In January I had the opportunity to travel to the region of Kerala, in South-west India to participate in an International Conference on Entrepreneurship and Women: The Role of Business Incubation & Social Business Development. The conference was primarily based out of Assumption College, a women’s college that is affiliated with Mahatma Gandhi University.
At the conference, I had the chance to talk to and build relationships with a number of students and faculty at Assumption College. These students are keen, well spoken and many are driven to start their own business. It is encouraging to see support from government, the community and private institutions to promote and encourage women in entrepreneurship in the state of Kerala. They have all the pieces of the puzzle necessary for women to have the opportunity to take a dream and make it a reality, especially with the newfound support of an international network.
The college is pushing to continue the development of business incubators. A strong team of experts at the conference were able to advise on development and implementation, including Conrad's Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Dr. Doug Beynon, who was at the conference to talk about Waterloo’s ecosystem and share his expertise on business incubation development.
Currently, Assumption College has started a fashion incubator in conjunction with their undergraduate fashion program. Students have great creativity, and in a country like India, high quality fabrics are readily available; as a result, the center has great growth opportunities.
This is where I came in, to share my experience in starting a social fashion enterprise, ULLO, an ethical knitwear company that promotes social and economic development in the Global South. I shared my story with hopes to ignite a fraction of the inspiration the students gave to me, to create an enterprise that would encourage social change in their communities.
India’s culture, history and melting pot of religions and ethnicity enthuses the designer in me while their fabrics and capacity for production encourages the businesswomen in me. India has ample market opportunity for businesses and ample room for social and economic development work. ULLO’s next step is to foster the relationships I made at this conference, and gain access to silk and cotton farmers in the country so that ULLO can work directly with raw material producers and ensure that they have ethical and fair production processes. International support will help female entrepreneurs and encourage economic and social development in the community.
India has so much opportunity to foster an ecosystem of entrepreneurship, particularly with women, but not without challenges. Women in India and South Asia as a whole have so many obstacles to overcome in terms of culture and collective social pressure, but with an encouraging and supportive environment, I'm encouraged that their tenacity will triumph.
Tara Scanlan is a social entrepreneur and current Master of Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology (MBET) student at the Conrad Centre. Her main interests lie in social entrepreneurship, fashion, and culture. Tara has an undergraduate degree in International Business from Carleton University. She was also a finalist in the Velocity Fund Finals competition where she pitched ULLO.