In Mumbai, an eight-month pregnant and exasperated Riddhi Doshi, unable to organise her handbag, invented a bag switcher — a pouch with pockets that could be switched from one bag to the other. That paved the way for Organice, a company that specialises in organisers of all kinds.
In Bangalore, keen to keep her active toddler away from the world of television and air-conditioned malls, Savi Sarin decided to revive the art of storytelling with Weave a Tale, with which she ‘edutains’ not just her own but many other children.
In New Delhi, Anjali Vohra and Bhavna Kishan had no plans to set up a venture of their own. Till they saw their children take an interest in baking and especially enjoy the “messy bits”. Today, Little Cheflings runs specialised cooking classes for children and also takes on small themed birthday parties.
There’s nothing new about start-ups. But a sudden flurry of start-ups across the country is being helmed by mumpreneurs, women who may have given up their career but are unwilling to let the sun set on their ambitions. Recent data finds that female entrepreneurship in India is growing at 71 per cent per year. Never mind whether or not women can “have it all”, these mumpreneurs are turning the workplace on its head.
Their choice often makes a virtue of necessity — rising childcare costs, fears about the child’s security, or traditional role play that pushes women out of the job market. Sarin, an educator with International School in Bangalore, was happy with her career but felt it was “time to switch gears”. “That’s how Weave a Tale was born. Besides outdoor and free play, I was looking for something for my son; I wanted him to be engaged, have fun, and learn. There weren’t many kid-friendly places.” Sarin enrolled for a certificate course in storytelling from Kathalaya. She soon found there were many parents looking for healthy entertainment avenues for their children and decided that she had found her calling.
Many start-ups are conceptualised similarly — by women seeking something special for their children and being unable to find it. Special educator Priyanka Malik started a children’s book club to ensure that daughter Naviya, 6, didn’t miss out on the joys of reading. Today, Betterfly is a reading and skill development platform for children between four and eight years. “Our mission is to cultivate a passion for reading in children,” she says.
Sonia Swaroop Choksi, mother to Anaya, says she wondered why children weren’t enthralled by books and went on to co-found goDiscover, which manufactures smart interactive books “Our products can be read like a book, but they can also be heard through a pen-shaped device. You can also record on the paper books and play it back. This lets a child have a conversation with a book,” she says. Choksi’s enterprise wedded technology with books to fill a gap in a scene where paper books are failing to hold children’s interest.
It may seem to be a win-win situation for a mum — work from home, pursue a passion, spend time with family — but the challenges are many. Most mumpreneurs struggle with funding, time management, marketing and support. Says mumpreneur Deeptha Vivekanand, who runs Ever After, an after-school experience centre for children and young adults in Bangalore, “When you have only two hours a day to plan a business, you have no idea where to begin. I do all my thinking after my two-year-old goes to sleep at night. I work till 2 a.m. most days.”
Doshi agrees: “The biggest challenge is to balance time. Organice gained momentum when I was eight months pregnant. After the baby was born, balancing production, finance and marketing got tough. I couldn’t travel a lot but that's where my mother-in-law was the biggest support,” Doshi says.
The success of start-ups often depends on the concept and the implementation. With a huge 50 per cent of small businesses folding up within the first five years, experts say it is vital to research, plan and ensure support networks for the business. Discuss the idea with family and friends, ideate with like-minded women, and put it out there for the community. “A good plan is often the dividing line between success and failure,” says Aditi Khandekar, who designs soft home furnishings under her Baroda-based label Ikat.
As Vivekanand says, a plan doesn’t always work the way you want it to, besides it’s easy to get distracted by the million things you have to achieve in a day as mother, wife and entrepreneur. This is where a plan helps. Some mumpreneurs bemoan the lack of a supporting environment for start-ups. “This can be the right mix of people to team up with, ways to manage distributor monopolies, government rules, patents and copyrights for innovations. As a startup, what we have is our innovation, our ideas, and our products. But there is nothing that makes us feel safe and encouraged about the innovation or its USP,” says Choksi.
It’s an important trend and showcases the entrepreneurial spirit of women, regardless of the scale of the business or the scope of the product. What’s important is that these women are fighting to realign the workplace in a way that fits their life. “I am glad I made the decision to join the mumpreneur brigade. Work is like a rubber ball that will bounce back whenever you’re ready, but the precious years of infancy and childhood never will,” says Sarin.
Vivekanand has a spot of advice for budding mumpreneurs. “Give it all you’ve got and don’t be afraid to fail. It’s never going to be easy but the joy you get when you see even the smallest business growth is unparalleled. Much like watching your child grow up in front of your eyes.”