Showing the world they CAN: Empowering women entrepreneurs in India

Five Indian cities, 125 incredible young women entrepreneurs – these are the key ingredients of our WE Can India project. Conceptualised and funded by U.S. Embassy India and delivered in partnership with Dhriiti, we’re supporting amazing women entrepreneurs to realise their business potential and develop a range of sustainable enterprises.

Following a course of intensive business management training and mentoring, 26 of the participating women were selected through our business plan competition to participate in a further phase of business incubation support. This support is designed to boost their skills in specific areas such as marketing, financial management, and ongoing business development.

At the end they will deliver their pitches to a panel of investors, with the five winners receiving a start-up package including a cash prize and continuing advice from business experts.

Here are a few of our finalists.

Sonal, Founder of White Cub, Delhi

Sonal has always been an animal lover. She grew up surrounded by dairy farms, but became deeply troubled when she discovered the ways cows are often mistreated within the industry. Sonal became a vegan, and as her passion for animal rights grew, she began to produce and market a range of dairy-free ice creams. In fact, White Cub is India’s first cholesterol-free, trans fat-free and gluten-free certified dairy-free ice cream.

As demand for her products grew, Sonal realised that she needed additional skills and support to manage the financial demands of a growing business. WE Can India helped Sonal develop her business and financial management skills and provided her with a platform to network. She was also matched with a mentor through our Mentoring Women in Business Programme, who provided her with crucial guidance on how to achieve her business goals.

In her own words, “WE Can India has empowered me with the confidence to be more aware of my numbers and delve deeper into the finance figures of the business.”

Hiresha, Founder of Hanzen International, Dehradun

In 2013, the Indian state of Uttarakhand was devastated by floods and landslides. Many women like Hiresha were left without any form of livelihood, struggling to support their families. However, the local climate – while challenging – is ideal for mushroom farming. Since receiving training in mushroom cultivation, she has gone on to train 2,000 women from the surrounding hills in mushroom farming.

When Hiresha faced challenges with crop management and financial constraints, WE Can India supported her in tackling them head on. Hiresha was also matched with a mentor from our Mentoring Programme who helped her to refine her business plan and analyse her company’s key strengths and weaknesses.

Now Hiresha’s social enterprise, Hanzen International, consistently produces high-quality organic mushrooms. Today, she buys produce from around 250 village level mushroom cultivators – 150 of whom are women she originally trained.

As well as the domestic market, Hiresha’s business has begun exporting to the Gulf region and looks set for further international expansion. She has also diversified her range to include other products such as pickles and tea, all produced by Uttarakhand village women who receive a steady income from their work.

Saakshi, Founder of Silly Sense, Chandigarh 

Before she became an entrepreneur, Saakshi worked as a successful business analyst and digital marketing expert for a number of high profile corporate companies. Following a stressful and drawn-out divorce, however, she became depressed and lost confidence in her professional abilities. Saakshi worked hard to rebuild her life and wanted to start her own business, so met with local start-ups and vendors to gain inspiration and build her entrepreneurial knowledge. She gradually regained her confidence and was determined to make her business dreams a reality.

Now Saakshi runs Silly Sense, a digital marketing boutique based out of Chandigarh and Delhi. Saakshi’s hard work has paid off and her business now serves the unique requirements of niche businesses within her sector. She says that the investment made in her and her business plan by WE Can India helped her to push herself to work even harder, and that being selected as a finalist earned her “an immense amount of love, respect and recognition, for the first time in some years”.

Akshya, Founder of Silpakarman, Delhi

At 23-years-old, Akshya is already a thriving entrepreneur, happily balancing her studies with her business. She runs Silpakarman, a one stop shop for luxury handcrafted Indian goods, specialising in bamboo items. Akshya strongly believes in creating a unique experience for each of her customers, and is committed to responsible trading. As her enterprise grows, so does the quality of life for her artisans in Tripura.

WE Can India helped Akshya to gain clarity in crafting her business plan and improving her financial management and marketing techniques. “My business has shifted gears after the workshop and I truly believe it’s only going to get better. I have already reached the sky, now I am chasing the stars.”

Shivi, Founder of Empathy Design Labs Pvt Ltd., Lucknow 

Shivi was raised in a household which celebrated daughters. Her parents encouraged her and all of her siblings to be go-getters and to believe in their talents.
After completing her masters in user experience design, Shivi turned her attentions to healthcare and travelled across India doing field research. During this time, she discovered that many women still suffer from stillbirths in both rural and urban areas.

Shivi’s company, Empathy Design Labs Pvt Ltd, is now engineering a product for women in developing countries, which uses multiple sensors to pick up on any foetal health abnormalities.

According to Shivi, WE Can India has been a game changer for her and her business. She also spoke about how supportive her WE Can mentor has been in helping her to develop in a more focused and strategic way.

“WE Can India is a great platform to encourage women in untapped areas. It has widened my network of people of various expertise and skills. I am looking forward to further learnings and support.”