How the Telangana WE-HUB fought the pandemic to become an even stronger support for women entrepreneurs
We are revisiting the Telangana female startup incubator to check their progress report through the COVID-19 crisis.
When Women’s Entrepreneurship Center (WE-HUB) launched in 2017 as the first state incubator for women entrepreneurs in India, the then newly appointed CEO, Deepthi ravula, spoke to The Tech Panda about his plans to attract female entrepreneurs.
Recently, WE-HUB celebrated its third anniversary. We decided to catch up with Ravula on the trip so far, especially in a post-pandemic landscape.
Read more: Women in Business Surviving the Pandemic: Courage, Strategies and Out-of-the-Box Solutions
She informs that they were able to work with 4,527 women entrepreneurs. They have incubated 247 startups since 2018. They have raised funds to the tune of US $ 7.2 million and have supported 276 startups across the ecosystem while establishing 63 partnerships with partners.
Our WE-HUB team have gone to great lengths to enable us to engage with our contractors, one-on-one phone calls, not at our convenience, but at their convenience. And not to say âyou are an entrepreneur, go aheadâ, but more in terms of âhow are you, is there anything we can do for you?â
âWe just celebrated our third anniversary and I’m very happy to share that what I told you about in our first conversation in 2017 is actually happening now. We are heading in the right direction, âshe said.
As the pandemic posed unforeseen challenges for the incubator, it threatened to shut down the work and undo everything they had accomplished in the past two years. Ravula remembers that she and her team continued to work through this trying time to keep their female entrepreneurs motivated.
âOur team at WE-HUB put a lot of effort into starting a dialogue with our entrepreneurs, individual phone calls, not at our convenience, but at their convenience. And not to say âyou are an entrepreneur, go aheadâ, but more in terms of âhow are you doing, is there something we can do for you?â She said.
Go virtual and ensure digital literacy
As a starting point, they immediately made sure everything went virtual.
âWe started by putting in place basic support mechanisms. If they needed essential passes or licenses or any kind of diversification or financial intervention, we supported them a lot, âRavula recalls.
We started by putting in place basic support mechanisms. If they needed essential passes or licenses or any kind of diversification or financial intervention, we supported that
Second, their impact team ensured that female entrepreneurs who lacked digital literacy were trained over the phone on how to use digital tools, so that only less than 5% of their entrepreneurs gave up.
âFor this reason, many women have supported and continued on the path of entrepreneurship. Many continue and prosper quite well, âshe adds.
Decide not to participate in the WFH
Ramya madhavaram, Head of Partnerships at WE-HUB, says he realized that working from home (WFH) was becoming a deterrent for them. Ravula and the facilities team ensured that proper disinfection was in place in the office, so the team could return to work with confidence.
I think as a back-to-work team we have also inspired a lot of our entrepreneurs. They took this as an inspiration and startups started to come back to work too
âBecause we were back at work, the impact of the work we were doing as a team was brought out a lot more, and there were a lot more avenues open for us,â says Ravula.
âI think as a back-to-work team we have also inspired a lot of our entrepreneurs. They took that as an inspiration and the startups started working again as well, ârecalls Madhavaram.
Development of start-up strategies
WE-HUB has also helped startups refine their business strategies to exploit the new opportunities created by the pandemic. For example, they helped Radius EdTech, a startup that is ramping up with them, to go beyond electronic delivery of academic content to schools and colleges and develop a videoconferencing offering.
They are also creating a network of like-minded organizations in India and abroad.
Crisis or no crisis, businesses must function well. Instead of telling them what to do in webinars and conferences, we engage with them one-on-one to understand their issues, solve them, and connect them with investors and global partners.
âTheir reach should not be limited to local markets. It must transcend borders. Crisis or no crisis, businesses must function well. Instead of telling them what to do in webinars and conferences, we engage with them one-on-one to understand their issues, solve them, and connect them with investors and global partners, âsays Ravula.
The incubator also helps startups keep papers ready, making it easier for bankers to vet them and consider providing them with credit.
Milestones in the midst of the pandemic
WE-HUB’s work during COVID has given them a lot of strength. They launched eight new programs during the COVID crisis. During this period, they received more than US $ 157,000 in funding to create four new projects.
They received funding from the Australian High Commission to empower women entrepreneurs with more advanced urban technologies, for which they launched a program called Upsurge. They also collaborated with a Stanford University initiative to train around 100 girls in data science.
These are just the tip of the iceberg
They also received a CSR grant from an individual, on the basis of which, they created a revolving fund for women entrepreneurs seeking core funding.
They were also able to create a new program with the Telangana Tribal Welfare Department to support 37 tribal women entrepreneurs across the state. In addition, they received support and funding to create a program for 400 women-led businesses in a municipality of Telangana.
They were also successful in spreading INR 12 crore to female entrepreneurs through their collection of credit links during COVID.
Not just Telangana
WE-HUB works with women entrepreneurs across the country, through their incubation program, which is open to urban businesses using technology across the country. In the first cohort, they had 26 entrepreneurs from seven cities in India. In the second cohort, they had 26 startups from 16 cities in India.
Read more: Beyond the glass ceiling: the challenges Indian women entrepreneurs continue to face
They are currently working intensely in 23 districts of Telangana, which include Adilabad, Bhadradri Kothagudem, Jagitial, Janagoan, Jugulamba Gadwel, Karimnagar, Khammam, Mahabubabad, Mahabubnagar, Medchal, Malkajgiri, Mulugu, Nalgonda Narayanpetizamabad, Nirmalugu, Nalgonda Narayanpetizamabad, Nirmalugu Rangareddy , Sangareddy, Siddipet, Suryapet, Warangal Rural and Yadadri Bhuvanagir.
Coming to different states in India, they are working on preincubation, incubation and start-up exchange programs with different states in India including Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir and Assam.
Some start-up stories
WE-HUB has changed many lives over the three years they’ve worked.
Kalpana Gajjala contacted WE-HUB for help in translating her business idea of ââmaking herbal drinks and juices into a reality. His startup Sahajakalpa Pvt. Ltd. has now created a product prototype, tested and ready for the market.
Kotla Jayamma, who started her business in manufacturing cold-pressed oils with Arogya Dayini, contacted WE-HUB to formalize their production process and receive assistance in business development and strategy.
– Hub WE (@WEHubHyderabad) March 9, 2021
In the space of six months, it increased its production capacity, generating a profit of almost INR 1 lakh per year. In the future, it plans to diversify its product line and further increase its customer base.
Odapalli Vijaya Lakshmi and her daughter launched Nurture Fields, which sells dehydrated solar fruits and vegetables, in 2018, generating an average monthly profit margin of 30%. They currently have 15 product variants and plan to branch out into organic fruit and vegetable production in the near future.
Ravula says there are many more to come, and she looks forward to the near future.
âThese are just the tip of the iceberg,â she says proudly.