Women-led startups face hurdles

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LAHORE: Pakistan’s technology-led female entrepreneurs are apparently managing to prove their abilities that they can successfully run a startup business in the traditional male-dominated society.

Recent years in this regard were prolific, especially the Covid-19 period, when lots of startups emerged in Pakistan. Though much of these startups collapsed due to poor business models, the bright side of that boom was the space female entrepreneurs took by showing their commitment to the businesses.

The not-so-bright side of this development is that no local financial institution, angel investor or non-profit organisation (NGO) took the initiative of introducing a female-led complete training programme, with the facility of getting suitable grants for the aspiring female entrepreneurs. Standard Chartered Bank (SCB) is the first bank which initiated such a programme back in 2019.

“The seriousness and exposure of women running a startup in investors’ mind is a big hurdle in Pakistan,” said Ziana Sheikh, Founder and CEO of Bechlo.pk.

Talking to Daily City News, she said that still it is more difficult for females to secure funding as a lot of stigmas are attached with this gender.

Male founders may secure funding in six months while a female needs at least 18 months to prove that she is equally capable of managing the startup business.

“Now, there is improvement coming and lots of programmes focusing on female-led startups are being initiated, motivating existing and upcoming female entrepreneurs,” she added.

Sheikh is one of those females who have been trained and later being provided with a grant from the bank. Since the programme’s inception in 2019, more than 1,700 applications have been received till 2022 from across 60 cities.

Of these, 371 applications were taken into consideration for pitching before a screening journey. Till 2022, the “Women in Tech” portfolio has raised $16 million, out of which Rs30 million have been awarded as grant.

“We are aiming to focus on global societal issues where we can play a role and make a difference,” said SCB Pakistan CEO Rehan Sheikh.

He added that social and economic inequality limits individuals and collective potential, stifles growth and can create social disharmony. “Our bank’s flagship entrepreneurship programme “Women in Tech” is curated with the objective of lifting participation of women by providing opportunities and furthering financial inclusion.”

The result of these developments is becoming prominent and the female students looking to enter the startup industry have some role models to follow.

“We are now in a much better position, as now we do have women role models, with great stories of breaking barriers, raising investments, and much more,” said Anusha Fatima, Co-founder of Trashit.pk.

This, she said, is bringing more and more females in Pakistan’s startup industry and one can now find more founders and workers of this gender.

“Actually, women were always there in business but with little presence, but now they are coming forward and are becoming more visible,” she added.

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