On Tuesday, an audience gathered inside Sydney’s Town Hall to hear from Daniel Fah, the co-founder and chair of the Virangana Project, which aims to connect disruptive female entrepreneurs seeking to establish themselves in the startup economy with mentors, business services and potential investors in Australia.
Fah answered questions posted via Twitter from the crowd and the first got straight to the point.
“Why did your company decide to only focus on Indian women?”
Fah, who is also the managing director of Sydney-based international business advisors, CEO Strategic, the group that launched the project in June last year, clasped his hands together and smiled faintly before explaining.
They decided to concentrate their efforts on Indian women for a few reasons. One was the fact the #MeToo movement had become such a big phenomenon in India last year, in which Indian survivors of sexual assault began sharing long ignored or unreported instances of abuse.
Fah said he and his team saw an opportunity to mobilise the support women were receiving and wanted to foster corporate goodwill between India and Australia.
The session was part of the Future Asia Business Summit, which the City of Sydney hosted over two days. Its theme was ‘Sydney thriving in a smart Asian century’ and was aimed at building international connections between Sydney and Asian cities and attracting top talent from across the region.
The Virangana Project was conceived by Shalini Chauhan, a human rights lawyer and women’s advocate from India, who recognised that support for female entrepreneurship remains low.
“The landscape is still extremely tough terrain for women,” Chauhan said in a statement released by CEO Strategic.
“In addition to historical and cultural issues in India’s male-dominated startup scene, women entrepreneurs remain underrepresented in the economy and still face biases from investors when all that should matter is the idea.
“Material issues — such as ‘is it solid? Innovative? Scalable? Will it make revenue or change lives?’ — can often be overlooked when they see a woman is involved.”
This project aims to identify and select groups that are founded by or significantly managed by women that have the potential to significantly benefit Indian society.
CEO Strategic came on board and now works to raise investment capital directly from international investors.
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A few of the Virangana Project team members all set to welcome our finalists to Sydney, Australia and show them the rich, multicultural, Indian/Australian heritage that exists here. We could not be more proud of the way our government bodies, universities and sponsors have all come together to support us through this wonderful endeavour. #viranganaproject #teamvirangana
In October last year, the project selected 12 Indian female entrepreneurs to fly to Sydney to participate in a special event at the annual Spark Festival, Australia’s largest gathering for startups, innovators and entrepreneurs.
Its program director, Maxine Sherrin, heads a team dedicated to providing opportunities for individuals of diverse backgrounds to succeed in a career of entrepreneurship through events and other activities.
During the festival, Virangana ran Australia’s first-ever Bollywood-themed pitch fest event, where the 12 entrepreneurs battled it out for their ideas to be championed.
The program attracted Indian women from all industries, from high-end technology to social enterprise. Other ideas included an app to provide treatment options for chronic conditions based on stem cell technologies, a leisure travel app, a vegan clothing line and an automated wearable device for the detection and management of diseases.
Tony McAuslan, the communications director for the project, believes Australia will benefit by laying the foundations for a stronger investment environment with India.
“Investment in an Indian startup goes a lot further than in an Australian one,” he said in an official statement.
“It gives you access to an incredible pool of well-educated talent, and if your startup kicks a goal in India, you have a consumer base greater than 1.2 billion and a well-off middle class ten times the size of the entire Australian population.”
Chauhan believes in the power of this collaborative project to build bilateral ties between Australia and India, but most importantly, provide a leg up for Indian women.
“This collaboration with Australian businesses will equip these women with new skills and direction and give them the exposure they need. They play a central role in driving the Indian economy forward and The Virangana Project is now harnessing the power of technology to drive social change for women in India,” Chauhan said.