Earlier this year the IEEE Kerala Section, in India, and its IEEE Women in Engineering chapter launched an initiative to encourage women in India to launch technology start-ups. The program, whose applicants need not be IEEE members, will receive the benefit of the experience of the section’s 5500 members—the fourth-largest IEEE section in Region 10 (Asia and Pacific). It will provide technical expertise and business experience and mentor the women. Section members will also help arrange for seed funding, although the section itself will not provide funds directly.
Few women in Kerala are entrepreneurs. There are many reasons for this, according to Sarada Jayakrishnan, chair of the section’s WIE affinity group. “Many women who want to start their own businesses lack the support they need to do so,” she says. She says family responsibilities, a cultural aversion to risk, the social stigma associated with working women, and a male-dominated culture have prevented most women in the area from entering the entrepreneurial world.
This need not be the case, Jayakrishnan says. “With support and guidance, women are capable of converting their ideas into new business ventures,” she says. The section hopes the program will provide role models and demonstrate that entrepreneurship is not just a “man’s world.” By supporting the first few start-ups, she adds, it hopes other women will follow their lead and “come forward with bright ideas that can also be turned into business opportunities.”
R. Srinivasan, chair of the IEEE Kerala Section, says the start-up program could help bring economic opportunities to women throughout the state, even those who do not live in areas with many job opportunities: “Women are a hidden resource for start-ups in Kerala because there are many who are unable to go to the metros to work. These start-ups will go a long way to tap into this resource.”
Jayakrishnan points out that there are many well-trained but currently unemployed or underemployed women who could become a potential pool of full- or part-time employees for the start-ups. “There are a huge number of educated housewives, retired professionals, and students whose capabilities can be tapped,” she says.
Establishing new start-ups may also help show the women currently studying engineering in Kerala that they can create job opportunities at home instead of moving elsewhere, as many graduates do. “Women make up more than 50 percent of the students in our engineering colleges,” Jayakrishnan says.
Applicants to the program can come from anywhere in India. The only criteria are that the owners must be women. More information on the program will be available soon at the IEEE Kerala Section website, which will also list the first start-ups chosen.