K. Aravindavalli was a human resource manager at a German company for over a decade; she quit when travelling a long distance to work every day took a toll on her health. Yet, being busy was something she was accustomed to, and enjoyed. “Once you have had an active career, it is very difficult to sit at home,” she says.

Today, Aravindavalli is an entrepreneur who owns Nammane Industries, a company that manufactures areca leaf plates, which are not only eco-friendly but also microwaveable. With the support of her family and the help of the Association of Women Entrepreneurs of Karnataka (AWAKE), Aravindavalli applied for the Prime Minister's Employment Generation Programme and got a loan sanctioned. Other learnings from AWAKE have been to market her product better, build her network of contacts and find new means to buy raw material, which is seasonal.

“I came to AWAKE not knowing what exactly I had to do to get a business going. They helped us a lot,” she says.

Handling ego-clashes

AWAKE is an organisation that helps budding female entrepreneurs find a firm foothold. Established in 1983, it provides vocational training and skill development to women from both urban and rural backgrounds, apart from advocating on policy issues.

“People are taught how to manage their enterprise, expand, and recruit staff members,” says Dhanvanti Jaiin, president of AWAKE. Exercises are done in order to increase exposure and ensure that those who come from rural areas find proper means of employment before they consider taking up entrepreneurship. Taking charge at the workplace is very important for business. “In an urban workspace, though gender differences are not that common anymore, a lot depends on the woman's capability to take charge. Today, though egos may clash, men do not have a problem working under women,” says Dhanvanti. “Women who are in charge have to create a conducive working environment for their employees. The entrepreneurs we train here are more than capable of handling such matters.”

AWAKE has been supporting many start-ups, from those dealing in furniture products to corporate gifts and handmade stationery. One of the biggest challenges it faces is the social perception that women's entrepreneurship is something that can be taken lightly, especially in an area such as Rajajinagar, which is known for small-scale industries, largely male dominated.

Stepping stones

AWAKE ensures that a good platform is provided to these women, and no hindrances are faced when it comes to matters regarding training or loans. “The way we are treated if we go to an office and tell people we are from AWAKE is very different from how other start-ups would be treated. We get client references, recognition and training here,” says V. Ramalakshmi, whose company SRJ Enterprises was recently registered with the help of AWAKE.

AWAKE has a BPO sector, incubation centre and a computer learning centre all under the roof of its Rajajinagar premises. Additional efforts by the organisation include informing entrepreneurs about upcoming exhibitions and networking.

With centres across various districts in Karnataka, it also plans to take its endeavours to the next stage with ARISE, a centre in Bidadi that provides facilities including a research centre, skill development centre and a bigger BPO for female entrepreneurs.

“To us, who you are is immaterial, who you become is very important,” says Dhanvanti.

AWAKE is at B-76, Industrial Estate, Rajajinagar. Phone: 080-23389964, 23111059, 9900094405. Email: awakener@vsnl.com

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