One-woman army: Meet 5 Entrepreneurs Who Built Business Empires from Scratch, Making India Proud

·6-min read
One-woman army: Meet 5 Entrepreneurs Who Built Business Empires from Scratch, Making India Proud
One-woman army: Meet 5 Entrepreneurs Who Built Business Empires from Scratch, Making India Proud

In his book The Startup of You, LinkedIn Co-founder Reid Hoffman says, “Society flourishes when people think entrepreneurially.”

And when women, who have led humanity’s progress over centuries without being credited for it, embrace entrepreneurship, progress is an absolute certainty.

MAKERS India looks at five Indian women who have established business empires across various sectors, and continue to make the nation proud.

Kiran Mazumdar Shaw

Kiran Mazumdar Shaw. (Photo by Hemant Mishra/Mint)
Kiran Mazumdar Shaw. (Photo by Hemant Mishra/Mint)

The MD and chairman of Biocon, India’s largest bio-pharmaceutical company, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw was one of the first women in 1970s’ India to become a brewmaster. Returning to her home town Bengaluru after working in Ireland, Kiran started Biocon in 1978. Starting with just Rs10,000 from her garage, Kiran grew the enzymes-manufacturing firm into a bio-pharmaceuticals company.

In 2004, Biocon became the first biotechnology company in India to issue an IPO and closed its first day with $1.1 billion market value. Biocon was also the first Indian company to get approval from the United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) for two drugs used in certain cancer treatments.

A recipient of Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan awards, Kiran was recognised as a ‘Technology Pioneer’ by the World Economic Forum, and is also the recipient of many honorary degrees from universities around the world. TIME magazine named her among 100 most influential people in the world in 2010, while Fortune named her one of the 25 most powerful women in Asia Pacific. The only Indian on Forbes’ list of self-made women billionaires, this 66-year-old has pledged to give majority of her wealth to philanthropic work.

Shahnaz Husain

Shahnaz Husain, CEO of Shahnaz Herbals Inc, during the International Yoga Day to create awareness for a healthy lifestyle hosted by Select Citywalk, Saket, on June 21, 2017 in New Delhi, India. (Photo by Waseem Gashroo/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Shahnaz Husain, CEO of Shahnaz Herbals Inc, during the International Yoga Day to create awareness for a healthy lifestyle hosted by Select Citywalk, Saket, on June 21, 2017 in New Delhi, India. (Photo by Waseem Gashroo/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

What started as a young women entrepreneur`s dream is today one of the biggest brands in the cosmetic care space: Shahnaz Husain Group. Founder-CEO Shahnaz Husain, now based in Delhi, is globally renowned for her entrepreneurial spirit that has now reached around 1,000 franchise clinics, shops, schools, and spas worldwide.

Married at the tender age of 15, Shahnaz became a mother soon after, but pursued Ayurveda. She trained for 10 years to keep abreast with developments in cosmetic therapy and cosmetic chemistry at leading institutions in the West, like Helena Rubinstein, Schwarzkopf, Christine Valmy, Lancome, and Lean of Copenhagen. Her Ayurvedic formulations for skin, hair, body, and healthcare are available in 150 countries now. Her ventures include Shahnaz Husain Forever Beautiful lifestyle shops, Beauty Training Institutes, and Shahnaz Husain Ayurvedic Spas, all based on her franchise system.

The first entrepreneur from the beauty sphere to receive the Padma Shri Award, Shahnaz Husain’s other international awards include Quality Excellence Award in Geneva, Cannes, and London, the Outstanding Woman Entrepreneur Award in London, Woman of the Millennium Award in US, Woman of the Year Award from the Governor of California, US, and Leonardo da Vinci Diamond Award by the International Biographical Centre, Cambridge, UK.

Ritu Kumar

Ritu Kumar. (Photo by Raj K Raj/ Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Ritu Kumar. (Photo by Raj K Raj/ Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

The first lady of Indian fashion, 75-year-old Ritu Kumar started her fashion designing business about half a century ago, with four handblock printers in a small village near Kolkata. Drawing on the rich heritage of Indian textiles and embroidery, Ritu Kumar established herself as a name to reckon with in Indian fashion over the decades. Having led a revolution in Indian textiles by weaving art and history into them, she has become the darling of Bollywood A-listers and luxury aficionados. Her focus on natural fabrics and traditional painting and weaving techniques has led the brand to open up around 100 stores across the country.

A Padma Shri awardee, Ritu Kumar has been honoured by the French government with Chevaler des Arts et des lettres (Knight of the order of arts and letters) in recognition of her contribution to Indian textile crafts.

Falguni Nayar

Falguni Nayar (Photo by Rajkumar/The The India Today Group via Getty Images)
Falguni Nayar (Photo by Rajkumar/The The India Today Group via Getty Images)

A graduate of IIM-Ahmedabad, Falguni Nayar spent 19 years as an investment banker and broker with the Kotak Mahindra Group. In 2005, she took over as Managing Director of the investment banking business where she successfully spearheaded the firm to be India’s leading IPO banker, and was instrumental in closing a number of successful M&As. It was during this point that Falguni’s past interactions with a number of successful entrepreneurs motivated her to pursue he own entrepreneurial journey.

In April 2012, at the age of 50, she launched Nykaa, an e-commerce store focused on beauty and wellness products. The Mumbai-based venture has an expansive catalogue with a wide range of products for each and every concern. Currently valued at around $1.2 billion, Nykaa, which has expanded to men’s personal care as well as a women’s fashion, is expected to be the next startup unicorn of India. With her daughter Adwaita Nayar as COO at Nykaa, Falguni is on her way to placing herself among the most established entrepreneurs in the country.

Vandana Luthra

Then-Indian President Pranab Mukherjee (R) presents the Padma Shree award to Vandana Luthra during the presentation of the Padma Awards 2013 at The Presidential Palace in New Delhi on April 5, 2013. (Photo by RAVEENDRAN/AFP via Getty Images)
Then-Indian President Pranab Mukherjee (R) presents the Padma Shree award to Vandana Luthra during the presentation of the Padma Awards 2013 at The Presidential Palace in New Delhi on April 5, 2013. (Photo by RAVEENDRAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Vandana Luthra started VLCC as a wellness centre in 1989 with a small bank loan, focusing on health and beauty in New Delhi. Today, VLCC has expanded to more than a dozen countries across South Asia, Southeast Asia, the GCC Region, and East Africa. The company also has two manufacturing units, one each in India and Singapore.

A grandmother of three, 60-year-old Vandana is a multitasker. She is the Chairperson of the Beauty and Wellness Sector Skill Council under the government of India, and a General Body Member of Morarji Desai National Institute of Yoga.

Awarded the Padma Shri in 2013 for her contribution in the field of trade and industry, Vandana was also the 33rd most powerful ‘Woman in Business’ in India in 2015, according to Fortune India.

Recently, Vandana appeared on MAKERS India platform as a BusinessMAKER - here is her interview.

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