One of the most effective ways to change the culture and mindset of the venture capital industry is to increase diversity among investors and decision-makers, said Ekta Narain, co-founder and CBO of waste management and recycling enabler Recykal.
In an interview for DealStreetAsia’s Female Founders report 2022, Narain said diversity can be achieved by hiring people from different backgrounds as well as by promoting female investors.
“Gender-equal workforces are more likely to have vibrant, inclusive, and robust solutions resulting in better decisions. We need to show these examples to the investors and shift their attention to the growth of the company rather than the gender of the founder,” she said.
On challenges faced by women, Narain said that women often tend to have self-doubt. They face challenges when trying to strike a balance between work and personal life and building a support network.
Recykal is a business-to-business marketplace for waste and a provider of cloud-based solutions to facilitate transparent and traceable material flows in waste. Its platform connects waste generators, processors, and other players in the segment to address issues such as demand-supply mismatch.
The startup raised $22 million in funding last January from investment funds managed by Morgan Stanley India. Existing investors Circulate Capital, Vellayan Subbiah, and Arun Venkatachalam of the Murugappa Family also took part in the round.
What led you to become an entrepreneur? How would you describe your entrepreneurship journey so far?
Typically, when one finds a problem unsolved, a better way of doing something, or a gap in service or knowledge is when the seed of entrepreneurship is sowed. It grows to reality when one sets to work out a solution with his/her vision and plan on the same. My journey was a little different. I set out to learn what was new in the market and what I could do for a purposeful life. Technology enchanted me as it connected a wide spectrum of people, it is scalable, fast, and innovative. So, I began to meet people in this space to be able to collaborate on an idea to which I could relate.
I met Abhay Deshpande, a serial entrepreneur with enigmatic skills and a success story. Along with him were Abhishek Deshpande, Anirudh Jalan, and Vikram Prabakhar who were masters of unique talents. I was lucky to become a team with them to co-found Recykal.
My journey so far has been immensely exciting as we decided to solve a real problem in India, i.e., waste management. There are new learnings each day and many challenges too but we win them over as we stand united as one team. There are a few milestones we have achieved because we worked as a team closely, and there are many more we are on the path to achieving.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a female founder? What challenges did you encounter while fundraising? How did you overcome them?
Usually, women struggle with imposter syndrome and self-doubt. They face challenges striking a balance between work and personal life and building a support network. While these challenges do exist, I have had the opposite experience.
“Usually, women struggle with imposter syndrome and self-doubt.”
Furthermore, my co-founders trusted me and supported me fully. This boosted my confidence at each step, encouraging me to learn and grow each day. Our investors are also those who looked into business and people potential. They are gender-neutral and thus I did not face any challenges while fundraising due to my gender.
What advice would you give other female entrepreneurs?
Entrepreneurship is not an easy journey. What works for one may not work for the other. So, my advice to other female entrepreneurs is to first believe in yourself, stay committed, trust your instincts, not be afraid to take risks, advocate yourself, and also build a strong network. Times have changed and people value your work. Do not attribute your failures to someone or your gender. Learn from your failures and take the next step with more confidence. If you give yourself a chance, then others will also do it. I would also advise taking care of yourself as running a business can be immensely stressful, so explore your joys and enjoy every day.
How can we work to change the culture and mindset within the venture capital industry to be more inclusive and supportive of female founders?
Education is the key to knowledge and a professional approach. It opens the mind that can think big and see the bigger picture. Besides education, one of the most effective ways to change the culture and mindset within the venture capital industry is to increase diversity among investors and decision-makers. This can be achieved by people from diverse backgrounds as well as by promoting female investors. There is a need to maintain the gender ratio at all workplaces. Gender-equal workforces are more likely to have vibrant, inclusive, and robust solutions resulting in better decisions. We need to show these examples to the investors and shift their attention to the growth of the company from the gender of the founder.
“This [inclusivity] can be achieved by hiring people from diverse backgrounds as well as by promoting female investors.”
I would like to share an example which can encourage the venture capital industry to change its mindsets and support female founders. Our company, Recykal has been proactive in promoting gender inclusion. In 2022, a gender analysis was conducted by our investor, Circulate Capital. They found that there were opportunities to further strengthen Recykal’s workplace policies and people practices. The company viewed this Gender Action Plan journey as an opportunity to integrate some of its existing inclusion activities at an organisation-wide level while also attracting and fostering more qualified and diverse talent pools.
As part of the GAP, Recykal undertook initiatives such as committing to expand the representation of women across the total workforce and institutionalising a structured, unbiased performance management system. Recykal has also committed to reporting to investors regularly on metrics such as the representation of women at the leadership and workforce levels, against aligned benchmarks.
How has being a female entrepreneur influenced your leadership style and approach to running a business?
Being a female entrepreneur has greatly influenced my leadership style. I have become more compassionate and confident. My approach to a problem is now very optimistic. I began to believe that problems give us reasons to work harder and getting solutions to them is so rewarding. We have jobs as there are issues and challenges; this is a change in perspective which led to better team management and maturity.
The pride in my team members and their faith is very motivating. I have begun to see that there are many opportunities for women in waste management at various levels. I am glad to be able to support them.