Prachi Singhal Talks About Leading The First Women Startup Accelerator In India
- IWB Post
- December 7, 2017
While there are talks about women empowerment in every nook and corner, Zone startups India is actively taking the initiative in bringing this change.
I walk into the Bombay Stock Exchange building, a place that is so widely known by everyone. After getting through a million security checks, I finally make it to the 18th floor and enter the Zone office. A place full of colors, positive quotes and entrepreneurs involved in serious discussions. I spot Prachi from a distance, talking attentively to a team member. I go to greet her and realize she is one of those people that make you feel homelike.
23-year-old Prachi Singhal handles more than one can imagine at her age. She is the Program Manager who heads the startup community at Zone Startups India, Mumbai and recently moved to drive the Axis Bank Accelerator Program at Thought Factory in Bangalore. She also runs the Empower initiative, India’s first accelerator program for female tech entrepreneurs. Prachi shares her thoughts on the program and some of the success stories.
How did an idea for a women accelerator come about?
Zone is an international accelerator which helps tech start-ups. It came to India three years back, and our portfolio always had great women founders running businesses, scaling up and raising funds. In the first year itself, we had 13 to 15 women founders, despite this promising start, the number of start-ups by women founders are really low. Last year, we held a full day conference on women empowerment, and there were around 200 women in the group. Having spoken to them, we realized there isn’t really a platform for the same in India. That’s when we decided to create a separate platform.
What did you first start with?
Before we started this initiative, we researched to understand what were the main challenges women entrepreneurs face while starting up. We expected the results to say lack of funds, that did end up being one of the top reasons but equally important were other reasons. They did not get a platform to showcase their idea, to connect with peers and good mentors.
How did you select the startups?
We had an advisory board and two to three steps of selection. They were majorly chosen on the basis of a few things. The role the women member is playing in the startup, the stage of the startup, the background the women entrepreneur comes from and what can she give back to her peers.
You do not work with generic e-commerce or education startups, what is the reason behind it?
As an accelerator, we work with only tech startups and the ones that have a distinct value proposition. They should have a value proposition that is different from others, and that’s when generic e-commerce startups don’t fall into the right category. But if they have an entirely new value proposition we will surely look into it.
How did you come to be associated with this program?
Last year when we launched the initiative, it was a small team. Zone has always been a small team. It acts like a startup. When we discussed having a plan for women entrepreneurship in our team, I thought of taking the initiative. Since then I have been leading this program. I started by first understanding what women would require from this program, created and conceptualized the program starting from outreach to getting mentors on board. The team has always been a great support. I treat this program like my baby.
How geographically widespread is this program?
The accelerator is Pan-India now. Last year we started with three cities that are Mumbai, Bangalore, and Delhi. There are 15 to 16 cities from which we had applications come in. Starting from tier one cities like Mumbai and Delhi to tier two cities like Ahmedabad and Jaipur and also other cities like Uttarakhand to Chandigarh. We are all gearing up to launch our second edition on the 1st of September.
Tell us about anyone success story through this program
Last year we worked with 15 women entrepreneurs. The program actually received 181 applications. With the 15 that were selected, we conducted a 6-week program. All 15 of them have a great story of how a program like this, I’ll not say changed their lives because a startup journey has multiple challenges, but I do believe it helped them in growing. One of the startups Vanity Cube recently closed 100 cores from VLCC after the program. Project Mudra raised around 1.3 crores from Anand Mahindra just last week or so.
The biggest struggle that any woman entrepreneur face is distrust from the business community. Not recognizing their business acumen. During fundraising, women are not seen as able entrepreneurs. This leads to not being able to hire a good team or scale their startups resulting in not being able to run a business successfully.
With your plate being so full of various things, has the line of your professional and personal life blurred out?
At the age I am, the professional life is my priority compared to my personal life. Of course, it has mixed up a bit because my colleagues have become my good friends. It sometimes does get hectic, but I think it’s about how you manage your time. I’m hoping that I will be going on tremendously in my career and my personal life elements will keep adding in the future. So, I’m learning.
How do you unwind to get back in the zone?
I take very short vacations. I like to travel a bit. So, when I get a long weekend off I just like to go out and explore nearby places. Usually, I like to go unplanned and be a solo traveler.
What is your message to women who want to join this program?
Just reach out. To any women who want help, just say it out loud, and there will always be people, organizations, and platforms to help you. In the case of us as well, if you think you want to be a part of our program, keep a close watch on our website.