In 2001, Anagha Kulkarni founded Hyderabad-based Nirmala Pet-a-Pack, a company that supplies packaging materials to the food and pharmaceutical industries. Although Kulkarni nursed an ambition to grow, she found managing day-to-day operations very challenging. Madhu Uday, who started Earthen Symphony, a design studio based in Bengaluru in 1995, was growing but not at the pace she would have liked to. She realised that the company had fallen into a comfort zone and was not capitalising on the demand its murals and other design products commanded in the market.
While basic training in accounting, finance, marketing and time management form the core of the curriculum, the focus of the course is to enable these businesswomen to develop a business plan specific to their enterprise and implement them over three years.
Both these women, and many others like them, are entrepreneurs who run a successful business but have fallen short on possessing certain managerial skills that would propel their companies to the next level. In fact, according to a Goldman Sachs – World Bank study, there are several women entrepreneurs in Asian countries who lack formal management education and are thereby, unable to reach their full potential. As a result, in 2008, Goldman Sachs piloted a 10,000 Women programme with different management institutions across 25 countries. In India, Hyderabad-based Indian School of Business (ISB) is the partner for this fully sponsored course targeted at women entrepreneurs, who have been running and managing their own business venture for more than a year, have annual revenues between Rs. 5 – 50 lakh and are keen to grow.
Structuring the course
“It is a three-month course but since women entrepreneurs would find it difficult to be away from home and business for such a long period, it is structured such that they attend a week of classes every month. The rest of the time, they are back at work, but have mentor support,” says Geetha Krishnan, director – Centre for Executive Education at ISB. The mentors are drawn from the industry and provide support to these women entrepreneurs in achieving their goals. While the basic skills of accounting, finance, marketing and time management form the core skills, the focus of the course is to enable these businesswomen to develop a business plan specific to their enterprise and implement them over three years.
Though businesswomen themselves do not have any requirements different from businessmen, the ISB faculty found that many women were hesitant to negotiate and they have tweaked the curriculum to address this. These courses are conducted in different cities, making it easy for women to access the local centre instead of travelling to Hyderabad. Increasingly, there is an increase in the number of women from Tier II and Tier III cities also opting for this course. While ISB releases local advertisements, word-of-mouth has been a strong means to reach out to women entrepreneurs.
The target for ISB is to reach 1,100 women by 2013, and this is a revised target, double what was originally set. “We discovered that there is scope for this course and our focus now is to build capacity in India, to reach even more women entrepreneurs and partner with other reputed institutions to offer this course,” explains Krishnan.
As a result of taking the course, Kulkarni of Nirmala Pet-a-Pack discovered that though her business was very niche, she would have to supply to the general market for a short period to set her cash flow right. Her mentor and the faculty at ISB helped her find this temporary measure as a solution and that has helped her get back on her feet. “Since we had been in the mass market between 1991 and 2001, it was easy for us to shift between the two and overcome the financial burden,” she says.
The course also helped Kulkarni establish a long term goal and now, she knows exactly how she can tap the potential the niche market offers her. Post the course, she has helped her company touch a growth rate of 30 per cent, much higher than before. The immediate focus is on improving profit margins and possibly, touch a 100 per cent margin in five years.
Delegating to grow
Uday also shares that she had no idea that businesses needed a structured vision and a plan to execute. She had started her venture soon after graduating from college and word-of-mouth publicity provided her with enough customers. “There was more demand but since I was very closely involved with every aspect of the business, there was only so much I could do,” she says.
The 10,000 Women programme helped her set a vision for her company, which showed that she could grow by fairly rapidly. Uday also learnt the importance of delegation and has employed designers, put in processes so that the business could run with lesser help from her. “Today, we have the right people for the right jobs. Earlier, I would train freshers and that involved a lot of my time,” recollects Uday. By not having processes in place, designs would undergo changes at every stage. But now once it is finalised, there are no deviations, thus making the whole process more efficient.
She now focuses on marketing and networking, areas that are important to furthering growth. Uday is part of Business Network International and does regular mailers. “I always had my customer cards with me, but now I have a database so that reaching out to them is easier,” she adds. She also does a calendar of her works every year and sends it to customers, designers and architects. Earlier, she had been risk averse, but post the course, she has obtained a loan to purchase machinery that has helped speed up her manufacturing process.
The demand for the course has encouraged ISB to identify a few partner institutions and train their faculty to offer this program. As on date, partners have been signed up in Bengaluru, Uttar Pradesh and Pune. Krishnan says, “The goal is to offer as much support as possible in helping women entrepreneurship thrive in our country.”
For women entrepreneurs too, this is a golden opportunity to upgrade their skills and take their businesses to the next level. All they need is the desire to do so.