‘Women make good entrepreneurs,’ asserts ALEAP president K. Rama Devi as she shares her story
“Entrepreneurship is like a dive from a helicopter. It’s quite a thrilling feeling but if you don’t land properly, you will be in the pits,’ K. Rama Devi outlines her business philosophy during our meeting at the Association of Lady Entrepreneurs of Andhra Pradesh (ALEAP) office in Yellareddyuda, Hyderabad. As the founder and president of ALEAP, Rama Devi’s little big dreams were never about being an entrepreneur or supporting and guiding women in small scale ventures. “My husband purchased a unit and it turned sick but he hoped to revive it and in turn our fortune too. We had mortgaged our property,” she remembers. And, when the going became tough, as a dutiful wife, she stepped in to assist her husband. With no degree in finance, her knowledge was only the experience she gained all along. “My venture was the business college for me,” she says.
The entrepreneurial spirit, Rama Devi says, is common among children born in agriculture-based families. “These children don’t follow their parents and have this drive to succeed either with good job or start an industry,” she points out. Her will to succeed involved not only to take the ride but lay the road for other women to join in.
With her ‘little experience’, she established Shivani Engineers, which manufactures buses for the Road Transport Corporation (“We are now planning to diversify the business.”)
Women and start-ups do go hand-in-hand, asserts Rama Devi. “I realised from my own experience that women make good entrepreneurs,” she smiles. “Cooking is an art of managing a dish. When women prepare a dish, they know what ingredient to put and how much. It’s the same when they take up a company. If a woman pursues some venture, she will stay committed to it. When a venture is not doing well, men get disturbed but women will be patient while handling the issues. Even bankers know that their loans are safe when women entrepreneurs are at the forefront of business. Aadavallu egotti velliporu ani telusu!”
As the former president of the Federation of Andhra Pradesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FAPCCI) Ladies Organisation, she says she understood the lacunae in the ventures run by women. “The chamber had a few constraints. My concern circled around women and the kind of support/guidance, especially housewives, need when they enter business,” she says. Rama Devi and a few like-minded FAPCII members marched ahead with the Association of Lady Entrepreneurs of Andhra Pradesh (ALEAP) in ’93 to help women start, train and support their ventures. “The name ALEAP comes from ‘A leap’ and we wanted women to have a leap into business,” she states.
ALEAP’s industrial park at Gajularamaram was a small step for small and medium scale sector but a giant leap for women wanting to be at the helm or improve their business. It has since transformed into an entrepreneurial society that houses units on embroidery, chappals, perfumes, plastics, paper cups, cookies amongst others. With more than 103 ventures, ALEAP women are given training and incubation too. “We guide them about government schemes and there is lot of knowledge transfer. ALEAP offers a platform to meet, discuss and solve different issues. The lesson one should learn is not to complain. When there’s a problem, look for the solution at the end of your arm,” she says.
Elaborating on the challenges faced by small scale entrepreneurs, she says, “The global market has become very competitive, the land to establish an industry is exorbitantly priced and power is costly. Small entrepreneurs are not able to sustain the rate of interest on loans given by banks. State governments must encourage small scale industries as they provide revenue to the government,” she points out. Rama Devi has plans of launching a ‘Vandemataram’ programme with the support of the government of India. “At the end of the programme, women will get a skill-enabling card which will display the skill they are proficient in,” she says.
Rama Devi calls her three young daughters Yamini, Shivani and Shalini ‘tough kids with brains.’ “Yamini is an entrepreneur, Shalini is a Surgeon in US and Shivani is with Procter and Gamble. We would often discuss our ups and downs even when they were kids. They know the value of money and know to how to face hardships with perseverance. As parents we always hope our children don’t have to struggle; but I believe parents should be more practical and guide children to face challenges,” she says.
If ALEAP’s industrial estate at Vijayawada houses more than 70 industries, their new venture at Medak is being planned as a green industrial park. On a lighter note, Rama Devi jokes, “If I had not got involved in my husband’s venture, I would have been just another housewife.”
Entrepreneurs at the industrial park
Padmavathi heard Rama Devi say , “You don’t need money to do business” on a television programme and found her calling. “I had studied only standard VIII and did not know what to do,” she remembers. She is one of the oldest members of ALEAP and handles Unnati Stickers, a venture into labels. “I knew A to Z and would join and read English words.”
Geetha was a housewife with three children including a 12-year-old special child. “I knew only cooking so I took training in the centre,” she says. Today her cookie set-up ladles out 600 cookies every day. “I feel so special at the end of the day. Now, we have to buy a big oven to manufacture more cookies,” she reveals.
Madhavi and Sirisha are from different backgrounds and had both taken a break for their children. “We casually joined the training centre and things started rolling,” they say. Now, they run a hand-made paper venture taken on incubation which makes different eco-friendly products. “We pay rent for the infrastructure provided here, so the risk factor is less.”
Swapna and her husband share a common passion – doing business. They run a manufacturing unit of automatic sugar cane machines. “Finding manpower is a challenge while running your own venture,” says Swapna, an MBA graduate.