When you picture the drivers of the fastest growing economies in the world, countries like China, Brazil, and India, the first thing that pops into your head probably isn’t a female entrepreneur.
Yet, women entrepreneurs and small-business owners are the propellers behind much of that growth.
Some of the leading women entrepreneurs in the world gathered in New Delhi this past week for the third annual Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network conference. Previous conferences were in Shanghai, China, and Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.
The Dell conference is an invitation-only event, sponsored by Dell and Intel. Attendees from the United States this year included such notables as Kay Koplovitz, founder of USA Network, and Carley Roney, founder ofThe Knot and other online properties.
India was a natural choice because it’s one of the world’s fastest growing economies.
The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor reported that 187 million women worldwide launched and ran businesses by the end of 2010.
“If you think about the impact of entrepreneurs on the global economy, they need support, especially in the areas of access to capital and networks,” said Steve Felice, Dell’s president and chief commercial officer.
“With DWEN, Dell is trying to do something about that,” he said of the women’s entrepreneur network. “Dell has a huge presence in India. We know the country well. We also know small businesses are going global and want access to new markets to create new revenue streams.”
Three women I met at at the conference exemplify the kinds of women entrepreneurs who are building companies in India today and the type of opportunities there, whether you’re Indian or not.
Sairee Chahal launched her company, Fleximoms, a little more than a year ago in New Delhi. Chahal seized an opportunity that the burgeoning Indian middle class presented.
As corporations get larger and more multinational corporations arrive, Fleximoms is providing consulting services on flex time and work-life balance. It’s now also India’s biggest job board and community for working moms, and the consulting service has more than 300 clients.
“Being an entrepreneur allows a woman to be economically independent, gives her flexibility, more so when there are highly opportune markets to be tapped,” Chahal said.
Lakshmi Pratury represents the “brain gain” benefiting India today: Indians who had left the country who now are returning. Pratury went to the U.S. for college, stayed, worked at Intel, and eventually became a venture capitalist, helping start other American companies.
“India is a green field of amazing opportunities,” said Pratury, founder of the Ink Conference, an innovators gathering modeled on the highly successful TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conferences in the United States but tailored for the needs of emerging economies.
“In India there’s a whole lot of unrecorded entrepreneurs,” Pratury said. “The unorganized sector — household help, people who sell vegetables by the side of the road — are almost all women. There’s as much money made by Walmart in the U.S. as all the nail salons combined. That’s what’s going to work in India: many, many small-business owners.”
Shoba Purushothaman is perhaps the most surprising of the new Indian entrepreneurs: She’s never lived in India. Although her ancestors were Indian, she grew up in Malaysia and most recently lived in Manhattan.
She moved to India two years ago to launch a skills training and assessment company, aimed at large multinationals with mid-level managers who need to improve their skill sets.
Why India? “Not only is there a rapidly growing market, but it’s much less expensive to build a company,” she said. “I was able to be cash flow positive much faster than I could have been in the U.S.”
Was the fact that she was not an Indian a drawback?
“Quite the contrary. It’s my un-Indian-ness that’s attractive,” Purushothaman said. “Indians recognize that this is a time for them to ascend in the global economy, and they are eager to absorb knowledge and skills from abroad.
“For young Americans, this is such a fantastic time to go to emerging markets,” she said. “Go get experience, an internship. For seasoned entrepreneurs, there’s a window of opportunity right now in these markets.”
Women, these entrepreneurs among them, will be noticed.
“It’s a business imperative,” said Karen Quintos, Dell’s chief marketing officer. “Women are making up more of the decision makers and buyers throughout the world.
“But frankly, it’s also a moral imperative,” she said. “Those corporations that embrace diversity, whether age, gender, geography, experiences, succeed.”
This piece was published in USA Today