Biz Women of the New Age
Ritika Bhargava Physio Revolution, New Zealand
Multitasking comes easy for Ritika Bhargava. And this largely has to do with the fact that she was on her own from high school when she decided to study Bachelor of Health Sciences at Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand. “Health Sciences was not a very amiable choice back in India due to the poor standards of education and therefore I decided to come here to Auckland. The three years I spent as a student was nothing short of an adventure — being an immigrant trying to cosy up to an alien land,” begins the 27-year-old.
Post her course, Ritika worked as a physiotherapist at a few clinics before deciding to go solo. “I figured out that after the expertise and experience I gained, I could be my own boss and also make more money. My company Physio Revolution now has five branches across Auckland and we offer every imaginable service from Pilates (a form of physical fitness) to physiotherapy. I am also a sucker for constant innovation and also have a breast cancer-specific physiotherapy training,” she says, excitedly.
With a flourishing business, Ritika also balances it with her interest in Powerlifting, a strength sport that consists of three attempts at maximal weight on three lifts: squat, bench press, and deadlift. “I used to assist local athletes with physiotherapy when it hit me, ‘why not do it myself!’ I train rigorously and also look forward to representing New Zealand in the next Commonwealth Games in 2018,” she says, with a twinge of regret at missing the 2014 edition due to personal issues.
On the challenges of being a woman entrepreneur and managing her business, Ritika says, “In a progressive country like NZ, one doesn’t face gender or red tape issues like how it is in India. However, hiring a good team for my business has been a bit of a challenge. I don’t even go by degrees. But despite all the concessions, it’s a tough job to hire competent staff.” Ritika was adjudged The Best Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2014 at the Indian Business Awards last year.
Neeta Adappa Prakriti Herbals, Bangalore
With a BCom and MCom from SNDT University, Mumbai, a conventional career choice for her would probably have been accounting but Neeta Adappa chose to get into the making of beauty products instead. “As a newlywed bride, I had quite a harrowing experience with synthetic cosmetics. This, combined with my desire for natural products and expertise in herbs and cosmetics led me to delve into developing natural products made with organic and herbal ingredients, banking heavily on Ayurveda,” begins the 45-year-old. Neeta’s Prakriti Herbals offers ‘cruelty-free’ natural hair care and skincare products, which are sold through e-commerce websites like Flipkart, Snapdeal and Amazon. Prakriti Herbals has been a trusted partner of many brands including the Marriott, the Royal Orchid Group of Hotels, Manipal Hospital, and several corporates, says Neeta.
“Academically-oriented since college, my friends never thought of me as one to enter the business world. Though I was with the Research and Development wing of a Multi National Corporation for six months, it was hardly challenging and was getting monotonous. This was also the time that I got married and made Bangalore my home. I didn’t want to while away time at home. It was my husband who encouraged me to get started with my own business, and voila! Prakriti happened,” she says, going down the memory lane.
On the formula behind Prakriti’s success, Neeta says, “A lot of things. You need to be open to challenges, innovate, know the pulse of your target audience, develop empathy and deliver your product tailor-made to the needs of your customers. Women are known to have good IQ and EQ levels. We must learn to apply them,” she says.
On the subject of challenges, Neeta says, “The going is good now, but it wasn’t the same back in 1994 when we had just started. The hospitality industry hadn’t picked up much. Also, I had to endure a lot of gender bias. Banks wouldn’t give overdraft without collateral, or even if they came forward to do that, they would ask me to show up with my husband!” says Neeta.
Neeta isn’t just an entrepreneur but a mentor too for other young woman entrepreneurs, which she does through the Wadhwani Foundation, with which she is associated. “I have always rooted for the rise in standards of women. Eighty per cent of the work force in my factory is women and I wish to keep it that way. My business has always been women-centric. Through Wadhwani’s initiatives, we network with women entrepreneurs, help them with queries and so on. In return, these women also mentor a few other women. It’s like a chain reaction you know,” she says.
For more women to embrace entrepreneurship, Neeta makes an appeal to the government and private players to come forward and offer support. “It is too risky when all our personal savings are tied up in our businesses and the government or banks don’t render any help. Small and Medium-scale enterprises should grow by leaps and bounds. Also, women need to realise that growth is going to be slow — especially when they also have to deal with pregnancy and taking care of their children — and buckle up when needed,” she says.
Usha Ramani Vemuru gurujada it Solutions private limited, Hyderabad
Born into a family of teachers, it was a natural choice for Usha Ramani Vemuru to take up teaching after her BTech in Electronics and Communication Engineering from a college affiliated to Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University, Hyderabad. After being a teacher for seven years, Usha decided to venture into edupreneurship by marrying technology with teaching and thus was born Gurujada IT Solutions Private Limited in 2012.
On what it takes to be a woman entrepreneur, Usha says she doesn’t find it any different from what it would be for men. “The risk and the associated scars are the same for everybody. The transition from a decent paying job to being a risk-taking entrepreneur was scary,” she says, adding a word of advice to prospective entrepreneurs, “Believe in your ideas, be persistent, things will fall in place and your efforts will pay off.”
Usha’s biggest challenge on kickstarting her entrepreneurial journey was to convince teachers to devise videos and put the content online. “Some of them were really old school, saying they prefer the age-old Gurukul method of teaching. Once they were aware of the reach an online presence could have, they came on board easily. I feel that more and more teachers should come up to share their content, and now that internet bandwidth and connectivity is improving, the government should also consider taking online education to the students, especially ones in rural areas,” she says.
Usha credits the National Entrepreneurship Network webinars for constantly updating her knowledge. “Webinars are a great platform to learn. I do not find time to travel much and webinars are also a part of the business I am running — online learning. We regularly study case studies and also have an option to critique ourselves. I am making good use of it,” she says.
Adding more courses and getting more volunteers (academics) to test her products is how Usha envisages her future.
Tarunjeet Rattan Nucleus Public Relations, Bangalore
Gaining the required experience and starting out on your own might be a common story by now, but inspiring nevertheless, especially when it comes to women, who have to don many a hat. With a communication management degree from Maharashtra-based Symbiosis University and having worked with several PR and advertising agencies in Mumbai, Tarunjeet Rattan decided to start her own concern, Nucleus Public Relations in Bangalore about a year back. “I was passionate about the PR profession. But I ensured that I did enough homework before jumping on to the entrepreneurship bandwagon. In a bid to network and gain experience, I was writing for portals and websites on fashion and lifestyle,” begins the 34-year-old.
Tarunjeet also credits her husband, who has his own architecture practice, for the support he gave her and also instilling confidence in her that you don’t always need big bucks to start off on your own. “My initial investment was quite small — my husband gave me a cubicle in his office. A laptop, an internet connection, a fax machine, a telephone and innumerable connections were all I had,” she says.
While her business did get off to a flying start, Tarunjeet did have her share of detractors to deal with. “Of course, my parents were quite skeptical.” In order to prove that she is in it for the long run, Tarunjeet did all she could. “I got in touch with Cherie Blair Foundation in London to find a mentor. Even though they had little knowledge of Indian markets, they did help me with the basics of managing a business. Anybody could start a business or get a job, survival is an altogether different story. Especially in PR business, one rarely scales up. You either sell your business or tie up with international agencies. I was determined to fight it all,” she says.
As for the recipe for success, she says, “In this business, one needs to listen and ideate as part of the learning process. And even more important is to not give up in the face of adversities.”
Success only comes as a package, along with challenges, and Tarunjeet has pushed her way through each one of them. “There were a lot of things out there to get me down, mostly my ignorance with respect to technical competencies like how to get my taxes done and the like. This is something I advise everybody out there to be aware of too. We are brought up in a protective environment where our fathers/husbands/sons take care of our legal formalities. One doesn’t even require the services of a legal accountant. You can get them done yourself. Women have a lot to educate themselves on instead of gossiping or discussing mundane things. One needs to keep themselves abreast of what’s happening around them — good, bad and ugly,” she says.
On what it takes to be a woman entrepreneur, she offers, “You need determination, of course, to get past hurdles and failures. Even if you are stuck behind, find a way to move on.”
On playing her part to nurture women entrepreneurs, Tarunjeet says, “I frequently conduct workshops for PR professionals to scale up their knowledge. I have been most comfortable hiring women. Not to say I am against men, but my workforce is mostly women. An employer-employee relationship should transcend beyond salaries and that is what I have been doing. Empathising with my employees, finding out what their needs are and growing along with them.”