Asha Jomis : Riding High On The Start-Up Wave !

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WBIP enables women entrepreneurs to launch their business in the digital space

Amidst the hectic schedules of today’s fast moving world, we seldom come across people who want to pause and make a difference to a stranger. Asha Jomis, firmly believes in being that change; to lend a helping hand to women who dare to dream and are willing to put their heart and soul into achieving it. Her start-up, the WBIP or Women’s Business Incubation Program, provides space, digital engagement, mentoring, and networking with industry experts for new entrepreneurs. It also offers classes on entrepreneurship and provides funding assistance to promising candidates through various banks. RITZ talks to the tech wiz who moulded WBIP, a first of its kind that enables women entrepreneurs launch their business in the digital space.

Asha Jomis, who hails from Kollam, Kerala, completed her engineering degree and worked as a television producer for a popular technology series, called GOFORIT. Later she created an online platform for academia, industries and government collaboration called www.networkofcolleges.com. She went on to pursue her Masters in Technology Management from Kerala University and during her tenure, she got an opportunity to intern with the United Nations in New York. Her keen interest in ‘policy making’ led her to Cambridge University, UK, where she completed her MPhil in Technology Policy and was the recipient of the prestigious Common Wealth Scholarship. In 2012, she returned to India and became the co-founder of a tech company called Augsys Technologies Pvt. Ltd. which deals with augmented reality based technology.

“I noticed that start-up companies founded by women were very few in spite of the low entry barrier in the tech industry. Kerala has a very high literacy rate among women but when it came to start ups, the numbers seemed to be alarmingly low. That’s when I decided to set up WBIP. My team includes Anisha Padhee, gender specialist, who has over six years of experience in corporates and non-profit organisations, my mentors, Dr.Jaideep Prabhu, ‘Jawaharlal Nehru’ professor of Indian Business & Enterprise and Director, Centre for India and Global Business, at Judge Business School, University of Cambridge, UK and Dr.Achuthsankar S Nair who heads the State Interuniversity Centre of Excellence in Bioinformatics, University of Kerala,” says the 34 year old.

asha-jomis

The Stepping Stone

Through social media WBIP invited applications from aspiring entrepreneurs. “Not surprisingly, every other applicant wanted to start a fashion boutique! Initially, we were not keen on taking up these projects as we felt that the fashion segment already had a fair representation of women. But soon we zeroed in on a promising applicant – Neeraja, was a rank holder from NIFT and had worked with Arvind Mills for brands like Marks & Spencers and Zara. “A strong academic background and reasonable work experience would go a long way in helping young women entrepreneurs. After almost 3 months of meetings with her, we arrived at a business plan that targeted a focussed market – ‘workwear for women’.

We decided to test the market through a fashion workshop for women, focussing on ‘what to wear to work’. It was a success and she was invited to lead similar workshops.  The major challenge was of course, funding! Although initial investment for a small start-up can range anywhere from Rs. 50,000 to 10 lakh, funding is the biggest catch. “The Union Bank of India sanctioned 9 lakhs for Neeraja, under the Mudra policy, a government scheme aimed at funding small scale businesses without a collateral. That was our first major break-through!” she recalls. We got our student team to do the promotional content and a well planned PR strategy gave our first fashion incubation a good head start. WBIP had decided to offer free services to the first two fashion projects as an experimental assignment. By end of 2014, the team had successfully completed its steeplechase with two successful fashion ventures, the second being Navomi’s fashion lounge! They documented the entire procedure and were ready for its first revenue model.

Fashion Business Accelerator Model

Asha’s revenue model, the ‘Fashion Business Accelerator’, has three stages – The first aimed at market validation for her clients before they ventured into their business. “Fashion entrepreneurs can list their products on our online page for three months, for which we charge a nominal fee. For customers, this is a welcome initiative as we are offering multiple brands under one roof like Flipkart or Amazon,” she says.

The second stage was to display their products in a physical showroom. “Navomi’s fashion lounge has allocated space at her store, to feature new entrepreneurs for a one month trial period. This would be a huge relief to start-up applicants as it saves them from a lot of issues like rent, staffing, licenses and sourcing a customer base,” Asha explains.

“The third and final step would be the digital engagement, for which we use digital platforms such as ‘Shopify’. After the clients successfully complete the three stages of the FBA, they would be ready for their start-up venture! Yes, it is time consuming and sometimes difficult to find entrepreneurs who are genuine. One needs to understand that it is not a 9-5 job and you have to give your 100% to the project. I have learnt my lessons on the way and am clearer now about the protocols to be followed,” smiles Asha. Apart from fashion and media, WBIP recently did a start-up reality show “The Startup” for engineering students who were keen on building start-up teams to solve real life problems. Asha is presently working with a television channel to bring the show to a larger audience. The team is also headed for its biggest project, a 25 lakh project for building a branded women’s hostel.

The Start-Up Grind

Start-up Grind, Powered by Google for Entrepreneurs, is a global start-up community designed to educate, inspire, and connect entrepreneurs. They have events across the globe spanning over 55 countries where successful founders, innovators, educators and investors share their personal success stories. Asha heads its Trivandrum Chapter and the affiliation to the international community has opened up avenues, contacts and opportunities for WBIP.  She has hosted events with renowned personalities like Sreenath Sreenivasan (Chief Digital Officer, New York City), N Prasanth, (Collector, Kozhikode), Arjun Pillai (CEO, Profoundis), Sijo Kuruvilla (Founding CEO of Startup village) and Jayashanker (CEO Kerala Start Up Mission)

With half a dozen start-ups under her wing, Asha is the recipient of the Devi Award instituted by The New Indian Express and presented by the honourable Chief Minister of Kerala, Sri. Pinarayi Vijayan. She has had her fair share of setbacks but she definitely doesn’t intend to step back before making WBIP a success. She hopes to extend her work to ten more domains like HR, travel, media, food tech, housing, government tech, education, health, beauty and personal wellness. WBIP is focussed on developing innovative and practical research methods for improving ease of doing business which could be then implemented on a large scale by respective government departments.

Entrepreneurship is the need of the hour in India. To truly tap into the demographic dividend, however, it is important that start-ups aren’t only male led but involve women as well . After all, women hold up half the sky, and often do more than their fair share on planet earth as well. Around the world, incubators and accelerators tend not to cater properly to the unique needs and preferences of women. This is why what Asha Jomis is doing with WBIP is so impressive. An incubator by women for women and with women is not only unique, it is also timely and important. I have watched with great interest Asha’s perseverance in making WBIP a success and believe she has what it takes to stimulate women entrepreneurship in Kerala and beyond.” says Dr. Jaideep Prabhu, her mentor.

Quick Five

  • Zodiac: Libra
  • Favourite brand: Ann Taylor
  • Current Read: A Feast of Vultures by Josy Joseph
  • Life Changing Experience: The Rail Journey ‘Jagriti Yatra’ which was an absolute inspiration!
  • I Love: Travelling as that’s when my mind opens up to new ideas!
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