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Friday December 9th, 2022

East or West, women-headed startups face obstacles in a man’s world

ECONOMYNEXT – Women entrepreneurs face different challenges and more obstacles than their male counterparts, when breaking into the world of business a webinar that brought together three women, who head startups in India and Germany heard.

Yet, the three panelists were in agreement that being resilient and pushing against those obstacles is the way to go about making a dent in what is predominantly a man’s world.

It is about adopting a two-way system explained Shika Shah, Founder and CEO of ALTMAT, India. One is the ‘structure and mechanism to weaken the glass ceiling, and the other is giving more power to the women trying to break it. Either way, it will make a change.’

Elly Oldenburg, Manager of DEI in Germany while stating that women entrepreneurs in her country have better access to capital and expert advice, pointed out that even so, ‘women get more questions about how they can manage risk.’ This is why there should be more stories about successful women, she added.

The webinar held on November 9 and titled ‘Women Startups: Breaking the Glass Ceiling’ to mark India Week Hamburg, was organized by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF) South Asia along with the German Indian startup Exchange program (GINSEP) and the German Asia-Pacific Business Association.

The speakers at the session were Shah, Oldenburg and, Sowmya Thyagarajan, Co-Founder/CEO of Foviatech GmbH, who straddles both countries. Julian Zix, Project Lead GINSEP at German Startups Association, Berlin, Germany, moderated the session.

Women entrepreneurs prefer businesses in the Health and Green economies, Zix said. In both India and Germany women branching out into their businesses face similar obstacles, particularly when seeking funding, he added “It is with the Angel funders that women face issues with less than 5.2 percent of them getting funding.”

He said there were around 35,000 startups headed by women in India and around 9,000 in Germany. “In both countries, the percentage of women entrepreneurs is less than 20 percent compared to men with 15 percent in India and 17.7 percent in Germany.”

Delivering the opening remarks at the webinar, Consul General for India in Hamburg John H Roulngul said his country was working on creating funds and a conducive ecosystem for startups. “Startup India” is the third-largest such ecosystem in the world with an estimated value of Euro 1.5 billion.

He pointed out that men remain dominant in the start-up area and there has been only a 1 percentage increase in the number of women entering this field in the past decade. “Women also tend to go into Social Entrepreneurship or ventures which are science-based,” he said.

Despite their lower numbers,there were notable successes. He pointed to Anisha Singh who created and heads Mydala which is one of the biggest companies doing local transactions in India. The company has 38 million registered users.

Thyagarajan, whose company is engaged in transforming healthcare and transportation through smart automation and digitization programs explained that she meets the challenges by using her “Indian brain and Indian genes and my German training and I try to balance the two.

I don’t think of people as men or women, I go with my own judgment of the situation.” Quoting Friedrich Naumann, she added ‘“if we want to be truly Liberal then we must free ourselves.”

Asked whether she has faced bias when dealing with investors she says there is no gender bias as such.

“It all depends on our product. There are so many other products out there and it all depends on the product I am selling.” But, she acknowledges male investors do direct more difficult questions to women.

Thyagarajan’s family was not into business. Her father was a banker her mother was self-employed and a homemaker. It is the latter she credits for both inspiring her and providing the seed money for her enterprise.

Being in Germany, she also has support from organizations such as the German Asia-PacificBusiness Association (OAV) as well as friends and family. “There’s one investor who is in his ‘seventies and is in a wheelchair.”

Oldenburg who switched from working full-time at Google to a part-time position to pursue her dream of running a business is a co-founder of ‘encourageventures’ that supports a network of 59 women find funding and business opportunities. Through her other business DEI, she trains those who want to become entrepreneurs.

Her decision to be less involved in the safe corporate world was met with queries she says. She spent three years trying out different options- coaching, mentoring, and as a consultant to startups, when she decided to move out of being fully engaged in the corporate world, Oldenburg explained.

But that gave the opportunity to shake things up a bit from within and outside the corporate world, she added.

There must, she said be more women in leadership roles, adding that the challenges faced by women and other marginalized groups are the same. When women make a pitch for a startup the questions posed are different from those asked of the men.

It is an ‘ unconsciousbias’ Oldenburg claims, pointing out that women are asked about the risks involved and about managing costs, men are asked about the market for their products. Therefore, it is necessary to have more objectivity when deciding who should receive funding.

Investors will listen to a presentation by a woman entrepreneur and then ask if they are sure, says Shah, who points out that even if the first questions are weird, women need to be firm and unfazed when responding.

Though hailing from a business family, Shah says she was the first woman in her extended family to become an entrepreneur. Her family is in the recycling business.

It is trying, Shah, says to be asked whether she is the sole owner of her companyand whether the actual owner is her father. But she uses such instances to sharpen her negotiating skills and turn the situation to her advantage.

It is best to avoid ranting about the unfairness of it all and not let it distract from the purpose.If the first attempt at obtaining funding fails, women must go back and show their achievements she explains. When the investor is shown that a, b and c have been achieved, that is displaying “soft power’, because the other side would not expect you to achieve that.

Shah, whose enterprise is engaged in producing a cotton like material out of plant waste for clothes, upholstery for vehicles, shoes etc. also says that depending on the culture, women entrepreneurs face different challenges. In developing countries, a woman’s success is measured by her ability of being a ‘good wife and mother.’

Describing why she chose this particular field, Shah says during her undergraduate studies in India, she realized that the textile supply chain is an extremely polluted industry.

Studying for her Master’s in the United States, she had been assigned a project involving agriculture, prompting her to consider using agricultural waste to produce textiles. Most are unaware she says that clothes contain plastic and polyester. Her company uses stems and leaves of agricultural crops to produce the cotton-like substance to be used in the textile and other industries.

Thyagarajan advises women venturing into the business world to change their mindset and to move away from being low-risk-takers, while Shah believes that to succeed, it is best to decide which battles should be fought. Getting distracted by the unfair practices of society will not help therefore, women must pick which battles they must fight.

The passion to change the world requires courage and support from all quarters says Oldenburg; ‘It takes a village to raise a child, and it is the same with a startup- a network of women supporting women to change structures, mindsets and to break the ceiling.

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Sri Lanka shares fall on profit taking after nine sessions

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka shares slipped on Friday after gaining for nine straight sessions reverting from its highest gain in more than seven weeks on profit taking, brokers said.

“Bourse regressed to red ending the 9-day winning streak as investors resorted to book profits in blue chip counters,” First Capital Market Research said in it’s daily note.

The main All Share Price Index (ASPI) closed 0.54 percent or 47.84 points lower at 8,843.90.

The market witnessed a turnover of 1.6 billion rupees, lower than this year’s daily average turnover of 2.9 billion rupees.

The market saw a net foreign inflow of 1 million rupees. The total net foreign inflow stood at 22 billion rupees so far for this year.

The Paris Club group of creditor nations has proposed a 10-year debt moratorium on Sri Lankan debt and 15 years of debt restructuring as a formula to resolve the island nation’s prevailing currency crisis.

The government is in discussions with Asian Development Bank (ADB) and World Bank to get loans of 1.9 billion US dollars after a reform program with the International Monetary Fund is approved.

A policy loan now being discussed with the World Bank may bring around 700 million US dollars, Coomaraswamy told a business forum organized by CT CLSA Securities, a Colombo-based brokerage.

The Asian Development Bank may also give around 1.2 billion US dollars most of which will be budget support, he said.

In the last few sessions, market gained after the Central bank governor said interest rates should eventually ease despite the fears of a domestic debt restructuring as inflation falls, increased liquidity in dollar markets, and the inter-bank liquidity improves.

The more liquid index S&P SL20 closed 0.59 percent or 16.77 points lower at 2,827.72.

So far in December ASPI gained 2.2 percent.

The ASPI gained 0.5 percent in November after losing 13.4 percent in October.

It has lost 27.6 percent year-to-date after being one of the world’s best stock markets with an 80 percent return last year when large volumes of money were printed.

John Keells Holdings pulled the index down to close at 1.5 percent lower at 147 rupees.

Aitken Spence lost 2.0 percent to close at 141 rupees and Commercial Bank closed 1.4 percent down at 50.50 rupees a share. (Colombo/Dec09/2022)


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Sri Lanka bond yields end higher, kerb dollar Rs370/371

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka bonds yields ended up and the T-bills eased on active trade on Friday, dealers said.

The US dollar was 370/371 rupees in the kerb.

“The bond rates went up, however more interest was seen in the short term bills by the investors” dealers said.

A bond maturing on 01.05.2024 closed at 31.90/32.20 percent on Friday, up from 31.25/70 percent at Thursday’s close.

A bond maturing on 15.05.2026 closed at 30.30/31.30 percent steady from 30.30/31.00 percent.

The three-month T-bills closed at 30.75/31.30 percent, down from 32.00/32.25 percent.

The Central Bank’s guidance peg for interbank transactions was at 363.18 rupees against the US dollar unchanged.

Commercial banks offered dollars for telegraphic transfers between 371.78 and 372.00 for small transactions, data showed.

Buying rates are between 361.78 – 362.00 rupees. (Colombo/Dec 09/2022)

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Foreign minister, US ambassador discuss future assistance to crisis-hit Sri Lanka

ECONOMYNEXT — In a meeting in Colombo, Sri Lanka Foreign Minister Ali Sabry and US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung discussed ways in which the United States can continue to support Sri Lanka going forward, the Ambassador said.

Chung tweeted Friday December 09 afternoon that the two officials had reflected on the “twists and turns” of 2022, at the meeting.

Minister Sabry was recently in Washington D.C. where he US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

A foreign ministry statement said the two officials held productive discussions at the Department of State on December 02 on further elevating bilateral relations in diverse spheres, including the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations which will be marked in 2023.

Incidentally, Sri Lanka also celebrates the 75th anniversary of its independence from the British in 2023, and President Ranil Wickremesinghe has given himself and all parties that represent parliament a deadline to find a permanent solution to Sri Lanka’s decades-long ethnic issue.

The US has been vocal about Sri Lanka addressing concerns about its human rights record since the end of the civil war in 2009 and was a sponsor of the latest resolution on Sri Lanka passed by the United Nations Human Rights Council. Unlike previous resolutions, this year’s iteration makes specific reference to the country’s prevailing currency crisis and calls for investigations on corruption allegations.

In the lead up to the UNHRC sessions in Geneva, Minister Sabry Sri Lanka’s government under then new president Wickremesinghe does not want any confrontation with any international partner but will oppose any anti-constitutional move forced upon the country.

On the eve of the sessions on October 06, Sabry said countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, who led the UNHRC core group on Sri Lanka, are greatly influenced by domestic-level lobbying by pressure groups from the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora.

These pronouncements notwithstanding, the Wickremesnghe government has been making inroads to the West as well as India and Japan, eager to obtain their assistance in seeing Sri Lanka through the ongoing crisis.

The island nation has entered into a preliminary agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for an extended fund facility of 2.9 billion dollars to be disbursed over a period of four years, subject to a successful debt restructure programme and structural reforms.

Much depends on whether or not China agrees to restructure Sri Lanka’s 7.4 billion dollar outstanding debt to the emerging superpower. Beijing’s apparent hesitance to go for a swift restructure prompted Tamil National Alliance MP Shanakiyan Rasamanickam to warn of possible “go home, China” protests in Colombo, similar to the wave of protests that forced the exit of former pro-China President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The TNA will be a key player in upcoming talks with the Wickremesinghe government on a solution to Sri Lanka’s ethnic issue. (Colombo/Dec09/2022)

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