Indian women may indeed have a cultural disadvantage as entrepreneurs. "In general, the Indian culture has certain expectations on the role of women as the primary nurturer in the family," said Vani Kola, chief executive at Rightworks, an e-procurement software company.
But there's no question Indian-American women, traditionally seen as the keepers of the home in India, are catching Internet fever in the States. Organizations are busting at the floorboards with eager female entrepreneurs.
"I can't believe how many Indians there are walking around with a business plan," said Monica Kumar, president of Indian Business & Professional Women, a nonprofit support network started in 1988 for business and professional women that promotes education, leadership and self-development through seminars and workshops. Seminars are open to both women and men of Indian and non-Indian origin.
The organization, whose executive board members all originate from Indian roots, promotes women's entrepreneurial efforts and career advancement primarily by showcasing to its members examples of successful females. "I think it's more a matter of 'If they can do it, so can I.' It sets a role model," Kumar said. And since many women have to juggle their careers and families, specific issues often arise that other women can understand.
Kola recently spoke at a conference held by the IBPW. She talked about how she took six months to seek out advisers and get funding, and eventually "made it," launching her software company with funding by Sequoia. She admitted how she had to unlearn some of her cultural behavior in order to be more aggressive and persistent. Kola also talked about her experiences as a mother of two kids, and how even her physical condition affected how venture capitalists viewed her. When she was pregnant with her second child, one investor told her that he did not feel comfortable investing in a pregnant woman.
Despite this, Kola said, men in the Indian high-tech network seemed particularly motivated to help her as a woman, to take a step toward overcoming the fact that there are "not that many women in our community who have visible success."
Perhaps driven by examples like these, members of the IBPW are getting bolder all the time. "They used to ask a question and go away. Now they're coming up to them with specific plans," Kumar said.
The organization is primarily a networking venue, but it also serves to promote self-education through workshops and mentoring for women who want to enhance their careers. The group has been so successful that it recently started to include "non-Indians," Kumar said. Conferences have featured non-Indian businesspeople, including Ellen Hancock at Exodus and Radha Basu, formerly a general manager at Hewlett-Packard.
"Ten years ago, our focus was on small businesses and networking them among themselves," Kumar said. The group, however, has evolved to include many more professional women as members. Now 60 percent are professional women and 40 percent are looking to start up a business, she said.
Entrepreneurships continue to lure women. "A lot of women are interested now. People realize that the hard work they do for someone else can pay off for themselves," she said.
The organization this month started a formal mentoring program with the aid of networking industry leaders, company CEOs and others who are successful in the networking field - some of them men. "This is a great resource if [our members] can get an hour or two with these people to tell them about their specific plans," Kumar said. "We want to be a resource for them. Now even men come to our meetings."
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