No, this is not another round-up for a momentous Women’s Day. We don’t need a designated day to celebrate women… especially these women!
Women who have challenged every stereotypical notion.
Women who have pioneered the art of making a mark wherever they go.
Women who have motivated and inspired the heart of many.
Today, 20% of all enterprises in India are owned by women. As the nation is still trying hard to transform its economic and social development status through women-owned businesses, a few female dynamos have ascended to fame with their stellar entrepreneurship skills. From image consulting, e-commerce, and science to technology, entertainment, and fashion, women entrepreneurs in India have been smashing glass ceilings and inspiring the rest of us each day to take charge of our careers and excel at whatever we choose to do.
The history of courageous female entrepreneursin India started quite early with Kalpana Saroj. Known as India’s first female entrepreneur and the original “Slumdog Millionaire”, Kalpana Saroj bought the distressed assets of Kamani Tubes Company and steered the company back to profitability like a boss back in 2001. From being an underprivilegedchild bride to becoming a Padma Shri award winner in 2013, Kalpana is the perfect example of an inspirational conversation starter.
So, if you have constantly been doubting your capabilities of commencing a new business and sticking around to lead it to success, here’s a merit list of 15 motivational Indian women entrepreneurs across industries that will give you career goals like no other:
Suman Agarwal Co-founder & Director of Image Consulting Business Institute
The Image Consulting Business Institute (ICBI) is the brainchild of an exemplary Indian businesswoman – Suman Agarwal. At the young age of 18, Suman decided to pack her bags, leave her comfort zone and live her life on her own terms. She says, “I was the first girl in my family to step out and be on my own. I am very intuitive, and I follow my intuition very religiously.” She has risen high above her struggles to become the successful businesswoman that she is today. At the age of 20, when women usually make career decisions, Suman was deciding what to name her daughter.
Surprisingly enough, Suman is a college dropout, but because of her unwavering ambition and competitive attitude, she got an opportunity at Jet Airways in 1996 and later became the customer service and grooming standards manager at another large training company. But after working hard for many years trying to win the rat race, she decidedto start something of her own. After in-depth research, she incubatedICBI in 2009 to focus on soft skills in a country where hard skills were always given more importance.
In 2011, she became the senior-most image consultant in the Indian sub-continent and one of the most famous female entrepreneurs after receiving the Image Master award from the Federation of Image Professional International, UK. Today, along with being the President of the Image Management Professional Association (IMPA). Suman has led ICBI to become one of the leading brands for training and certifying people to become Image Consultants and Soft Skills Trainers.Read More
Falguni Nayar Founder and CEO of Nykaa
The year 2021 turned Falguni Nayar into India’s most prominent self-made female billionaire, and her journey to it is no less than incredible. She took the bold step of leaving a 20-year illustrious career as the Managing Director of Kotak Mahindra Capital Co. to start from scratch when she was just shy of turning 50. But graduating from IIM Ahmedabad and seeing her father run a small bearings business as she grew up, she just knew that she had it in her to become a successful woman in business. So, age didn’t matter to her.
When Nykaa made its debut in 2012, the beauty industry was fragmented. But the meteoric rise of Nykaa under Falguni’s management gave everyone a one-stop beauty shop with affordable as well as luxury brands, men’s beauty products, cruelty-free beauty products, informative content – online and offline all under one ambit.
At the listing ceremony of Nykaa’s IPO (Initial Public Offering), Falguni said, “To everyone across India who ever had a dream, especially women with a dream, I hope the Nykaa journey—an Indian-born, Indian-owned and Indian-managed dream come true—can inspire each of you to be the Nykaa of your lives.” With her inspiring entrepreneurial journey, Falguni is now pushing more women to rise to positions of authority and equality.Read More
Kiran Mazumdar ShawChairperson and Managing Director of Biocon Ltd.
Cracking the prescription for global recognition, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw is the first-ever self-made female billionaire and a successful businesswoman in India. She is widely known as one of the most influential personalities in the field of biotechnology. But her entrepreneurial journey was not an easy one.
You’d be surprised to know that Kiran actually has a Master’s Degree in Malting and Brewing from Melbourne. Unfortunately, she returned home to gender-biased rejectionsthat prevented her from becoming a master brewer. But that did not stop this fiery then 25-year-old woman.
Kiran started Biocon India in 1878 out of a garage in her Bangalore house with a seed capital of Rs. 10,000.Moreover, the country’s poor infrastructure and technological challenges made it difficult for her to build a biotech business. Kudos to her ‘can’t stop, won’t stop’ attitude and purpose of putting India on the global map of biopharmaceuticals; Kiran spearheaded the transformation of Biocon from being an enzyme-producing company to becoming a leading, fully integrated biopharma company.
“There was this challenge thrown to me by a very large multinational pharmaceutical company that India would never be able to produce a biologic product that can pass muster in the western world. And that actually fired me up to make sure that I proved them wrong.”
In 2019, Kiran was named the 65th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes. In 2004, she established Biocon Foundation to give back to society. Known for her philanthropic efforts, she was awarded the Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan in 1989 and 2005.Read More
Indra Nooyi CEO of Pepsico (past), Board of Directors – Amazon and Others
Indra Nooyi is one of the most successful women entrepreneurs in India. She has been instrumental in the growth and expansion of Pepsico as its first female CEO and chairperson until 2019. Her entrepreneurial stints didn’t end there. Today, she serves on the boards of Amazon, Philips, and the International Cricket Council (ICC).
In 2014, Nooyi ranked #13 on Forbes list of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women and jumped to #2 in 2017! Indra Nooyi is the epitome of a successful Indian businesswoman that inspires others to carve their own path in their career.
While she was in Pepsico, Indra also focused on environmental concerns and sustainability, water conservation, switching to renewable sources of energy, and redesigning packaging to reduce waste. During her tenure, the company’s sales grew by 80%.
While people know all about her business leadership and recognitions, what is interesting to note is that Indra Nooyi also used to play cricket in India and was a guitarist in an all-girl rock band. #SmashingGlassCeilingsRead More
Richa KarFounder and CEO of Zivame
In her earlier years, when Richa was working for Spencers and SAP, she meta client who was related to Victoria’s Secret. Her interaction and experience with this client made Richa realize the vexing reality of online lingerie shopping and had the eureka moment of opening an online store for the same.
Richa did not get much support from her parents as they felt embarrassed about her idea. But she started her enterprise in a small office space in 2011 and worked hard towards her dream irrespective of people making fun of her idea. Richa was determined, and within three years of the launch, Zivame grew to a 200-member strong team and created anunmatchable niche for itself. Thus, she became a famous modern female entrepreneur in India that many women aspire to be today.Read More
Sudha Murty Teacher, Chairperson of The Infosys Foundation
Sudha chose to become anelectronicsengineer at a time when it was considered to be a ‘male-dominant career. Soon, TELCO (now Tata Motors) hired her as its first-ever woman engineer. She became a symbol against gender-biased professions and forced many other companies to rethink the diversity in their workforce.
The situations she faced in her engineering college sowed the seeds of social service early on. There were no toilets for women in her college as the course was male-dominant. So, years later, through the Gates Foundation, she built 16,000 toilets in places that were least accessible. Soon, she became the chairperson of the Infosys Foundation and went on to do everything she could for society. Be it constructing libraries, healthcare, women empowerment, or poverty alleviation, Sudha never thought of taking a step back from social service. And what’s more, she wrote books about her real-life incidents like teaching her grandmother to read, helping women stranded in the UAE, and her rescue work with Devadasis in Karnataka.
From being a bright student to being a supportive wife, Sudha Murty has proved that women are no less capable than men in this testosterone-drenched world.Read More
Priyanka ChopraActress, Film Producer, Restaurant and Haircare Brand Owner
Her entrepreneurial journey started with her own production house, Purple Pebble Pictures, which focuses on regional movies. From opening her own restaurant called ‘Sona’ in New York in 2021 to launching a sustainable haircare brand ‘Anomaly’, Priyanka seems to be on an entrepreneurial streak.
PC also released her book ‘Unfinished’ in 2020, which is a memoir of her journey from Bollywood to Hollywood.
With each of her achievements, Priyanka Chopra has shown that no matter what you dream, you can achieve it by all means. While challenging stereotypes built around women entrepreneurs, she said, “Ambition is a word associated with women negatively. People say she’s too ambitious. Why is that a bad thing?”Read More
Faye D'Souza Independent Indian Journalist
Most of the millennials today get their daily news bytes from Instagram, thanks to Faye D’Souza. Bringing reliable and unadulterated news to our screens, Faye D’Souza is a female entrepreneur that needs no introduction. No Indian journalist has uncluttered news the way she has. Working without a media team and spreading news information, Faye has taken it upon herself to reclaim the meaning of news by focusing on issues that matter and giving preference to information over opinion.
Faye started her journalistic career with All India Radio while she was still a student. She later moved on to reporting about finance and joined the Times Network in 2008, followed by becoming the executive editor at Mirror Now.
When asked why did she leave a reputable job at Mirror Now in 2019 to become an independent journalist, Faye said, “I wanted the independence to be able to choose what I believe is right.” It is worth noting that she did not start her own venture until 2020 because of anxiety attacks and mild depression that she suffered after leaving a long, stable career. But she went to therapy, faced her fears, put it together, and started delivering news her way on her Instagram channel.
Faye aims not just to disrupt but also to destroy the dignity-lacking news formats that currently exist because she believes that they are dangerous for our democracy.Read More
Shradha Sharma Founder of YourStory Media Pvt. Ltd.
After completing her Masters in History, Shradha went on to study Design Management from MICA, Ahmedabad. While working as a journalist at CNBC TV18, she realized her interest in startup companies to write great stories about successful entrepreneurs on her blog. She gradually converted her blog to a website which gained many eyeballs. Shradha did not have any business model, just remarkable content about people doing extraordinary things worldwide that needed to be discovered.
Today, YourStory has published over 40,000 stories of entrepreneurs and has received investments from the likes of Ratan Tata, T.V Mohandas Pai, and Vani Kola.
In a podcast called ‘Inner Reels’, Shradha revealed how difficult it was for a small-town Patna girl to move to a big city. “People used to make fun of me due to the way I speak, the Hindi I spoke.” She has faced many judgements during her career, but according to Shradha, she has overcome her need for validation and approval. She encourages women to embrace and accept the challenges of being a woman entrepreneur and make the changes they wish to see in the world.Read More
Vandana Luthra Founder of VLCC
Vandana Luthra is one of the most successful Indian businesswomen. She was ranked #26 in Forbes Asia list 2016 of 50 Power Businesswomen.
She set up the first VLCC centre in New Delhi in 1989 with the help of a bank loan. There were hardly any women entrepreneurs back then, and the environment was highly sceptical of any woman who dared to be one. But she believed in her idea and was determined to scale it up.
Today, VLCC has its operations in 326 locations across 13 countries and employs over 4,000 people. It also manufactures and markets more than 170 beauty products. After Vandana became the chairperson of BWSSC, the VLCC Institute of Nutrition and Beauty has become one of the largest educational platformstraining more than 11,000 students annually.
In 2013, Vandana was awarded by Padma Shri for her contribution to trade and industry. She believes that women have exceptional business abilities and can be anything they want to be.Read More
Ritu Kumar Fashion Designer
In the 1960s, when she found a small colony of unemployed hand block printers in a small village in West Bengal, the thought of building an enterprise sparked in her mind. She got beautifully printed sarees from these skilled hand block printers,which she popularized by continuously visiting exhibitions and fares. In the early 70s, she discovered the embroiderers of Ranihatis, which is now popularly known as Zardosi.
With a focus on designing authentic handmade evening wear and Indian bridal wear, Ritu Kumar soon opened numerous stores in different states in India. She launched her brand ‘Label’ in partnership with her son, Amrish Kumar, in 2002. Later she launched other brands – Ri, Aarke, and Home.
Her clothes are now worn by celebrities like Princess Diana, Priyanka Chopra, Madhuri Dixit Nene, and many more. To keep up with the digital world, she built her website, which attracted over 18.5 lakh users in 2020.
NIFT has awarded Ritu Kumar the Lifetime Achievement award for her undying efforts to alleviate the Indian fashion industry.
Today, a lehenga designed by Ritu Kumar is the dream of many Indian brides.Read More
Yasmin Karachiwala Fitness Trainer, Owner of The Body Image Studio
One day, Yasmin’s gym instructor asked her to cover for him and manage a fitness programme for othersas he got ill. Realizing that this could be the first step towards building her career, she put her heart, soul, and mind towards utilizing the opportunity.
Unlike other female gym trainers, she wanted to get out in the world and be the best. So, she packed her bags with a single dream—a dream of getting a group fitness trainer certificate from the American Council on Exercise (ACE). After training hard for years, she returned to India and started her own fitness centre named’Yasmin’s Body Image Studio’ with great ardour. Although she began training people from her family and friends circle, the turning point was when Katrina Kaif approached her to be her personal trainer and help her look the part for her movie ‘EkTha Tiger’. Yasmin took the challenge head-on and nailed it.
Yasmin went on to become the first-ever Pilates instructor in India. Today she has expanded her business overseas in countries like USA and Bangladesh and has also trained sports stars like Zaheer Khan.Read More
Divya Gokulnath Co-founder of BYJU's
After completing her graduation in Bangalore, Divya started taking tuitions from Byju Raveendran (now her husband) to prep for GREs. She would ask many unexpected but sensible questions during the classes, which is why Byju encouraged her to become a teacher. So, she began teaching Maths, English, and Logical Reasoning in 2008 when she was just 21. During one of her initial teaching days, she had to teach a class of 100 students who were only a couple of years younger than her. She told Fortune India, “I had to wear a saree to the class to look mature!”
In 2011, Divya co-founded Byju’s with her husband. Starting with offering in-person education, Byju launched an online app with video lessons in 2015, where Divya appeared as a teacher.
It is worth knowing that she created a successful business for herself that created 12,000 teaching jobs – all women – giving lessons from India to the world.
The company witnessed exponential growth during the pandemic when it provided free access and educated 70 million students by September 2020.
To budding women entrepreneurs, she says: “There are very few women entrepreneurs, and wherever you are today is a great opportunity to inspire many more women to look up to you and be like you.”Read More
Vani Kola Founder and Managing Director of Kalaari Capital
Vani Kola is an Indian Venture Capitalist and a famous female entrepreneur. In 2014, Fortune India listed her as one of the most powerful women in the Indian business.
Vani had a 22-year career in Silicon Valley. After working in the technology sector for nearly 12 years, she started her serial entrepreneurial journey. RightWorks, an e-procurement company, was her first business venture in 1996. After selling it in 2001, she founded NthOrbit in San Jose, a part of which was purchased by PepsiCo in 2005.
Vani had a zest to return to India and work with young entrepreneurs. She started researching and studying the Indian investment market in 2006. After her research, she launched NEA Indo-US Venture Partners in collaboration with the former chief of Intel Capital India. The same was rebranded as Kalaari Capital in 2011 for which she raised $440 million making it the second-largest company in India by assets and the biggest company being run by a woman.
Vani’s business acumen is truly unique and she is fondly known as the mother of Venture Capital Investing in India today.
But what also inspires us is her dedication towards society and the environment. Vani helps people transform themselves through yoga and meditation at the Heartfulness Institute. What’s more, all that produce in her kitchen comes from her own sustainable grown garden.
Being the ambitious woman that she is, Vani has also climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in the 2000s.Read More
Mehak Sagar Co-founder of WedMeGood
At a time when she was planning her own wedding in a new city, she wrote about how difficult it was for her to find a wedding venue, photographer, and makeup artist on her blog. This blog piece started getting unexpected traction. People read it and reacted with similar sentiments. This got her thinking that very few online websites in India help brides prepare for their wedding. Where many people would see a problem, Mehak saw a crystal-clear business opportunity.
Mehak left her full-time job to start WedMeGood in 2014. The challenge came when she realized that she didn’t have sufficient knowledge about running a company, digital marketing, technology, and social media. But that did not dishearten her creative soul. She learned everything from the ground level!
“In a startup, there are a million roadblocks that knock you down. Its drive and perseverance that makes you get up, dust off your jeans and drive with full force ahead.” – Mehak Sagar
As a female entrepreneur, Mehak is an inspiration to all those women who second-guess themselves and feel anxious while changing their careers.Read More