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The Taj Mahal in Agra, India, Saturday, July 21, 2012. (Pawan Sharma/AP)
The Taj Mahal in Agra, India, Saturday, July 21, 2012. (Pawan Sharma/AP)

NARAYANAN MADHAVAN

Female entrepreneurs warm to opportunities in India Add to ...

Lynne McEachern’s business card and the website of her company bear no geographical references. It is symbolic of the interconnected global economy she wants to tap, and the market space she is targeting – mobile Internet applications.

Ms McEachern is one of the three Canadian small business entrepreneurs I chatted with in mid-June on the margins of the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network event in the middle of one of Delhi’s worst heat waves in recent years.

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But the festive warmth of the interiors of the Leela Palace, its air conditioners and the loud buzz of optimism amid a global economic downturn, certainly made the occasion more palatable. The female entrepreneurs heard policy-makers, advisers, social activists and senior investors speak of the opportunities and pitfalls in India, not all of which can be compressed in a single column.

Ms. McEachern, the founder and chief marketing officer of Toronto-based Spoke Technologies, is looking to tap India for its software developers to help build her company, which specializes in voice-based mobile applications that she says can break age and language barriers in Internet usage.

“Obviously, developers are very attractive here from the financial standpoint and reserve availability,” she said. But she is aware of the catch in her company setting up its own shop. “We have been thinking of contracting. It is risky unless you have very small projects.”

She might have been listening to lawyer Manjula Chawla, who told the rapt audience of women from all over the world of some of the risks in getting bigger in India: “If you have more than 100 employees, even firing one needs government approval,” she said.

However, for Mandy Gilbert, the founder and chief executive officer of Creative Niche Inc., based in Toronto, India could be more about an opportunity to hire or forge productive linkages than face obstacles in firing. Her 22-employee agency specializes in recruitment and staffing for the marketing and communication industry and aims to improve efficiency.

“India is of interest more for a strategic partnership,” she said. “I want to explore. I see opportunities here. It is only about when and how now.”

This is understandable because India is spawning tens of thousands of English-speaking MBAs who have global utility. An offshoot of the much-talked-about Indian call centres have been a higher-end business called knowledge process outsourcing (KPO) that could involve anything from conducting market research to writng analytical reports using broadband-based collaboration. The talent pool serving this industry could make sense for Ms Gilbert, whose firm’s activities include building an online community for training of candidates and clients in her industry segment.

For Sandra Murre, founder and CEO of Beamsville, Ont.-based Jordan Engineering Inc., India could be a future hot spot. “The manufacturing industry is shrinking in Niagara,” the chemical engineer said.

India, which is now an market area for products to serve an emerging middle class of about 500 million people, is for her a potential sunrise zone – and not just as a market opportunity. Ms. Murre’s 20-employee company thinks and feels like a not-for-profit organization in some ways, and has a goal of turning over one-third of its earnings to non-profit work by 2020 – and this means looking at making a difference to the larger Indian community.

“I hope we would be able to come and create change,” Ms. Murre said, even while observing that there is a challenge in a country where it could take about eight quarters to start a company.

For these women, India spells potential opportunities, even though their first visit to the country was more about a conference than clear business deals. Dell, which has 27,000 employees across eight locations in India, has casually become a business consultant and potential matchmaker for them.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Narayanan Madhavan is associate editor of the business news pages of Hindustan Times, a leading Indian daily newspaper. He has previously worked for Reuters, the international news agency, as well as The Economic Times and Business Standard, India's leading business dailies. Though focused mainly on business and economic journalism with a strong focus on information technology and the Internet, he has also covered or written about issues including politics, diplomacy, cinema, culture, cricket and social issues. He has an honours degree in economics and a master's degree in political science from the University of Delhi.

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