Harvard alum empowering female entrepreneurs with Shakti - The Empathy Project

India is experiencing a startup boom just like the other countries in the developing world. This New India is clearly seeing a revolution when it comes to women entrepreneurs. Being an entrepreneur is tough, but being a woman entrepreneur has got even higher mountains to climb. A study by McKinsey Global Institute stated that India’s GDP could increase anywhere between 16% to 60% by 2025 if more women participated in the workforce and contributed to economic growth, But it is easier said than done. 

This is where an incubation program, Shakti - The Empathy Project, is trying to make a difference. Founded in 2019 by Harvard alum Renu Shah, Shakti focuses on providing capacity building, mentorship, funding & networking opportunities for the entrepreneur. The biggest strength of the program will be an empowered, committed and vibrant community of women social entrepreneurs.

While working with another organization which helps young entrepreneur, Renu Shah, realized that women social entrepreneurs were facing problems similar to the challenges she faced as a social entrepreneur. There is a lack of support structure and community for women entrepreneurs to share their challenges and ideas. Thus, in order to create a support system for women entrepreneurs in the social sector, Renu founded Shakti - The Empathy Project.

Talking more about the incubation program, Renu said, “Shakti is a combination of power and feminine values, both. That is what we stand for. We are not just talking about building hard skills; we spend a lot of time on building a community and just listening to them. Listening and empathy are integral to our work.” 

Highlighting the challenges faced by female entrepreneurs, Renu tells how the ecosystem is male dominated. Women entrepreneurs find it difficult to sustain and scale up their businesses due to roadblocks such as proficiency in technical skills, core skills technology, access to capital. Another challenge is acquiring funds. 2% of all equity funding raised in 2017 globally went to women-led startups. Most women enterprises are not tech-enabled and thus, find it difficult to secure backing from VC and PE investors, who associate scale with technology. There is also dearth of sector-specific role models for women entrepreneurs, who are willing to sponsor or develop them. This deprives women of access to foot in the door opportunities, which can be instrumental in scaling businesses.

The biggest strength of Shakti will be an empowered, committed and vibrant community of women social entrepreneurs. In their last cohort, they had projects from diverse sectors like education, healthcare, agriculture, environment, urban issues etc. In total, Shakti has incubated 32 start ups so far touching the lives of almost 70,000 people while raising over 2 crores in funds.

Prapti Jaiswal, founder of AarogyaAI and a female entrepreneur who benefitted from being associated with Shakti, said, “A constant source of strength, the STEP community has empowered me to fill gaps in my entrepreneurial skills, enriching my personal and professional journey.” Can we use a quote by some onew from this cohort?

“STEP selection was a serious and rigorous process that set the ground for the learning and challenging that I experienced throughout the program. The inputs were intentional and well-designed. More than the technical inputs, I have been able to work with some of my inner challenges which I believe has equipped me to internalize the technical aspects of building an organization. The fact that I have a supportive and appreciative cohort to lean into, has been the most precious gift of this program”, Bhavana Issar, Caregiver Saathi. 

In conclusion, the founder Renu Shah said, “We want to change the narrative of women being the beneficiaries to women being the real changemakers in the world — which they actually are! If you believe in our work, please reach out to us and help us make the vision of a gender-equitable world a reality.”