It was an exciting week (May 6-11, 2019) for the winners of the 2018 Women Entrepreneur Quest (WEQ 2018). Not only did these women entrepreneurs get to travel from India to Silicon Valley, but they also received expert guidance on important business functions and ideas as well as networking opportunities to help them further grow their startups. More importantly, they showed the world that women can break gender boundaries and make a difference in the tech field.
WEQ — an annual contest sponsored by AnitaB.org India and the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India — highlights and rewards exceptional technology startups founded by women. The Indo-US Science and Technology Forum (IUSSTF) also played an integral role in supporting and organizing WEQ 2018. WEQ 2018 was sponsored by Cisco LaunchPad.
Each year, the Top 10 WEQ winners are announced on stage at Grace Hopper Celebration India (GHCI 18), Asia’s largest gathering of women technologists. WEQ winners also receive an expenses-paid trip to Silicon Valley the following year, giving them the opportunity to network with key stakeholders in the Silicon Valley ecosystem. These stakeholders include representatives from leading technology companies, startups, investors, officials, incubators, accelerators, and universities.
“[WEQ] is able to nurture and give [the winners] leads so they can take their businesses to the next level,” said Dr. Anita Gupta, Director/Scientist-F and Associate Head of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, DST, Government of India. “They’re able to get first-hand, honest feedback. I don’t think any other program offers this.”
Like many women entrepreneurs, most of the WEQ 2018 winners faced gender bias when launching their startups. Radhika Patil, Co-founder and CEO of Cradlewise, said she was asked if she could handle running the company since she was already a mother with two kids. “This was the startup that I had co-founded and worked so hard on,” she said. “And they were asking if I was truly committed to my business.”
Suruchi Rao, Founder of Ossus Biorenewables, revealed that her old boss also doubted her diligence and competency, and told her she could not work on the shop floor with him. “So I walked out and started my own company,” she proudly stated.
“WEQ has always had the ambitious objective to identify and reward strong women founders with technology startups,” said Geetha Kannan, Managing Director of AnitaB.org India. “Among the past WEQ winners, 75% of the startups have witnessed significant growth in their operations and customer base. Each WEQ 2018 winner is highly talented, and we are sure the experience and exposure in Silicon Valley has significantly added to the growth of their startup,”
Leaders of a Movement
The winners of WEQ 2018 are exactly the type of role models that other women entrepreneurs need to remind them to never give up and to continue breaking gender boundaries.
“We as women need to see other women doing amazing things,” said Brenda Darden Wilkerson, CEO and President of AnitaB.org, during the WEQ networking luncheon on May 7, 2019. “We need people who know how to get the job done and who know not to take ‘No’ for an answer.
“We want to make sure women are founders and are in the board room where the big decisions are made,” Brenda continued. “We want women at the table. What you’re doing,” she told the winners, “is making your own table.”
Jacqueline Copeland, COO of AnitaB.org, also praised the winners’ bravery and resilience, and explained that their opposition to bias is helping us promote our mission of tech equity. “You are an entrepreneur,” she said. “But you are also a leader in a movement.”
An Eye-opening Experience
As part of their trip to Silicon Valley, the WEQ winners got to attend pitch practices with two venture firms as well as networking sessions. They also attended Q&A sessions with CEOs of other companies, where they could ask for advice on how to make their own startups even more successful.
“As founders, we are always so busy executing our business,” said Radhika. “But coming out of our offices and networking with everyone has really opened our eyes.”
“I’m so much in debt to AnitaB.org for where I am today,” added Pallavi Gupta, Founder of Espresso Labs.
Now that their trip to Silicon Valley is over, the WEQ winners can make use of their new knowledge, skills, and connections to grow their businesses and create new opportunities for themselves. We look forward to seeing how they will continue to impact the tech field and inspire future generations of women entrepreneurs.
Women Entrepreneur Quest 2018 Top 10 Winners
Shampa Choudhury — Startup: Citility
Surabhi Das — Startup: Ziroh Labs
Pallavi Gupta — Startup: Espresso Labs
Kalyani Khona — Startup: Inclov
Tarusha Mittal — Startup: Ethx.co
Radhika Patil — Startup: Cradlewise
Suruchi Rao — Startup: Ossus Biorenewables
Shruthi Reddy — Startup: Anthyesti
Neha Satak — Startup: Astrome
Anushka Shetty — Startup: Plop Chat