Recently, 149 women from 15 nations gathered in Delhi, India, for the Dell Women's Entrepreneur Network (DWEN) to learn, network and do business. Although the conference only lasted two days, in the words of one attendee, “That was enough time to cram in a lifetime of knowledge.” I agree. Here are five things I learned at the conference.
1. India is a fast-rising entrepreneurial global player. It is one of only three nations in the world with a "super computer." Twenty percent of Fortune 500 companies have research facilities there. In a nation of 1.22 billion people, India has more than 121 million Internet users, the third highest in the world, and over 919 million mobile phone users (the second most in the world), making mobile marketing key to reaching most of the nation's consumers.
This is good news, obviously for the Indians, but also for businesses, large and small, across the globe. Several years ago, Dell chairman and CEO Michael Dell said, "The next billion Internet users coming online will largely live in emerging countries, such as Brazil, Russia, India and China." Steve Felice, Dell’s president and chief commercial officer, said these BRIC nations, plus Turkey and Poland, will "give birth to middle class growth, which spurs consumption." All of which makes them a potentially appealing market for entrepreneurs.
2. Indian women entrepreneurs increasingly are a force to be reckoned with. Women entrepreneurs from the United States, the United Kingdom and India were surveyed in the Women’s Global Entrepreneurship Study, commissioned by Dell. According to the report the women business owners in the U.K. were the least optimistic, expecting average growth of 24 percent over the next five years. American women entrepreneurs project 50 percent average growth during that time, while entrepreneurial women in India anticipate an astounding average growth of 90 percent. A healthy 71 percent of those Indian entrepreneurs are "highly confident" their businesses will be successful, 80 percent are currently hiring, and 85 percent believe it is important that their businesses make a positive social impact.
3. Women need to be ready to make changes to get the funding they need. During Springboard Enterprises' "Dolphin Tank" exercise, a less cutthroat way of training women to get funded, Springboard president Amy Millman reminded entrepreneurs that when presenting to VCs or angel funders, you need to start with "a core statement about what sets your business apart" from your competitors. Millman also pointed out that sometimes women entrepreneurs feel the need (more than men) to be in control of their companies. She warned, however, "If you are not ready to give up control, don't take equity funding."
4. Necessity really is the mother of invention. Susan Feldman, co-founder of the mega-successful flash sale site One Kings Lane, got the idea for her business when she was redesigning her own home, and didn't have enough time to shop for the times of items she wanted, nor the big budget to buy them. She immediately recognized this as "an opportunity to disrupt the home space," and after being in business for only three years, the company now boasts more than 250 employees and nearly 5 million registered users.
5. We need to do a better job showing high school and college girls the value of studying STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math). According to a study released in April by the White House Council on Women and Girls, only 25 percent of STEM workers are female. There's a great demand for STEM-educated graduates, which is expected to grow by almost 20 percent through the end of the decade. Many are worried we won't have enough trained workers to fill the jobs.
These five points are just a bit of what I learned in India. Perhaps the most important lesson was each of us has an obligation to do something. In the words of Lakshmi Pratury, the founder of Ixoraa Media, "To the world you mighe be one person; but to one person you might be the world."
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