International Women’s Day: They came, they saw, they conquered - Hindustan Times
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International Women’s Day: They came, they saw, they conquered

Mar 08, 2024 07:47 PM IST

In a remarkable shift, women entrepreneurs are spearheading the startup landscape in the tricity, ushering in an era of innovation and fostering community empowerment. Diving boldly into the varied world of business, from artificial intelligence to virtual reality and education to hospitality and arts, female entrepreneurs are no longer just confined to vanity businesses but are instead making significant strides in diverse sectors.

In a remarkable shift, women entrepreneurs are spearheading the startup landscape in the tricity, ushering in an era of innovation and fostering community empowerment. Diving boldly into the varied world of business, from artificial intelligence to virtual reality and education to hospitality and arts, female entrepreneurs are no longer just confined to vanity businesses but are instead making significant strides in diverse sectors. On International Women’s Day, HT delves into the motivations driving some female startup founders in the region and the determination propelling their ventures forward.

Diving boldly into the varied world of business, from artificial intelligence to virtual reality and education to hospitality and arts, female entrepreneurs are no longer just confined to vanity businesses but are instead making significant strides in diverse sectors. (HT File)
Diving boldly into the varied world of business, from artificial intelligence to virtual reality and education to hospitality and arts, female entrepreneurs are no longer just confined to vanity businesses but are instead making significant strides in diverse sectors. (HT File)

Neha Tulli, education start-up founder
Neha Tulli, education start-up founder

‘Identify your passion and pursue it relentlessly’

Growing up in a family that put a premium on education and public service, Neha Tulli founded ‘6DOF Solutions,’ a Mohali-based start-up that integrates augmented reality and virtual reality with educational curricula.

Inspired by the challenges teachers face in engaging young students, Tulli, a first-generation start-up founder from Rajpura, embarked on a journey to revolutionize the EdTech industry. “While I was pursuing my doctorate in computer science, I happened to visit my mother at the school where she taught, and witnessed first-hand the numerous challenges teachers face while attempting to effectively engage with young students. From here germinated the idea for the start-up,” she says.

Tulli, collaborated with a like-minded co-founder, to leverage technology for immersive and interactive educational experiences. The journey of founding a start up was arduous, Tulli, who worked as an assistant professor for nine years, showcased her idea at different competitions and hackathons, and the feedback and validation received readied the ground for launching her own start-up. After three years of research and development, the start-up was launched in 2021.

Transitioning from an assistant professor to an award-winning entrepreneur, Tulli’s perseverance paid off as she secured support from prestigious institutions such as Chitkara University, Software Technology Park of India (STPI) Mohali and Start up Punjab. Her accolades include the ‘Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Award’ at TiECON and a scale-up grant of 35 lakh from Meity TIDE-2.0. Notable achievements include the successful product launch on major platforms, including Amazon, and integration into school curricula in the Tricity area.

Ask her if she has any words of wisdom for budding entrepreneurs, she says, “Identify your passion and pursue it relentlessly.”

Anubhi Khandelwal, founder Terafac Technologies
Anubhi Khandelwal, founder Terafac Technologies

“Do not be bound by stereotypes, take calculated risks”

Anubhi Khandelwal, a 32-year-old entrepreneur, embodies a spirit of adventure and risk-taking in pursuit of one’s dreams. After a successful five-year stint as a digitalisation and automation specialist at Siemens in the UK, she returned to India in 2020 to establish her startup, Terafac Technologies, in Chandigarh, a city she loves, in September 2021.

Terafac Technologies collaborates with universities and technical institutions to establish smart manufacturing and industry 4.0 labs and innovation centers, bridging the gap between academia and industry. Khandelwal’s company website describes her as a woman driven by value creation. “I talked to a lot of young students and realized our education system lacks practical learning. When they go for real industrial jobs, they feel lost. There is a wide gap between the academia and industrial world, one I have personally struggled with. And I started thinking, why can we not provide our students an ecosystem where they are surrounded by real world challenges, where their cognitive abilities are triggered, an ecosystem that promotes innovative and hands-on learning? So I decided to bring all my tech learning together and revolutionize (aspire for the stars) the tech education in India,” she says.

Hailing from Muzaffarnagar and an engineering graduate of Panjab University, Khandelwal, made the bold decision to invest all her earnings from the UK into her entrepreneurial venture. Her advice to aspiring women entrepreneurs is to not be bound by stereotypes and take calculated risks. “Imagine the worst-case scenario before venturing into a new business. In my case, it was losing all my savings and I was okay with,” she said.

Supported by renowned institutions including IIT Ropar and Innovation Mission Punjab, Terafac is on a path of innovation, developing an AI-Vision platform for Industrial Robots and seeking seed funding of USD 2 million. Anubhi’s journey exemplifies resilience, determination, and a relentless pursuit of value creation in the tech industry.

Priyanka Gupta, co-founder, Hops ‘N’ Grains Microbrewery
Priyanka Gupta, co-founder, Hops ‘N’ Grains Microbrewery

“Take it one day at a time”

Priyanka Gupta, a former doctor turned successful entrepreneur, defied the odds to co-found the renowned microbrewery, Hops ‘n’ Grains. Transitioning from medicine to business, Gupta’s journey began with a single outlet in Panchkula in 2010, expanding to three microbreweries across Chandigarh, Panchkula, and Mohali.

In addition to her brewery ventures, Gupta ventured into handcrafted chocolates and launched the eatery Mozimo in sector 9 last year. “My husband, Amritanshu Agarwal, and I, were both passionate about starting a venture together. We decided to start a microbrewery, which was a totally new and unique concept for Panchkula at that time. Our families were sceptical, and given that we had received financial support from them in addition to availing loans, failing was not an option for us,” she said.

She says that trials and errors are a part of the game: “Today, we provide employment to over 300 people in the Chandigarh tricity,” she says.

On the mantra that keeps her going despite odds, Priyanka says, “There were times when we ran out of money, when our machineries developed snags, but we did not stop. One has to take it one day at a time.”

As a woman in a predominantly male-dominated industry, Gupta acknowledges the hurdles she faced due to societal norms. “While the hospitality sector is a boy’s club, I encourage more women to enter the business.”

Mehak Bhan, founder, ‘105 Arts’ arts gallery
Mehak Bhan, founder, ‘105 Arts’ arts gallery

“Be the guiding light for other women”

Two years ago, Mehak Bhan, an art collector and design connoisseur, embarked on a mission to connect artists with art lovers and collectors by establishing the ‘105 Arts’ gallery in sector 11 of Chandigarh.

Rooted in her childhood experiences of exploring galleries and museums in Delhi, Mehak’s deep-seated love for art transcended her academic pursuits in economics (she is an alum of Lady Shri Ram College and Delhi School Economics), leading her to create a space where professional artists can exhibit and sell their works.

It was during the Covid pandemic that the idea to open the gallery germinated. For her, the gallery is not just a commercial venture but a labour of love dedicated to fostering a community of art enthusiasts. “In Covid times, many people and art lovers reached out to me so that we may collectively showcase art and give back to society. It was them that I decided to turn my personal passion into a profession, ” she says. Her private art gallery stands as a testament to Bhan’s dedication to art advocacy.

Grateful for the support and guidance she received as a woman in the art world, Mehak encourages others to be the guiding light for themselves and those around them.“Women should not to wait for the ‘light’ to glow in their life, instead be a light for others,” she says. Looking ahead, she envisions organising an ‘Art Mela’ in Chandigarh to provide a platform for amateur artists to showcase their work, further illuminating the local art scene.

Sartaj Lamba, founder and CEO, Buddy Mobility Care
Sartaj Lamba, founder and CEO, Buddy Mobility Care

“Entrepreneurs must have a never-say die attitude”

Lamba, the founder and CEO of Buddy Mobility Care, initially launched Buddy Cabs in 2019, expanding its services to Noida and Delhi despite the challenges posed during the Covid pandemic.

At Buddy Mobility Care, Lamba provides specially abled individuals and those with illnesses access to transportation services, including wheelchair-friendly cabs and ambulances equipped with oxygen machines. Inspired by her family’s military legacy, she credits her father and husband for instilling in her a resilient spirit and a “never say die” attitude.

The genesis of her startup stemmed from personal experiences caring for her father-in-law, who battled Parkinson’s disease. “When I first decided on starting my venture, people didn’t believe me and said how will you sustain it? However, I had made up my mind. I still remember making the first PowerPoint presentation for it after, which we got the name for Buddy Cabs registered. ”

She has around 25 employees who work for her now. “I don’t micromanage and my employees help run the operation, which we plan to extend to Delhi NCR by the end of the month. When we started, I had hired army veterans as well,” she says.

Navigating a predominantly male-dominated startup ecosystem, Lamba emphasises the importance of carving out one’s space with determination and initiative as a female entrepreneur. Grounded in her success mantra, she advocates for continuous learning and drawing inspiration from others’ life stories.

Recognised for her entrepreneurial acumen, she received the STPI Woman Entrepreneur of the Year 2024 award at TiECON. With a diverse educational background from Panjab University and Punjabi University, Patiala, Lamba also completed a specialised course for women entrepreneurs at the Indian School of Business (ISB) Mohali.

Prerna Kalra, co-founder, HanuAI
Prerna Kalra, co-founder, HanuAI

Have a tick skin and no Plan B: Kalra

In her forties, Prerna Kalra is at the helm of HanuAI, a burgeoning startup venture that has swiftly gained recognition for its artificial intelligence-enabled automated road asset management system.

The venture uses AI to map potholes on roads and uses geofencing to tag the locations, making it easier for the authorities to take stock of the roads. Prerna Kalra says it is already being used by the government. Transitioning from a distinguished 25-year corporate career at IBM, Dell, and Quark in the tricity region, Prerna’s journey into entrepreneurship was ignited by a deep-seated passion for problem-solving through technology. Prerna Kalra , alongside her co-founder Manav Singal and supportive husband, Dr Rahul Kalra, a dental surgeon, has steered HanuAI towards success despite coming from a non-technical background. “I used to suffer from imposter syndrome at my previous job. After that, I made the jump to startups. It might seem glamorous to some, but running a successful startup requires hard work and only those who have a thick skin and can keep themselves motivated through the highs and lows should consider it,” she said.

Recognised for her entrepreneurial prowess, Prerna’s dedication has been honoured with prestigious awards such as the Most Innovative Idea of the Year 2023 from TiECON and NASSCOM’s DeeptechClub Emerge 50 award.

A first generation entrepreneur, Prerna, her co-founder and husband have invested around 1.5 crore into their venture and it is already starting to show returns. They have used the bootstrap model of funding as they do not want other investors to “dilute” their version of it.

To any budding female entrepreneurs, Kalra said that they should have no plan B in mind. “It is always important to be grateful. Those who ask for help will receive help,” she says.

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