5 Indian women who made it big with their start-ups


Being a man and an entrepreneur, I can say this – women do not have it easy.

I read this article in Forbes and Vaishali Neotia (co-founder of AR and VR start-up Merxius) pretty much summarised the tip of the iceberg, by sayin “Men are questioned about ambition, growth and prosperity, while women are questioned about stability, safety and security. The bias is more prominent if the woman is married and/or has children. It is assumed that women with familial responsibilities aren’t serious about business and this makes investors wary,”

To add to Vaishali’s statement, here are a few facts and statistics that are a cause for worry in a world that is so determinedly trying to head towards gender equality:

  • India is ranked 29 out of 31 countries on ease of doing business for women in the Global Women Entrepreneurs Leader Report
  • India is the third largest start-up hub of the world but only 9% of entrepreneurial ventures are founded by women
  • In 2017, only 2% of funding went to start-ups which had a woman founder

And trust me, the problem is not restricted to India, it is something women entrepreneurs all over the world face.

Despite these less-than-fair circumstances, here are 5 Indian women entrepreneurs who made it big, against all odds. You may or you may not have heard of them and you may or may not have heard of their respective businesses, but they are certainly a force to reckon with and an inspiration to other women hoping to start something of their own.

  1. Falguni Nayar – Nykaa
Image Credit- YourStory

Cited to be the Sephora of India, Nykaa is literally the one-stop shop for purchasing luxury, mid-range and mass beauty products online. Not only that, they also have a few Nykaa Luxe Stores tucked away in prominent neighbourhoods in Indian cities – a number which is expected to grow to 30 in the next two years.

Nykaa was founded in 2012 by Falguni Nayar, a graduate of IIM Ahmedabad and one who spent nearly two decades of her life with Kotak Mahindra Capital Co, which she left as Managing Director of its institutional equities business.

Despite warnings that India was not ready for an e-tailer of beauty products, she knew that this was what women of this country wanted and went for it. A right decision since online retailing is expected to grow to 5% of the Indian retail market by 2021.

With 850 brands and 1 lakh products, Nykaa’s revenue has grown by 350% in two years and an IPO is planned for 2020.

  1. Sairee Chahal – Sheroes
Image Credit – MyVenture.in

A graduate of IMT (Ghaziabad) and JNU, Sairee began her career as a journalist and then worked briefly for Hendrick & Struggles and CII.

She founded Sheroes in 2014 with an endeavour to empower women to contribute to the country’s workforce by enabling them to work from home.

In four short years of being founded, Sheroes boasts of 20,000 women who log in, not only from metros but locations like Chapra and Lakhmipur. They have also partnered with 1200 organisations who help them connect with female talent.

Additionally, Sairee has dedicated teams working to help find suitable, relevant opportunities for these women, whether it is through new-age digital possibilities or home-run business ventures.

Offline too, Sheroes connects with them for initiatives such as coaching, mentoring, workshops, job fairs, community meets and more.

What’s more, 2000 corporates use Sheroes to connect with women professionals.

  1. Mausumi Acharyya – Advenio
Image Credit – Entrepreneur

A Ph.D in Computer Science from the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, Mausumi is the Founder, CEO and Technology Head for Advenio TechnoSys.

In 2010, she developed an AI-based, computer-aided diagnostic platform to detect retinal abnormalities, tuberculosis, among others. Advenio endeavours to help physicians and radiologists with this technology to reduce errors and encourage the concept of early-screening.

In 2016, Advenio also received a USD 100,000 funding from Kstart Capital.

  1. Richa Kar – Zivame
Image Credit – First Post

A graduate of BITS Piliani and Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies, Richa discovered that lingerie is really an underserved market in India, with each step of the buying process as uncomfortable as the next.

Thus, came to the fore Zivame, a real game changer of the industry. She started the brand in 2011 with Rs 35 lakhs (from her savings and contributions from friends and family) and since then has raised $48 million from investors.

Richa believes that funding has helped them strengthen Zivame’s private labels Pen.ny and Cou Cou so that they now contribute to 60% of their revenues.

Lingerie is a 12,000-crore market in India and Zivame has clearly been in a disrupter by entering the online space.

What’s more, they have also been the first in the country to come up with a dedicated lingerie app.

  1. Suchita Salwan – Little Black Book
Image Credit – Inc42

Little Black Book or LBB is the go to app, website and social media page for destination discoveries. It literally shares everything interesting from a concert, food festival, a sale or even little nuggets of information you did not know about your own city.

From a community in 2012, LBB has transformed into a full-fledged business with 2 million monthly users and 30,000 businesses that leverage the platform. The brand’s growth is over 80% organic and everyone from a luxury hotel to a Zumba class has been featured and benefitted from it.

Suchita, founder and CEO of LBB was formerly with BBC and extends her love for finding out new aspects of a city to the platform.

LBB has raised $2.5 million from investors, is present in Delhi-NCR, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai, Pune, Goa, Kolkata and Hyderabad and plans to go global are in the pipeline.

On a more personal note, I would also like to mention Aparna Chugh, a close friend, founder of multiple start-ups and a serial entrepreneur I admire immensely. One of the finest in the business I know who runs the show single-handedly, right from ideation to market release. Watch this space for more as I soon unravel her success story here!

According to a study by McKinsey, India’s GDP could increase between 16-60% in 2025 if more women participated in the workforce and contributed to the country’s economic growth.

Hilary Clinton once said, “Women are the largest untapped reservoir of talent in the world.” I couldn’t agree more with this statement and my own census has indicated that 40% of the start-ups that will make their debut in 2018-19 will be led by women.

What’s more encouraging is that in 2017-18 alone has seen 368 patents filed by women.

So if you know women around you, family or friends, who would like to start their own venture, all you have to do is support them and encourage them to aim higher. You never know, they could be the next big thing!

About the author

Kalyan Gali

A technology evangelist who has played the role of virtual CTO of over a dozen tech start-ups globally, with several of them now becoming renowned names in their verticals. I’m a digital professional, leader and strategist. Most of my colleagues and gurus say am expert in business communications, product management, User product design, startup strategies, creative direction and process design.

I love making new networks or professional tie-ups. You can reach out to me if you want to talk numbers, technology, usability or movies.


  • Very well said. I am sure there are many many more unsung hero’s (sorry heroine’s) maybe not so well qualified yet who have proved to be very very successful in their own small way.

  • Sir, this is not so easily possible without support from people like you, who can understand the entire system. There are many challenges in today’s new companies led by women. The one who stood firm will enter the new list in 2019. Great read, thanks

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