COVER STORY

WOMEN ENTREPRENEURS POWER AHEAD

Home page image:  SAJJAD HUSSAIN M  from Burst. Image above: Ranjana Mitra with her husband Sabyasachi. Image below: Nandini Jolly (far right) with her team at CryptoMill Technologies.

Home page image: SAJJAD HUSSAIN M from Burst. Image above: Ranjana Mitra with her husband Sabyasachi. Image below: Nandini Jolly (far right) with her team at CryptoMill Technologies.

By SHAGORIKA EASWAR

I believe women invented the concept of multitasking. We’ve all seen those cartoons – you know, the ones with a woman with a baby on her hip, another tugging at her legs to get her attention, holding a phone in one hand, stretching to grab a smoking pot on the stove while the dog barks and the doorbell rings.

Now add the responsibilities and the work load of entrepreneurs and business leaders to that picture.

According to Innovation, Science and Economic Development’s (ISED) key small business statistics, women account for over a third of all self-employed entrepreneurs in Canada.

In fact, women are more likely to start their own business in Canada than in any other country in the world. ISED studies over the last several years show women as innovators who are steadily increasing their impact on the business world and making a big contribution to the economy, since firms headed by women tend to create more jobs.

Stands to reason – when women succeed, everyone succeeds!

Ranjana Mitra and Nandini Jolly are stellar examples, leading their organizations to success and sharing the rewards with their teams.

Ranjana Mitra’s response to “How are you doing?” is an enthusiastic, “Fantastic! I am still breathing, the sun is shining and the earth is spinning – what more can one ask for?”

This enthusiasm pervades her approach to life in general and to the business world she has been a leader in for many years.

Mitra is executive director of Community Environment Alliance, an organization she founded to work towards a safe, healthy and sustainable future for everyone.

They began with Share-IT, a not-for-profit company that diverted computers from landfills by distributing refurbished ones to those in need in local communities and then expanded to other programs.

Act:Heal was based on her belief that there is tremendous potential for renewal within every individual.

“We widened our scope from environmental toxins and physical health to include emotional, mental and spiritual health, we took a more holistic approach,” she says. “The world’s most sophisticated computer is the human body, we have the hardware and the software.”

Over 25,000 people signed up for the program, many of them seniors, who said if they’d realized earlier that anger and/or disappointment in their interactions with others were behind their disconnect, they’d have enjoyed healthier, more content lives.

Mitra started the first community bike program. Bikes With Love provided refurbished bikes to the homeless and also to school kids and newcomers through referrals.

Through Meals With Love, another program they ran for a few years, they grew organic produce and provided a basket of seasonal fruits and vegetables to clients of community health centres. Staff at these centres reported that use of medicines went down when healthy food replaced junk food.

Community Environment Alliance is currently transitioning into a new role where they are looking to help new ideas blossom.

“I want to multiply the impact by using our experience to help new entrepreneurs,” says Mitra.

For the woman who received the Meritorious Service Medal and Decoration in 2017 for the impact of her work in sustainable community building within Canada and abroad knows well the hurdles entrepreneurs – specially female entrepreneurs – face.

“I was talking about e-waste when no one was talking about it. I thought it was a feel-good, do-good thing, but I was shown the door. Of course, that could be a universal issue, men with new ideas could face it, too. I can’t say how it was for others, but speaking for myself, yes, it was challenging. I can only say I had no idea how murky the water I was stepping into was. But I do yoga, you can’t hit my ego. With every rejection I faced, I said I must be doing something right!”

Mitra talks about another universal issue, the fact that Canada is very risk-averse and she welcomes the creation of an independent Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub.

“In a new environment, the journey is wobbly to begin with because the shared experience, the knowledge of a previous journey is not there. There were no hubs you could go to to access resources or connect with entrepreneurs on the ground. Even a failure can teach you something, but there was not much data. Entrepreneurs create jobs, but the infrastructure is still lacking.”

Women, both entrepreneurs and professionals, talk about how they have to work twice as hard to prove themselves. About not being given due respect in boardrooms. About being mistaken for their male colleague’s assistant or secretary. It’s like they are there to spread sweetness and sunshine, not present new ideas.

“It’s like breaking into the Big Boys’ Club,” acknowledges Mitra. “Women were traditionally seen in structured areas with predefined roles, not as leaders who could take discretionary decisions. I’ve seen the look of surprise on people’s faces when I speak up at meetings, when I ask questions. They don’t expect to hear this coming from a woman. I have been one of very few women in the room on occasion – and the only woman of colour – and they don’t know if I would pull the race card. I would never do that as an educated, qualified woman, but they didn’t know that for certain. So they’d let me talk, but take no cognisance of what I said. Looking through the minutes of the meeting later, it was as though I wasn’t there.

“And sadly, women don’t support each other. My experience was that older women in particular feel threatened by go-getting younger ones. Maybe they had to fight so hard to achieve their success, to gain recognition, there’s a degree of vulnerability?”

Asked to describe the strengths women bring to entrepreneurship, Mitra lists multitasking and empathy.

“Also that women really can see a situation from various angles. They have highly a developed emotional side and an equally developed practical side. And with an emotional input, decisions tend to be much more refined, otherwise they can be dry. The emotional quotient of decision making is vital. I believe that in organizations with mixed genders, the dynamics change. Such organizations achieve balance and harmony.”

Her advice to budding entrepreneurs?

“Find the right people who will help take you to the next level. It’s not a straight ladder, it’s interwoven and more like a maze. You need guides and enablers to show you the right detour. You will be asked the ‘How?’ question for every new idea you come up with. Everyone will have all the reasons for why you won’t succeed. You have to remain firm and committed to your vision. You have to have confidence in your idea. Can you stop the negation?

“Have clarity of vision. Not on someone’s dictates, but on your own terms.

“Have clarity of approach. It can be tweaked through inputs from others, but only you know where you want to go.

“Have clarity of resources. People ask me how much they will need for their business. I can’t tell you! You have to figure that out. What I can tell you is that money is not the only resource. People are a valuable resource. The more people on board with your idea, the farther you’ll go.

“Your idea is like a diamond. You have to believe that and have clarity about how many carats. Then you polish it with help and guidance from others.

“And finally, we can’t bring the agenda forward by claiming equality, we have to prove equality.”

Nandini Jolly is the president and CEO of CryptoMill Technologies which provides advanced, innovative data security solutions for enterprises, small and medium-sized businesses as well as individual consumers.

Think of her as a secret weapon for consumers of technology products. “We believe that security, like freedom, is everyone’s right,”  Jolly had said in an earlier interview with Desi News.

She foresaw the development of security solutions to tackle both external and internal threats to confidential, sensitive and personal information. 

CryptoMill’s products are used by a number of organizations worldwide including HP, Motorola, Open-Text as well as law firms in the US and Canada. Jolly and her team of engineers, who refer to themselves as the Cryptonites, spearheaded the design of an exclusive product for HP Worldwide that is built into HP desktops, laptops and tablets, and was shipped worldwide on over 40 million devices in 34 languages.

With a Masters in International Finance and a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from the London School of Business and Finance, she served as senior vice president of Global Treasury Services and Financial Risk Management for Bank of America. She was also a director at Deloitte and Touche.

“I might have said I am not a born entrepreneur – but then I think that innately, I am,” she says. “It’s a mindset.”

Did she face challenges raising funds, finding clients? Did she meet people who did not take a woman – one with no engineering background to boot – seriously?

“Of course there were ups and downs. There still are. But I never paid attention to my gender. I never woke up thinking about the challenges of being a woman, I never allowed myself to go down that route. I believe the glass ceiling only exists if you look up. I am too busy looking forward, learning and improving. It was important for me to know my stuff. My engineers taught me and I learnt by osmosis.

“Some days it is harder than others, and then I dig in and dig deeper to find my source of strength. My constants are God, my parents, my husband and son, and my engineers. They keep me grounded. I reflect on my blessings when I am feeling down. It doesn’t mean that nothing bad ever happens to me, it does, but my response is mitigated.”

Jolly fosters a culture of collaborative learning and mentorship. Co-op students from engineering and computer science departments at a number of local academic institutions are active members of the CryptoMill team.

She was named one of Canada’s 100 Most Powerful Women for her ground-breaking work in a sector that is predominately male, for fearlessly navigating through new territory and for her ability to lead by example. She was featured by the government of Canada’s Status of Women Canada as one of Canada’s Businesswomen – a growing economic force – whose entrepreneurial spirit has influenced the business world and who serves as a mentor to other women. As a senior member of Women in Capital Markets, she has volunteered as a mentor to young women in high schools.

And yet, she doesn’t see herself as a mentor.

“That implies I know better. I believe in empowering women. I am on a journey of improving myself and I want to convey that no challenge, no setback is so big that you can’t get over it. I am excited by the opportunities we can help present to youth, both men and women. I want to build a sense of self-worth.

“What stops us is our fear of failure, our own what-ifs.”

Successful women entrepreneurs are not uncommon. In fact there are over 821,000 women entrepreneurs in Canada, contributing over $18 billion to the Canadian economy.

But other numbers reveal the challenges women entrepreneurs and women-led businesses face.

Women own fewer than 16% of all businesses

Only 10% of high-growth firms are owned by women

About 8% of women-owned businesses export

Women-led businesses also face barriers in accessing capital. According to recent data, women entrepreneurs are less likely to seek debt and equity financing and are more likely to be rejected or receive less money.

Here’s where Canada’s first Women Entrepreneurship Strategy comes in.

A comprehensive, whole-of-government plan to help women grow their businesses through access to financing, talent, networks and expertise, it supports women entrepreneurs in starting and growing world-class businesses that can compete and win on the world stage, boost economic growth and create good middle-class jobs.

Fostering diversity and inclusion is integral to creating an economy that works for everyone.

The full and equal participation of women in the economy is essential to Canada’s future competitiveness and prosperity.

The Women Entrepreneurship Strategy is based on four key action areas to address the challenges women entrepreneurs face as they move through the phases of business development:

Helping women-led businesses grow through investment in areas such as mentoring, skills development and networking, it will help businesses grow, participate in federal procurement and export.

Increasing access to capital.

Making additional capital available to help companies grow and access new markets.

Improving access to federal business innovation programming.

Reforms in federal business innovation programming will focus on improving the participation of under-represented groups, including women entrepreneurs and will help enhance data and knowledge.

They will fund the creation of an independent Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub  to gather and disseminate information, data and best practices for women entrepreneurs by providing either one eligible organization or a consortium of eligible organizations up to $8.62 million over three years to establish this Hub.

 The Hub will deliver a number of activities intended to support the advancement of women entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds throughout the innovation ecosystem.

These activities include:

A report on the progress of women entrepreneurs in Canada, including a measure or review of the entrepreneurship ecosystem supports for women in Canada.

Collecting, analyzing, and disseminating information, and/or advancing research on women’s entrepreneurship.

The Women Entrepreneurship Strategy will help women to grow their businesses with access to financing, talent, networks and expertise.

       

Tips for women entrepreneurs

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From NEWS CANADA

If you are a woman and thinking of opening your own business, use these tips to get ahead.

Develop an intellectual property (IP) strategy. Are you looking to get the most out of everything your company produces, including products and innovations? Are you looking to enter international markets? Developing an IP strategy will help you strategically grow your business and maximize the value of your IP.

Protect your brand. Have you come up with a name for your business that’s clever, catchy and describes the essence of you and your product? You may have just created a trademark. Everything that sets your business apart – its name, product and service name, slogans, logos and even sound – produces a brand image that your customers come to know. Make sure to register your trademarks to protect the brand identity that sets you apart from the competition.

Build your network. Reach out to established business owners and entrepreneurs to find a mentor and learn strategies for success. Everyone had to start somewhere, and most won’t mind sharing their insights. Also, consider networking with other new business owners to swap tips, commiserate and grow together. There are also start-up incubators with specific accelerator programs for women that are worth looking into.

Find something meaningful to you. Running your own business can be stressful and exhausting. But passion can be an essential tool and resource for when you feel like quitting. That’s why it’s important to find something you are truly passionate about and interested in, so you can be sure to stay motivated.

Flex your existing skills. If you don’t have a background in business, there are many skills you’ve already mastered that you may not realize are useful for an entrepreneur. Think about transferable skills you may have, like critical thinking, time management and working well with others.

Taking your business to the next level can be difficult. You have a lot to balance as an entrepreneur, and adding another element can seem daunting.

Being confident that your business is ready for growth is critical. Your business may be ready for expansion if sales volumes are steady and your trained employees can deliver your unique products and services.

By thinking ahead, you can mitigate risk and ensure your systems and processes are transferable or expandable. You can then decide whether to scale up or out. Scaling horizontally, or out, allows you to provide existing customers with a greater variety of products and services. Scaling vertically, or up, lets you provide existing products and services to more customers.

Exploring your options with an experienced advisor is an effective way to identify what’s right for you. Expanding your network to find the ideal mentor and reaching out to business support organizations tailored to women may also provide the support you need.

Some businesses are more suitable for scaling up than others. After examining the pros and cons of exponential growth, you can decide if it’s for you.

There are government services to help you along the way.

Canada Business Ontario is a program within the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario).

Visit www.canadabusiness.ca or call Canada Business Ontario at 1-888-576-4444 to speak with a business information officer, weekdays between 8:30 am and 5 pm.

More info and an IP strategy tool at www.canada.ca/ip-for-business.

More info on federal economic development programs and services for southern Ontario at www.FedDevOntario.gc.ca, email info@FedDevOntario.gc.ca or call 1-866-593-5505.

 

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