Social media has a significant impact on the early-stage entrepreneurial journey: Archanna Das, ASCENT Foundation

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Indian MSMEs lead the economy. And the current plans and policies along with the budget allocation of Rs 6,000 crore give them a conducive environment to thrive, says Archanna Das, Head of ASCENT Foundation, a non-profit organization conceptualized by Marico’s Harsh Mariwala.

Still, she believes there is so much to do for the growth of MSME businesses in India, especially for women-led businesses. “We have yet to see equal or near-equal involvement of female entrepreneurs in the ecosystem,” she tells us in the interview. However, she strongly recommends that entrepreneurs network, as it can pave the way to solving their problems.

As head of the foundation, Das has so far helped grow the membership base of this peer-to-peer platform from 150 to over 700. In a brief chat with SME Futures on the state of MSMEs , women entrepreneurs and initiatives for them, Das shared her perspective on various facets of entrepreneurial culture.

Edited excerpts:

Even if the degree of digitization is increasing; digital adoption remains a barrier. Meanwhile, the government connects all the portals. How do you decipher this step towards a) digital transformation and b) credit facilitation?

Digitization has had a huge impact on all sectors and India is on its way to becoming a digitally advanced country. Traditional business practices have been pushed back by the adoption of digitalization. Covid-19 has killed resistance in organizations and inspired the mindset of entrepreneurs to adapt automation technology and digitize their working paradigm. Some companies took longer to reap the benefits as they needed to train their staff and invest in technology because they were unprepared, but others saw immediate returns.

The benefits of digital transformation are undeniable. It has a significant impact on the operation of a business. The benefits of digital transformation can be found in a variety of industries: It enables businesses to modernize, improve process efficiency and increase profitability. However, there is a downside to the digital transition. Talk about linking all the portals into one. We put all our eggs in one basket by centralizing power over our wealth and personal information. With the increase in cyber attacks, the security threat is always around the corner.

Therefore, while connecting all portals, the government must also educate all stakeholders on how to use and enable digital transformation in their businesses successfully and effectively.

In case of credit facilitation, the banking, financial services and insurance (BFSI) sector, in particular, has benefited from digitization with digital lending services changing lending processes and disbursement techniques.

As the name suggests, digital lending is the new age practice of financial services requesting and disbursing loans or credits to borrowers through a fully online or digital platform. Factors contributing to the rise in popularity include increased use of smartphones, internet penetration, flexibility in credit lineup, and the convenience and efficiency that digital offers. Direct transfer of benefits, which linked a bank account to an Aadhar card, was the first step in supporting digital credit facilitation. Women entrepreneurs can now get loans without a male guarantor thanks to the rise of technology-based financing, which only looks at their credit.

But female entrepreneurs often struggle to earn capital. How should they aim to ensure the financial independence of their business?

Women entrepreneurs have the ability to influence and inspire future generations. Women start their own businesses for a variety of reasons, but the majority of them are driven by necessity. Therefore, fair opportunities for women to earn a living, develop a sense of self-worth, improve their financial and social status, and express their independence are essential.

Women entrepreneurs should aim to move further and further away from reliance on male counterparts or family members to manage basic business operations, especially managing finances. There is a persistent challenge of women’s participation in a company’s finances, even if the founder is a woman.

In most startups or companies led by women, one can notice the omnipresence of male representation. Women entrepreneurs must overcome these societal stereotypes and lead by example when it comes to managing their funds, turnover and cash flow, financing and investments. It will even set the tone for future women entrepreneurs and enable the growth and sustainability of businesses founded and run solely by women.

Archanna Das, ASCENT Foundation Manager

Also, how can the right networking enable women entrepreneurs to better manage their finances?

From the creation of a personal brand, to the perception of opportunities, the validation of ideas, the discovery of resources, business negotiations and the ultimate birth and survival of the organization, social networks have a significant impact on the entrepreneurial journey. at the early stage.

Women entrepreneurs need to network even more to free themselves from age-old indoctrination, worried family orientation and cultural expectations. Like male entrepreneurs, they need to surround themselves with like-minded entrepreneurs to become the leaders of tomorrow. In today’s ever-changing fintech and start-up environment, another benefit of networking is the ease with which credit, funding, and capital can be obtained.

By digitizing financial aid, the female entrepreneurial ecosystem will be less dependent on men, paving the way for more exclusively female-led businesses. The search for financing for the business, knowledge of the different programs specific to women, non-traditional credit opportunities, etc. can be ensured through good networking. This can only play a vital role in the financial independence of female entrepreneurs.

What are the main expectations regarding the growth and development of the sector during the current financial year? What additional measures do you suggest?

As we all know, MSMEs are the backbone of our country’s economy, and current plans and policies are meant to help them thrive even more. And with the declaration of an additional Rs. 6000 crore budget allocation for MSMEs, the growth of MSMEs to become large enterprises would undoubtedly accelerate in the coming years.

While the government has already introduced a number of female-centric programs, we have yet to see equal or nearly equal participation of women entrepreneurs in the ecosystem, and I think the focus should now shift to training and encouraging women entrepreneurs to start their own businesses.

What are the different initiatives you are working on, especially to put MSME women entrepreneurs on par with the rest of the ecosystem?

We don’t believe in tokenism when it comes to women entrepreneurs at the ASCENT Foundation. Currently, 7% of our cohort is made up of female entrepreneurs. And the women entrepreneurs in our cohort don’t feel like a minority, as we’ve achieved similar participation in the various peer learning groups (trust groups), which every ASCENT entrepreneur is a part of, as they would in the world. real. .

Being part of ASCENT would require a commitment of time from entrepreneurs beyond their already busy work schedule. Women, given their responsibilities at home, find it difficult to make time for a trusted group. ASCENT constantly strives to raise awareness, especially among women entrepreneurs, of the importance of being part of a group of like-minded entrepreneurs and learning from each other. The female entrepreneurs in the cohort actively come forward to share their experience and the value ASCENT brings by enriching their entrepreneurial journey to motivate and inspire their fellow entrepreneurs.

ASCENT, in addition to building a strong ecosystem of trusted groups, aims to create a holistic learning platform for entrepreneurs. As part of this effort, ASCENT is designing a range of added values ​​for entrepreneur members.

One such program is PowerUp, a mentoring platform, which pairs thought leaders and industry subject matter experts with member entrepreneurs for a one-on-one probono mentoring session.

Workshops and masterclasses are created throughout the year based on the needs assessment conducted with the cohort of entrepreneurs. Design thinking, adaptable operation, results-driven business strategy and personal branding are just a few of the topics discussed.

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