Women in Business Surviving the Pandemic: Courage, Strategies and Out of the Box Solutions
The Tech Panda asked these women business leaders about the impact of the pandemic on their business and how they tided over through strategy.
The pandemic has had varying impacts on businesses, depending on the sector, and whether negative or positive, little of this impact has been subtle. In these trying times, how have women business leaders guided their startups? Or how have they leveraged opportunity through strategy?
The Tech Panda asked these questions to women leaders to understand the impact of the pandemic on women in business.
“Women also now had the time to take a step back and think about all that they’ve wanted to learn and achieve, just like so many other people who were caught up in daily life. More and more women that were dependent on income from their partners, now wanted and needed to contribute to the financial situation of the family,” she says.
We realized, if you have staunch conviction in your vision and are ready to go the extra mile to make the difference in the world that you want to, everything else will fall into place
Seeing this, during the pandemic, Hunar provided learning opportunities to its students and supported and encouraged them to start building skills. The outcome was amazing as many of their students learnt garment making and started creating their own supply of masks, for both commercial and charitable purposes.
“We realized, if you have staunch conviction in your vision and are ready to go the extra mile to make the difference in the world that you want to, everything else will fall into place,” she says proudly.
Fighting the ‘Covipreneurs’
“Being a medical devices startup, it gave us an opportunity to perform, focus, validate and grow,” says Founder Romita Ghosh.
However, COVID-19 also gave birth to a new generation of traders whom Ghosh calls ‘Covipreneurs’, who became a problem for the startup.
“Covipreneurs are clever and cash-rich opportunists who have jumped the Fighting Coronavirus bandwagon by becoming overnight distributors of masks, gloves, IR guns, and a broad spectrum of medical products. From the local kirana store guy to a distributor of Coca Cola, suddenly we were sharing space with ignorant people without medical background wanting to mint money. This impacted our business landscape more so due to unaware customers seeking low cost-low quality medical products,” she recalls.
We have worked hard at ‘meeting, knowing and understanding’ our customers instead of solely focusing on online channels, which have high CAR
To get over the problem, Ghosh leveraged strategies she had implemented over the years that got positively validated during the pandemic. Having faced the industry as a healthcare researcher, corporate worker, and an erstwhile cancer patient, she knew that most healthcare needs are met offline (in person), and hence require a strong offline support and presence.
“We have worked hard at ‘meeting, knowing and understanding’ our customers instead of solely focusing on online channels, which have high CAR. COVID-19 has amply demonstrated that the support we are rendering to our retail channels now have won us many hearts and hopefully, more business,” she says.
Workforce management strategies too helped many startups during the crisis. Contrary to the industry trend, MedSamaan has had to lay-off zero people during COVID-19. Leanly manned, each team member has unambiguously assigned roles, but was expected to multitask and remain cross-functional.
“Since we were able to maintain our operations seamlessly, March turned out to be the month for distributing bonuses and incentives,” Ghosh recalls proudly.
As a startup, Newsreach, a WE HUB incubated startup, emphasized on the policy of local hiring, which helped them tide over the COVID challenge of managing a scattered workforce.
As the majority of our workforce belongs to the same city and stays within a radius of 20 kms, re-starting the office as per government guidelines was never a major task
“As the majority of our workforce belongs to the same city and stays within a radius of 20 kms, re-starting the office as per government guidelines was never a major task. Though we enjoyed our Work From Home (WFH) days too during the strict lock-down period,” reminisces Co-founder, Soniya Kundnani.
Digitalization too helped many startups cope. For example, while most startups started using the benefits of WFH (Zoom meetings and webinars) only after COVID struck, MedSamaan had been providing that flexibility to their team long before COVID-19 came.
Also, since inventory management and supply chain continuance are the keys to business survivability, their automated and AI-enabled supply chain processes were an integral part of their value proposition.
Out of the Box Solutions
Some divergent thinking has helped too. Since MedSamaan’s supply channels were not overly reliant on external resources, they were able to tide over the crisis almost immediately by simply augmenting their existing offline resources.
“Our sales force on their bikes and bicycles and the top management in their personal cars – individually supplied critical items to ensure last-mile delivery to hospitals, pharmacies, doctors, and even to the aam aadmi,” Ghosh recalls.
Moving ahead with the market demand helped us to survive and also provided livelihood to our daily wage tailors and women self-help groups
As soon as the pandemic started, Studio Uniforms, a WE HUB incubated startup, came up with the initiative ´Sew for lives´- Saving lives to saving livelihoods. They didn’t give up and took the risk of stepping out and providing safety to all, especially healthcare workers, by making PPE’s and masks.
“Moving ahead with the market demand helped us to survive and also provided livelihood to our daily wage tailors and women self-help groups. We have converted half of our studio into a COVID-safety store,” Founder Shikha Verma Thutheja relates.
The startup was felicitated for their contributions during the pandemic by erstwhile Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Devender Fadnavis.
For some early-stage startups, like the WE HUB incubated startup Sortizy, networking became a challenge. Since networking and mentorship play a crucial role in giving the right direction to startups in their initial stages, they had to strategize. Co-founder, Surbhi Guha, recalls,
As the world adjusted to working and interacting online, we also started to pace up in online networking and participation, which later turned out to be a positive
“With the new-normal it was not possible to interact and meet people, be a part of startup events and attend sessions in-person. But slowly, as the world adjusted to working and interacting online, we also started to pace up in online networking and participation, which later turned out to be a positive, since the new normal opened new avenues to reach out to people without any geographical constraint.”
Another challenge Sortizy faced was getting the right people who aligned with their vision. With all the changing dynamics due to COVID, it had become difficult and time taking to find the right people. However, they didn’t give up.
“Eventually, we found that referrals and approaching our first and second connections was the most effective way to build the team,” Guha says.