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We need more women-centric VCs and funds: Navya Naveli Nanda

On International Women's Day, the 25-year-old entrepreneur-activist speaks to Forbes India about EntrepreNaari, Project Naveli's initiative for women entrepreneurs

Naini Thaker
Published: Mar 8, 2023 02:05:27 PM IST
Updated: Mar 8, 2023 02:12:35 PM IST

We need more women-centric VCs and funds: Navya Naveli NandaNavya Naveli Nanda

Navya Naveli Nanda had a lot of influences growing up, be it in the world of entrepreneurship or entertainment. From a very young age, she knew that she wanted to carve her own path. At 25, she has taken on various roles, including helming non-profit organisation Project Naveli and helping out with her family business Escorts-Kubota.

As part of Project Naveli, Nanda’s team works on multiple projects in the areas of domestic violence, menstrual hygiene, entrepreneurship and legal awareness for women. One of its flagship projects is a community for women entrepreneurs—EntrepreNaari. The community is provided with all possible business resources, networking opportunities, workshops, masterclasses and mentorship that any entrepreneur would need. Currently, they have a community of 20,000 women ranging from micro-small scale to large scale entrepreneurs.

Additionally, the NGO also works on various other initiatives including Nyayri, a legal awareness initiative, which looks at offering pro-bono legal counselling for women along with free mental health counselling services; and Nimaya, an upskilling and training programme for girls. Through her work, Nanda has already created a lot of impact, but she believes this is just the beginning. When asked about how she balances so many projects, she says, “My work is my life, and I love what I do so for me it isn't a question about balance.” On International Women’s Day, Forbes India catches up with Nanda about the work that EntrepreNaari is doing and the challenges of reaching women entrepreneurs in rural areas.

Edited excerpts:

Q. What are some of the biggest challenges of working with micro-scale women entrepreneurs?

Access to funding. Smaller scale businesses have a harder time receiving or even searching for funding. Many MSMEs in our country today are unregistered, and hence are unable to apply for or receive many government grants, bank loans, schemes and funding opportunities that are applicable to such entities. This is also largely due to the complex documentation and compliance requirements to set up businesses that deter smaller-scaled entrepreneurs from following through.

Q. How do you help these entrepreneurs scale-up and expand their businesses?
For many of our EntrepreNaaris, their businesses are their primary stream of income now, and hence scaling their organisations is essential. But, in order to push the number of women in the Indian entrepreneurship ecosystem, it’s our mission to help not just scale their businesses but also sustain them in the long term.

One strong advice is for them to expand online, if they already haven’t. Online channels of ecommerce open your business up to a larger audience, with faster connectivity and spending power. Adopting and switching to digitised tools for the functionality of your business will also help them sustain and scale operations. The government also offers many schemes and programs for MSMEs that are looking to scale through digitisation and funding.

Also read: Will FM's Budget 2023 enable 'Nari Shakti'?

Q. You also work with “want-preneurs.” Who are these women and how do you mentor them?
EntrepreNaari members are those who have existing businesses, but also those who would like to become entrepreneurs. We support their entrepreneurship drive by pairing them with experts or mentors from their field of interest, to give them one-on-one guidance on business models, strategy, and marketing for their new business. We have seen a large number of younger women between the ages of 17-20 fall into this “want-preneurs” category, but also, a large number of 50+ women who have recently decided to run businesses from their homes.

Q. How often does the team meet up with the entire community to ensure plans are being implemented and are on track?
We have weekly community sessions; in the form of masterclasses, workshops or get-togethers, where the team and I are able to interact with the community members, and understand where they require more support. We also have private EntrepreNaari groups, where we engage in community-led discussions on different aspects of their businesses and personal growth stories.

Q. During tough times—especially since these women would have a lot at stake—how do you and the rest of the cohort help them?
The emphasis on this being a community is key here. We understand and recognise the importance of creating an ecosystem for women to interact with one another in a space that is largely dominated by men. It is necessary for us to create these safe spaces for women entrepreneurs to grow, and share their failure, successes with one another—that’s where we see the support.

Also read: Empowered rural women as silent change agents: Learnings from the Lakhpati Kisan Program of Tata Trust   

Q. What more needs to be done to support them?
We need more women-centric VCs and funds, investing in women-led businesses, and giving them the strategic support they require in growing and scaling. On top of that, little attention and visibility is given to MSMEs and small-scale women-led businesses, promoting and recognising their brands will help in bringing more visibility and reach to their ventures.

Q. What are some challenges you face in working on EntrepreNaari?
One of the biggest challenges we see is reach, we want to not just tap into women and entrepreneurs from Tier 1 and 2 cities, but all across India, even moving into more rural parts. Our challenge is of how we can get our messaging and community access across to these women who are not falling into the “metro city” categories. Our focus for the next two years will be on pushing our reach to cover a larger demographic of women.

Q. As a young entrepreneur, some advice you’d like to share?
As young people, we are often criticised for not being experienced enough, or for being “too young” to be doing what we do. I would say never let the lack of experience or knowledge stop you from putting yourself out there and trying. The best form of experience is on the job. Take the opportunities you get.

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