I am endlessly fascinated that playing football is considered a training ground for leadership, but raising children isn’t.” – Dee Dee Myers (former White House Secretary)

In this world run on perceptions, the statement made me think and emphasized to me, the fact that women today and all through evolution have held one of the most critical position in the development of entire generations. Then, why is it that in the professional world, their opinions don’t see an equal representation? Why is it that a woman who is responsible to take decisions that affects a child’s life is often considered the second-best judge in business decisions?

Yes. Risk-taking, leadership, decision making in the professional world are still a man’s game. The perceptions may be changing but a push is always needed to accelerate the much needed alteration. We, at Headstart, have been doing our bit towards attaining gender equity in the Entrepreneurial initiatives. There is an urgent need to create a gender unbiased entrepreneurial society in India and WE at Headstart has been working towards creating just that. National Lead of WE at Headstart, Malini Gowrishankar aptly explained the purpose, “We@Headstart was conceptualized in April 2015 and our vision is to provide support for women entrepreneurs in four ways – inspiration, information, mentoring and funding.”

WE Mentoring Session, organized on 28th May, 2016 by WE at Headstart in association with Espark Viridian accelerator was a unique opportunity for 15 women led startups to be mentored by industry experts and an exclusive opportunity to get entry to Espark Viridian accelerator and a prospect to raise seed funding of up to Rs 20 Lakhs!

Event Format

The format was simple. Shortlisted startups get an opportunity to talk to experienced industry professionals who not only shared their expertise during the event but also offered to connect offline to further discuss the growth prospects of the startups. The 15 women led startups who participated in the session were from across the sectors from power to tech to social responsibility. Age-wise too, the event saw recent college graduates, new moms and experienced professionals. The women spent an hour each with all three mentors in groups of 5, ensuring that all questions were answered at length and different viewpoints and aspects of the problems were discussed by the mentors.

The Mentors

A little about the mentors, you ask? After all, they are the ones who helped give important insights regarding the challenges faced by the entrepreneurs. The star mentors for the Delhi session were Mr. Amarendra Srivastava, Founder Director, Omnizent Labs; Mr. Ashish Taneja, Managing Director, GrowX Ventures and Mr. Vibhuti Channa, Director, Viridian Ventures.

Mr. Amarendra Srivastava has been a Jury and mentor at Economic Times’ Power of Ideas 2010 among other startup competitions and is a mentor at Mentoredge, an initiative by CIIE Ahmedabad. He has worked with startups at Delhi and Mumbai mentoredge sessions and is a person committed to the growth of others through all the support and guidance that he can provide. He talked to the entrepreneurs at length even after the formal mentoring hours were over.

Mr. Ashish Taneja, works at GrowX, an early-stage investment firm that helps startups scale by investing time and money in the businesses. He was CEO for Zolijns Designs and Vertex India. An expert in strategic planning, process improvement, program management and many related areas, Mr. Taneja shared candid moments with all entrepreneurs and gave advice by making them realize the solutions, instead of talking about possibilities upfront.

With 25 years of experience covering on-ground field work, central level operations, marketing, strategic roles and leading business operations, Mr. Vibhuti Channa has worked in India and South East Asia. His experience spans across industries like FMCG, durables and luxury in startups, mid sized and large companies. With such wide-ranging experience under his belt, Mr. Channa proved to be a resourceful mentor who graciously extended the offer to the women to explore possibilities in the Espark Viridian accelerator.

The Incredible Sessions (yes, three of them!)

After a brief introduction round which consisted of one-minute pitches by all women to familiarize them, the mentoring hours began with much gusto. The energy quotient was kept alive by the fulfilling snacks and drinks served during the sessions which saw various light moments in addition to all the serious talks. Following three hours of mentoring in groups of five, a networking session was structured to ensure that each entrepreneur gets a chance to converse with any and every person that they might be interested in talking to. Stories were shared and challenges discussed over a sumptuous meal that left everyone feeling fuller that before, both, mentally and physically.

The Unusual

In this competitive world, we often ignore others’ needs in the process of personal growth. And this is exactly what did not happen at the WE Mentoring Session. Every startup goes through similar stages and since there were some who were more experienced in particular areas of operations, they enthusiastically helped each other ask the right questions and offered to support in finding solutions. Being a coordinator during the whole process, I feel, the best moments were when the very women who came to seek mentoring, helped each other and gave insights through experience to those that needed it.

The Way Forward

Testimonials of entrepreneurs and mentors stand as unwavering evidence that WE Mentoring Session organized by Headstart Network Foundation in association with Espark Viridian Accelerator was a huge success. But the story does not end here, does it? Headstart Network Foundation’s belief in paying it forward remains an important pillar of such initiatives. While the women present shared names of other women entrepreneurs who could benefit from such events, Headstart hopes that all that was gained and the support received would be paid forward to others who need it. Signing off with a quote by Melinda Gates that I once stumbled across, which sums up the Headstart belief and principle,

If you are successful, it is because somewhere, sometime, someone gave you a life or an idea that started you in the right direction. Remember also that you are indebted to life until you help some less fortunate person, just as you were helped.”

Happy Entrepreneurship!