First generation women entrepreneurs have stormed a male bastion by starting BHEL ancillary units on the outskirts of Tiruchi

The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. These hands were only rocking the cradle and handling ladles about a decade back. Today, they work with sophisticated engineering tools. None of them ever dreamt of jumping from the kitchen into an industrial environment. The brigade of first generation entrepreneurs has heroically stormed a male bastion – engineering industry – and kept its flag flying high when there is all-round sluggishness in the industry.

The “team of 12” stands out as it has broken a new path in entrepreneurship – far away from making garments, eco-friendly items, toys, sweets, chocolates, and pickles. With their educational qualification ranging from class 5 to M. Phil., these entrepreneurs have come up the hard way and now operate their units on their own with a monthly salary disbursal of Rs. 1.5 lakh a unit with an average workforce of 10. The tiny units owned by them are located in Mathur, a city suburb, and Pudukudi village bordering Tiruchi district.

“We did not know anything about entrepreneurship or engineering tools. After becoming members of Women Entrepreneurs’ Association of Tamil Nadu (WEAT), we were exposed to entrepreneurship, managerial, and computer skills. We have been properly trained in welding at the National Institute of Technology. Today, we are as proficient as a technically qualified person in choosing the right raw material, using computers and giving technical instructions to our employees,” says M. Rajamaheswari, who quit her bank job to start the industry. This M. Phil. graduate, who recently registered for Ph. D., commutes between Thanjavur and Pudukudi to manage her fabrication unit.

At the other end of the spectrum are school dropouts like G. Jansi Rani. All the 12 entrepreneurs are vendors (ancillary units) for the Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) fabricating boiler components and three of them — R. Vasugi, S. Geetha, and R. Thamarai Selvi — have won Best Performer awards.

“We have not closed our units even for a day,” says S. Jesus Mary. This statement is made in the context of frequent power shutdown, cost escalation, and changes in policies governing ancillary units of the BHEL. “Even on days of acute power scarcity, we operated with generators, and without minding the impact on our earnings,” T. Palaniselvi adds.

The secret of their success lies in two factors — hard work and support from family, society, WEAT, Department of Women’s Studies, Bharathidasan University, BHEL, banks, Tiruchi District Tiny and Small Scale Industries Association, and District Industries Centre. Their unity has sustained them in an area into which even seasoned men entrepreneurs fear to tread now. They are together in whatever they do – getting orders from the BHEL or meeting a bank manager to seek concessions. “We hail from the middle class without any financial background. Our unity is our strength,” says J. Victorya.

The striking distinction of these entrepreneurs is that they are not a proxy of a father, brother, husband, or uncle. They are genuinely proud of their spouses for the respect and understanding they show to them.

T. Rajeswari’s husband left a job to work for his wife. “He refused to sit in my chair till his death, as he was proud to be a worker in my fabrication unit,” says Ms. Rajeswari, the sole breadwinner of the family.

The future for these ancillary units, started in 2009, lies in sustained patronage from the BHEL. Some of them have repaid the loans taken from banks and look forward to a leap into the small industry league.