As an Investment Director at Qualcomm Ventures India, I regularly get to meet entrepreneurs who are passionate about building frontier tech companies and transforming the future. I am amazed by the quality and vision of these entrepreneurs, and at the same time, cannot help but notice the lack of adequate representation from women entrepreneurs in this mix. Hence, I have been mulling for a while on what could be done to better support the next generation of innovators, especially ones historically underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Gender aside, building a successful business is an inherently arduous journey. However, the staggeringly low number of female tech founders on a global scale, and notably in India, underscored the need for leveling the playing field. With this in mind, Qualcomm Incorporated India and Qualcomm Ventures joined forces to build a well-rounded mentorship program for women entrepreneurs in the deep tech space. One that would offer these women-led startups opportunities and mentorship to help them unlock the full potential of their businesses.
In July 2020, we launched the Qualcomm Women Entrepreneurs India Network (QWEIN). The six-month curriculum is comprised of dedicated mentorship, peer networking and masterclass workshops spanning finance, intellectual property strategies, sales, marketing and product management, among other areas of expertise. The inaugural group of 14 entrepreneurs, which were selected from a pool of eligible candidates, represented diverse sectors, including healthcare, IoT, robotics, cleantech, agritech, XR and logistics. Throughout the program’s duration, participants were engaged and challenged by exercises, such as mock pitches, presentations and peer learning, to help sharpen their offering and messaging.
During educational sessions, business leaders shared personal experiences and invaluable insights on common pitfalls to avoid in fundraising, how to attract investors, managing growth and navigating change. The specialists engaged included executive leadership from Qualcomm India as well as our friends from the industry across various other corporates, VC funds and scaled startups.
At the conclusion of the program, the cohort graduated with the refined skills, a robust network and toolset to scale their businesses.
When launching QWEIN last year, we aimed to provide value and opportunities to women entrepreneurs, but we were unaware of its potential. The excitement that poured out from participants, as well as realizing the significant impact we could have on their entrepreneurial journey, was humbling to say the least.
QWEIN has helped change the lives of women entrepreneurs like Garima Bharadwaj, co-founder of Enlite Research, which focuses on touchless building operation systems. She discovered QWEIN while reading a blog post about women in tech, and it piqued her interest enough to apply. Once selected, she quickly realized this was no ordinary mentorship initiative.
Reflecting on their involvement in accelerators and ecosystems, Bharadwaj remarks, “Qualcomm has exceeded all expectations and set a new benchmark for what a program stands for. It has been more like reaching out to our family, friends and mentors for support and receiving the most genuine feedback and validation.”
Qualcomm Incorporated, which has been operating for over thirty years, has vast resources that include industry experts whose work is consistently at the forefront of technological innovation. “My mentor,” she explains, “was the VP of Engineering and I was having weekly hour-long calls with him and doing technical brainstorming for our solutions — what, why, and how we should develop. There have been global partnerships that we are exploring through our connection with the QWEIN platform, which is a huge deal with a nascent start-up like ours.”
Garima is one of the many entrepreneurs who appreciated the immense value QWEIN brought to their product roadmap, customer traction, funding outreach and technology knowhow.
It is no secret that technology is a competitive field. One in which success requires pairing innovative ideas with sound business plans. For a startup to truly flourish and thrive, it also needs to be built upon a strong foundation reinforced with adequate resources and in-depth knowledge to help them navigate each step along the way.
That is the driving force behind QWEIN. To showcase the groundbreaking, innovative startups rising out of India, regardless of gender, by ensuring female founders are also empowered to turn their great ideas and raw talent into businesses with long-term potential.
We’re excited to share that QWEIN will be held again this year. Our goal for the 2021 program is two-fold. We will continue striving to elevate STEM female founders by bolstering their entrepreneurial prowess through a program that goes beyond lessons and dives deep with exposure to high caliber mentors and a bench of experts.
Secondly, we hope to enhance awareness on the need for female representation in the tech startup scene beyond India’s borders, encouraging others to help close the gender gap. Because across the globe, there are inventors, creators and visionaries eager to make their mark. They just need access to the same opportunities as everyone else. Please stay tuned for details on 2021 applications.