
Like many of her fellow WEQ participants, Arti Agrawal was eager to attend a practice pitch session. As Director of Anaxee Digital Runners Pvt. Ltd., Arti leads a company that provides background checks, data collection, and on-demand verification of people and property. As this digital/human network grows, Arti looks forward to “scheduling meetings with impact investors… [and those] interested in Anaxee Digital Runners.”
For Mayukhini Pande, Co-founder of Greenopia, the practice pitch session allowed her to articulate how she could turn “what was perceived to be a niche need into scalable business.” Greenopia, which provides plant care hardware and soft intelligence tools, saw 200% growth in its customer base in the last quarter.
“The meetings with the venture capitalists was really helpful,” said Roli Gupta, Founder and CEO of Oorjan, a customer-engagement platform designed to make solar power more accessible. “It let us see the difference between India’s and the U.S.’s venture capital industries, and helped us find support.” This was particularly useful for Roli, who hopes to identify strategic partners in both the U.S. and India.
A Stanford Connection
For the final day of the WEQ program, Stanford University hosted the entrepreneurs for a campus tour and lunch with graduate students—an excellent networking opportunity for the WEQ participants whose startups aim to help other entrepreneurs.
Ishita Anand, for example, is the Founder and CEO of BitGiving (Huddletech Services Pvt. Ltd.), an online crowdfunding platform that helps raise funds for entrepreneurial ideas, creative projects, and social enterprises and organizations. And Pooja Kothari, Managing Director and CEO of StoreMore Storage Solutions Pvt. Ltd., provides an online marketplace where people and businesses can rent storage spaces, a useful tool for entrepreneurs who do not have any place to store their goods.
Meeting the WEQ participants also allowed students to see that, despite many challenges and obstacles, entrepreneurs can achieve success through hard work and dedication to a dream.
“You rarely get to hear about women entrepreneurs in India,” one student commented. “These women are tremendous, and their stories are so inspiring.”
Although the group’s visit to the valley is over, we know the journeys of these women are far from finished. We can’t wait to see what comes next for these inspirational entrepreneurs.
Click on the names below to learn more about the Top 10 entrepreneurs and the Ecosystem Partners who took part in WEQ 2016.
WEQ 2016 Top 10
Arti Agrawal – Director, Anaxee Digital Runners Pvt. Ltd.
Ishita Anand – Founder and CEO, BitGiving (Huddletech Services Pvt. Ltd.)
Tanvi Bhardwaj – CTO, MishiPay India Pvt. Ltd.
Dr. Binal Doshi – Co-founder, PlexusMD
Roli Gupta – Founder and CEO, Oorjan
Pooja Kothari – Managing Director and CEO, StoreMore Storage Solutions Pvt. Ltd.
Suhani Mohan – Co-founder and CEO, Saral Design Solutions Pvt. Ltd.
Mayukhini Pande – Co-founder, Greenopia
Shrishti Sahu – Founder and Director, Aqaya Exim Pvt. Ltd.
Richa Singh – Co-founder and CEO, YourDOST Health Solutions Pvt. Ltd.
WEQ Ecosystem Partners
Dr. Anita Gupta – Director/Scientist-F & Associate Head, National Science & Technology Entrepreneurship Development Board (NSTEDB), Department of Science and Technology, Government of India
Dr. Satya Singh -Senior Innovation Fellow (Value Addition Research and Development-Agriculture), National Innovation Foundation-India
Autonomous body, Department of Science and Technology, Government of India
Dr. Rashmi Sharma – Scientist E, Department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India
Charu Mathur – Director, Communications, Operations and Marketing, Anita Borg Institute India