Access to finance, ease of payment collection, and long-term solutions for profitability and sustainability are major concerns facing Indian businesses in the fourth industrial revolution. We meet three founders whose companies have set out to solve these essential needs.
Miniya Chatterji – Sustain Labs
Dr Miniya Chatterji, founder and CEO of Sustain Labs Paris, helps traditional organisations become more sustainable and profitable. Based in India, France and New Zealand, the enterprise is supported by the French government’s wing for scientific and academic exchange in India.
“We leverage the private sector towards improving the state of the world,” explains Miniya, former chief sustainability officer at Jindal Steel and Power Ltd. She has also been an employee of the World Economic Forum as well as a Global Leadership Fellow from 2011 to 2014.
Sustain Labs’ philosophy is that every organisation must be a social entrepreneur such that its business model must not only ensure long-term financial stability but also social good. Leading sustainability academic experts from across the world are brought together to work on projects.
“I incorporate all my interests within Sustain Labs, and ensure all team members at Sustain Labs are able to do the same. That is the company culture,” says Miniya, who has been a speaker or moderator at Davos and at other World Economic Forum regional summits, the United Nations, European Union and various other prestigious platforms.
She is also the author of the book Indian Instincts – Essays on Equality and Freedom in India (Penguin Random House, 2018) about the social consequences of economic growth in India.
The challenges she has faced on her journey are “the same that most girls who rise from middle-class families would face,” she shares.
“My advice would be to not burn bridges with parents, partners, and friends who might be unsupportive at specific instances of a girl’s life. Your parents, partners, friends are victims of a certain context that you are breaking out from. You think differently from them but you cannot expect them to think like you. Instead, do what you have to do for treading in uncharted waters while taking everyone along with you. Rebelling is easy, getting your way while keeping the most important people in your life is more challenging yet ultimately rewarding,” says Miniya, who was invited by the government of France to be a permanent member of the parliament of Francophone women writers.
Miniya and her team of experts including human-rights specialist Janna Furig at Sustain Labs Paris are also seeking solutions to more humanitarian problems.
“The Stargazers Foundation is the not-for-profit arm of Sustain Labs. It has been working across South Asia and the Middle East since 2010 on the health and education of children and women, with the help of funding from the International Labour Organisation, R-Labs and Lebarra Foundation, amongst others,” she says.
Currently, they are working on giving a home to the 11 million children living on the streets of India. “We have just finished the research and extensive stakeholder consultations for identifying a practical solution based on a public-private partnership. We will be presenting the policy proposal to the government,” Miniya informs.
Funded by Sustain Labs, a city-level pilot has been set up in Mumbai at the 7th lane Kamathipura Municipal school. The solutions developed from this will be implemented in Delhi, Jaipur, Kolkata and other parts of India.
A mother of a little boy, Miniya shares that along with her husband and toddler, who are all fitness enthusiasts, she enjoys playing sports and works out every day. “I also enjoy good aesthetics in clothes and at home that are minimal, sustainable and that tell a story.”
By Neha Kirpal
Amrita Malik – Innoviti Solutions
Amrita Malik is the cofounder and chief business officer (CBO) of Innoviti Solutions, a Bengaluru-based fintech player that provides digital-payment solutions for merchants, banks and brands. The award-winning company leverages artificial intelligence and Big Data to offer innovative solutions to over 1.3 billion consumers, 2 lakh brands, 30 million merchants, and 1,000 banks and financial service providers.
Amrita’s journey in Innoviti began 12 years ago. After doing her Bachelor’s in computer applications followed by an MBA specialising in marketing and finance, Amrita joined Innoviti in 2009 as a senior sales manager.
She rose through the ranks to become a part of the apex management. Recognising her contribution and commitment with the vision of the company, she was designated as the cofounder along with the CBO.
“Women are blazing new trails and shattering the proverbial glass ceiling even in the finance sector. Work knows no gender, and that has been the underlined work mantra at Innoviti. There are many young employees who have grown very fast in our organisation – I am one of them. Women are very good at managing complexity and can take on any kind of a role,” Amrita avers.
Along the way she also went for a senior executive leadership programme at Harvard Business School. “Study at Harvard helped my ideas to become a reality. Our country has a lot of potential for business and to earn more. Globally, India is a big market to invest and to earn from. All have high hopes from India,” she says, adding that it’s time for businesses to think large and for employees to develop entrepreneurial mindsets.
“Our Indian companies should design the product locally, market it, distribute it and improve it continuously. This will not only increase revenue for a company but will also create jobs for people in tier-2 and tier-3 markets,” says the 37-year-old, who says she is “married to her work”.
With 450 employees on board, Innoviti works with leading organisations in the retail, hospitality, healthcare, travel and education segments and is the only company that supports payments through all customer channels – offline, web and mobile.
“We run sales offices in all key metro cities and a few tier-2 cities; however, our service offices are present in tier-4 cities as well,” says Amrita, who was herself raised in an Army family and has travelled and lived across India.
She credits her father for sowing the seeds of hard work and ambition in her: “My dad has been the root of my drive and inspiration to become who I am today. He clearly taught me to develop my own identity instead of being known by whom I am related to. As a child, my father would always tell me, ‘There is no replacement to hard work, so follow your dreams, work hard for it and you shall reap benefits’.”
As she grew up, Amrita took inspiration from other role models in her life. “I picked up the best traits from people around me at various stages: strangers who later became friends, my colleagues, from our customers, and from my cofounder at Innoviti. I am a curious person and that’s why I believe in seeing the best in others and ignoring the grey areas,” she smiles.
A health freak who loves cooking and shopping, Amrita cites a lesson that she learnt early in her career as one that has served her well in all aspects of her life: “Rajeev Agrawal [cofounder and CEO of Innoviti] taught me that anything is possible; you just need to work hard and believe in yourself. When things went wrong, he taught me to break the problem down into bite-size pieces and push ahead, taking on each piece one at a time until the issue was resolved. As a result, no problem was insurmountable and no goal out of reach.”
Shruti Aggarwal – StashFin
Shruti Aggarwal is the co-founder of StashFin, an app-based digital lending venture that aims to disrupt traditional lending in India. “The idea behind StashFin was clear and simple – financial freedom for one and all,” says the 41-year-old Delhi-based entrepreneur, who graduated from Sri Ram College of Commerce, Delhi, pursued chartered accountancy and did her Master’s from Columbia University, New York.
“We realised that there is an untapped category of borrowers – the underbanked and individuals who are new to credit – which traditional lenders are wary of due to factors like weak credit profile and so on. So, we were excited to introduce products that would fulfil the financial requirements of millions of consumers, ensuring their financial inclusion,” she explains. The company provides instant loan in a hassle-free manner.
Shruti started her professional journey with PricewaterhouseCoopers two decades ago. She went on to lead strategies for top banks, spearheaded her family business, and launched two successful startups before cofounding StashFin in 2016 along with an eclectic mix of finance professionals in India and USA. The company – which covers 600 pin codes in India – recently made it to LinkedIn’s list of ‘Top Startups from India’.
“While I would say that we are definitely on the right track, we are far from being satisfied with where we stand. Fintech is a sector where the rules and the game change almost every fortnight. And so, keeping up with the pace of technological and financial advancements while keeping our goal in mind is the way forward for us,” says Shruti, a mother of two.
A multi-tasker, Shruti enjoys travelling, running and photography. She is also an avid reader. “One book that stands out is Wings of Fire, which was probably one of the first biographies I read. The inspirational life of Dr APJ Abdul Kalam and his constant pursuit towards perfection has always inspired me to adopt the phrase of ‘simple living, high thinking’ as a way of life,” she shares.
Shruti credits her time at Columbia University for nurturing the entrepreneurial streak in her: “I worked as a research assistant to Professor Arvind Panagariya which exposed me to real-life intricacies involved in the business and finance sector on a global level. Working in close quarters with a fellow Indian, I gained amazing insights about how business and leadership in India work and how they are starkly different from the work culture that exists in the US.”
While the finance industry – and especially the fintech sector – is a more male-dominated one, the role that women are playing in the sector is noteworthy, Shruti says, narrating her experience of being invited as a speaker to the Festival of Fintech conclave organised by Cambridge University. “It was then that I realised how significantly women are contributing to the fintech sector,” she shares.
Shruti believes there is definitely a lack of female perspective when it comes to creating financial products, which can be harmful for the industry’s growth. “Isn’t a significant share of this industry’s consumer base female? How are we making sure we’re making inclusive financial products?” she asks. At the same time, she sees hope for change as more female entrepreneurs foray into the financial sector.
Shruti’s mantra for success? “Changing with time and adopting technology while maintaining discipline. Time management, hard work and a lot of reading to stay ahead of the curve.”
First published in eShe’s April 2021 issue
Syndicated to Money Control