4 Successful South Asian Women-led Startup Stories
Earlier this week Bumble became a public company, and the app’s CEO and founder, Whitney Wolfe Herd, became America’s youngest billionaire. When the news broke, thousands of people flocked to social media to share her story. Whilst my LinkedIn was being spammed with various updates, the following statistic came up - "Bumble is one of 20 women-led companies to have ever gone public." While it's a celebratory moment, it's also a reminder that work still needs to be done to level playing the field.
In the last century, women have made an enormous effort to be present on the map of success when it comes to entrepreneurship. We still in a world where women have to work twice as hard as men ( let’s be honest -it's probably more if you’re a WOC ) to be thought half as good. This week’s issue will highlight the stories of four successful South Asian women-led startups:
Niramai is a Bengaluru-based health-tech startup founded by Geetha Manjunath. The pioneering startup developed a novel breast cancer screening solution that uses machine learning. The aim is to replace the existing method, called mammography, as it is expensive and requires highly-trained radiographers. Before founding Niramai, Geeta worked closely with multinational companies on using AI in different sectors like healthcare and transport. After her close relatives had died from breast cancer, she decided to do more research on cancer. Today Niramai may have raised $12.5 million in funding, but it wasn’t all smooth-sailing says Geeta in this interview , “I was the only woman in most teams in the early days. And even if I were part of the senior teams, my ideas weren’t accepted easily. There definitely is a pushback. I would work nights to build a prototype just for a basic idea to show that my idea had weight and isn’t flimsy. But when a man presented the idea, it didn’t need any kind of proof to be accepted. I learned very early on that I had to put double the efforts.”
As the name suggests, TrashIt is a startup founded by Anusha Fatima that focuses on garbage disposal programs in Pakistan. The idea was conceived at a startup competition when Anusha’s team pitched how they wanted to efficiently process organic waste and make premium compost from it for healthier soil. Today the early-stage startup has processed over 115,000 kilos of organic waste into compost and is paving the way in making Karachi’s waste disposal practices more sustainable and ethical.
Ivy Huq Russel founded Maya back in 2011 as a blog for mothers in Bangladesh. By sharing her journey online she experienced firsthand the challenges women in her home country face when trying to access to medical information and advice. Ivy then rebranded Maya to provide trustworthy health information, however, she realized women needed more support. After partnering with a Bangladeshi NGO, called BRAC, the Maya app was born - an anonymous wellbeing messaging service that seamlessly connects users to vetted and distributed on-demand experts when they are looking for advice. Before founding her start-up Ivy majored in Finance and Economics at Warwick Business School and worked as an Investment Banker for several leading firms. Early February, it was announced that the start received $2.2 million in seed funding, which is the largest amount of capital raised by a Bangladeshi health tech startup.
Embibe was founded because of Aditi Avasthi’s (CEO & Founder) passion for improving the state of education in India. The startup hosts an AI-powered platform that allows students to prep for some of the most competitive exams and gives them personalized feedback. Embibe employees first started with a pilot project in rural area of Rajasthan. After the project, the students were later able to excel in the most competitive entrance exams, which led to further development of the app. The limitations in Aditi's personal education experience motivated her to address the issue of sub-standardized, comprehensive education methods in India. As a result the ed-tech venture is trying to level the playing field and give every student has equal chances of getting selected in an exam, regardless of their academic background.
Here's to hoping the next women-led company to ever go public is a South Asian on the way!