As a girl, entrepreneurship was definitely a NO
I grew up in a small town, Kota in the Western part of India, in the state of Rajasthan. One of the most beautiful yet patriarchal parts of the country. From a very young age, I understood the existing bias and privileges prevailing in society. I was lucky to be born in a family that valued the importance of education, for their son and daughter equally. However, society would remind you every now and then, what you are supposed to do and whatnot as a girl, and entrepreneurship was definitely a NO.
I remember during the economic depression, I was 7-8 years old and people would come to my home and try to convince my parents that their daughter doesn’t need to go to a good school, it will help to save some money during the financial crisis. Luckily, my parents tried to keep me away from these things, they always told me I could do whatever I want to. However, as a kid, I think it did impact the way I would see myself. Ultimately, it was also one of those childhood experiences that made me who I am today.
We came from a very humble background with my parents working in a day job, we had no connections to entrepreneurship in our family. Having your own business was considered very risky and only for those who have plenty of money.
I knew I would become an engineer even before I knew what it means
I wanted to become an astronaut and a physicist when I was young. Of course, science and maths were the only two streams that made you a responsible person as per the society. I was no different, I knew I would become an engineer even before I knew what it meant, luckily for me, I loved studying science and maths. Later, I did study physics and became an Electronics & Communications Engineer.
However, a part of me always went out for those girls in our society who were the victims of the patriarchy, poverty and were not allowed to go to school. I decided to take action and do something about it. I started reaching out to families, encouraging them to send their girls to school. When I was 14, I started teaching some of those girls at my home, I borrowed some money from my parents for books, pencils and it began. It was also then, I entered into public-speaking, raising awareness about educating young girls in our society. I continue to teach and mentor young girls from the rural parts of India twice every week through an online platform, eVidyaloka.
Take action for what I believe in, not to wait for others to solve it for you and create an impact that makes you happy
I think this was my beginning, something years later I realised, influenced me strongly to take action for what I believe in, not to wait for others to solve it for you and create an impact that makes you happy. This experience shaped my journey even before I knew I would take a plunge in the entrepreneurial world. But before that realization, I was still too much influenced by the norms of the society, and the path I thought was the answer to everything.
I graduated as an Electronics engineer in 2012 and in India, the sector was still very small and highly male-dominated. Also, the IT boom was happening, and I decided to go with the flow. Joining the first company, I had a huge student loan and I did not really have many choices back then. I worked very hard and got a job in one of the world’s largest IT corporate firms. I thought this was it, I have achieved what I planned for, so many girls from my home town were not even given an opportunity to achieve this much. But, who knew it was just my first step.
There’s a feeling of not belonging as a woman of colour working in the tech industry
I worked in the IT sector for long and got an opportunity to work with many international clients across the globe. One of my clients was a big telecom company from Finland and that is how I landed up here, consulting them. The one thing that was common working for all the international clients as a woman of colour in tech, was the feeling of not belonging.
I asked my colleagues about it, some of them felt the same and some did not, so I thought maybe there is something wrong with me. I started reading more about diversity management, inclusion and did some training. I was a tech consultant for the Human resource department, so I volunteered to handle the Learning & Development aspect of my project. I gained more knowledge but implementing changes in corporate companies was not easy.
When I physically came to Finland to work, something took me back to my childhood. I had the same feeling I had back then, a feeling of being excluded and not being valued at the workplace or in society. There were many small incidents within the workplace, happening because of the sheer ignorance of understanding different cultures, values, and non-inclusive leadership. This was causing anger, dissatisfaction, and even distance within the teams. Some of my colleagues felt the same, but nobody ever said anything, the message was clear, you work the way it is or you leave. Many of them left for the next opportunity they got, but I knew I had to do something, take action on my own to solve my challenges. This was not something that can not be changed, everyone wants to work in a good workplace, feel good, and be a good leader, they just did not know how to.
I had huge emotions attached about representing all those who never got or will get a chance to raise their voice
My inspiration was my younger self, who taught me that if anything is bothering you, do something about it. I had a strong motivation to create a society I want to live in – a place that was fair, where I could feel that I belong without any labels.
I just wanted to be seen as me with all my uniqueness, differences, similarities, and get an equal opportunity to grow. And I had huge emotions attached about representing all those who never got or will get a chance to speak. And then I knew, I want to do something to make a world where everyone could get equal opportunities in their life. That is what I always wanted.
While I was working as a consultant, I already decided to learn more about entrepreneurship, and the best way I knew how to do it was by going back to university. So I applied for an MBA, all the application deadlines were closed but I managed to get a place in Lappeenranta. I always wanted to do an MBA and I was happy I could do it in Finland. I went to school 2-3 days in Lappeenranta and worked during weekdays in Helsinki. It was challenging and I understood, I need to give it my 100 percent to succeed.
That is when I quit my corporate job, in a foreign country, with no networks, no language skills, no knowledge of entrepreneurship, and suddenly no source of income. My family was worried about my decision but happily supported me. I first needed to find out what I will do and how will I follow my passion. So after quitting my job, I continued doing MBA a few days a week, and the rest of the days I was in Helsinki working with different startups, volunteering in almost every possible event, and attending every relevant workshop I saw was happening. I finally started understanding what entrepreneurship actually meant and how to go about it. During this time I also met people who later became the backbone of my business.
Nobody looking like me was doing public speaking in Finland about Diversity and Inclusion
I slowly entered into public speaking in Finland, speaking about Diversity and Inclusion in English as an immigrant when nobody looking like me was doing it, I guess it was 2017. It was a challenge, to get the audience, or to even convince people to let you speak because nobody knows you. But I took every chance I got to share my message, from student platforms like Student Talks, startup events, to bigger platforms like Nordic Business Forum speaker contest.
Slowly, things were falling in place, people started knowing me and they understood what I was speaking was important. During this time, I also finished my MBA, and from being an active speaker about my cause and freelancing for almost 3 years, setting up my company was a natural next step. I was doing it for so long that finally setting up a company did not come as a surprise, it was just as planned. I put in all the groundwork required and then I finally took the plunge.
The key to attract, engage, retain diverse and international talents within the companies
In retrospect, that was a very good decision to build a network and get clarity on my business idea by experimenting before I finally registered an entity. I registered my company, BusinessWiz Oy in 2019 with a vision to help businesses become more diverse and inclusive. Our mission is to encourage and assist organizations to create a workplace culture that is profitable for the company and also provides an equal opportunity to every employee regardless of their labels.
It is also the key to attract, engage, and retain diverse & international talents within the companies, combat the skill gap, and help in their internationalization process. There is a huge business case for being diverse and inclusive, we try to raise awareness about it and tell the companies how to use it to become more productive, innovative, and profitable.
The importance of understanding diversity and creating an inclusive workplace for Finnish companies
I started the company with my business and life partner, Samuli Yrjönen, who happens to be the Business Director of a construction company. As a Finnish man, he understood the privileges he had in his career. Previously he was the youngest manager at 30 in a company where the average age of decision-makers was above 50, he realised the importance of understanding diversity for Finnish companies and helping them create an inclusive workplace culture, something which is clearly missing at the moment.
However, due to his full-time job he mostly remains a strategic partner, helping me understand the Finnish marketplace and our customers. It also helps our company to see situations and solutions from different perspectives, we think it is our greatest strength to have diversity within the core team.
The people I had worked for free or as a freelancer, became our first clients
Within a month of starting BusinessWiz, the people I had worked for free or as a freelancer, became our first clients. Until now we have helped leaders from over 40 companies to understand the business case for diversity & inclusion. Most of them were from my network.
I also believe in collaborating with different actors in the industry. For example, I collaborate with different entities working on the same topics like International Working Women of Finland Ry, European Digital Society, Inklusiiv, Huipulle Naiset, CBW Global, We Encourage, and other entrepreneurs to bring together solutions and create a bigger impact. We are also now looking forward to expanding, having more employees but also looking towards other markets.
Entrepreneurship gave me this confidence that I can inspire other people
My journey of learning, preparing, and then being an entrepreneur has been very empowering. It has given me more confidence to take risks, believe in myself, and create an impact on something I strongly believe in. Growing up in a society that keeps telling you what you should and what you should not do, it makes you question yourself at times. It is challenging when people see you as a bad example of choosing the life you want, but my family was the best gift I could ever have.
They supported me in all my decisions and gave me the courage to do something I wanted to do. I get many messages and comments from young Indian girls, telling me that it is inspiring to see someone pave the way for us. Entrepreneurship gave me this confidence that I can inspire other people.
It was like you want to bake a cake but you don’t know what on earth is sugar
And then I decided to explore this journey in Finland. A place where I knew nobody, did not know the language, or the culture, I was using up all my savings and had no financial security, it was like you want to bake a cake but you don’t know what on earth is sugar. But I learned, I met people, I attended events, I volunteered, I worked for different startups, I tried different ideas and it all worked. I met my now business and life partner who helped me throughout the journey navigating all the challenges. It would not have been possible to start this business without his support, his understanding of the Finnish marketplace, and his help in bridging the language gap.
A three-day workshop in Sweden was my turning point
One day, I randomly walked into a workshop happening in a hotel. They were talking about how to be a speaker and build a business around it. I purchased the ticket for a three-day workshop in Sweden and that event was my turning point.
I had been speaking and freelancing about diversity and inclusion for almost 3 years, but I had way too many ideas on how it could be turned into a business and everything I could do. But this event helped me streamline my thoughts and gave me clarity. Sometimes, you are so involved in your idea that you don’t see the obvious, that moment it is essential to have a mentor, coach, or just a friend to brainstorm with you.
I promote inclusion because it is the way I want to be treated within a company
It is still challenging at times, Finland is very new to the concept of diversity, the understanding is not very high about why having a heterogeneous team is beneficial for the company, or how to manage the diverse teams and create a good workplace culture. I have to create a business case for companies to show them the benefit.
People tell me that you have picked a very difficult topic to work with and my answer is always the same. It is not just a topic for me, it is the way I want to be treated myself inside a company, it is my way to put an effort to create a workplace everyone would love to work in and a future of work that works for everyone.
I was a social entrepreneur back then without even realizing
I was definitely not born an entrepreneur or at least I did not know what it meant for a very long time. All my associations of being an entrepreneur were negative. But now when I look back to my teen self, I think I always had the urge to do something about a problem that bothers me, I was a social entrepreneur back then without even realizing.
My favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur is the freedom and creativity you can put into solving challenges that matter to you. Looks like I fit nicely into the “millennial stereotype”.
Entrepreneurship became my lifestyle, now I can’t think of being anything else
I think I had some aspects of being an entrepreneur in me but I acquired a majority of them along the way. It slowly became a lifestyle, now I can’t think of being anything else. I like the fact that I am putting efforts into building something I believe in, working for others especially for a cause I don’t relate to would not be very satisfactory.
The one thing I don’t like about it is it makes you judge yourself if you take a break or if you couldn’t make a timeline or couldn’t reach your targets. In the beginning, I would beat myself a lot, but now I have grown a bit wiser. I understand that your cause and work are important, but the most important thing is your mental and physical health.
I try to stay fit, I am a martial artist (Wing Tsun Kung fu), I train almost 8h-10h every week. I meditate and read books. I realized giving excuses to myself at the expense of my well-being was not smart for me or for the business. I like to have focused working hours and free time for my well-being and family. But still, there are days when I end up saying, I could have done more. I am working on it.
Enjoy the present while you envision your future
Entrepreneurship has definitely helped me in my personal life quite a lot. I have the freedom to design my own work schedules. I have become more grateful as a human being, going through challenges help you appreciate what you have and help you enjoy the present while you envision your future.
I have somewhat achieved a good balance in my life, I know what makes me happy and that is what I pursue. In my opinion, having a strong sense of purpose and vision is very important for an entrepreneur. If what you are doing is close to your heart, and you feel strongly about the purpose or the impact you are creating, it will help you keep going towards your vision and remain persistent in your efforts.
Investing in your well-being is the utmost priority
I would recommend the entrepreneurs invest their time in continuous learning, self-development, building strong networks, and most importantly investing in their well-being. For someone who is just starting out, ask yourself do you want to do it because it sounds cool? Or is it really something that would make you jump out of your bed in the morning?
I would also recommend them to keep experimenting, most of the time your final offering would be very different from what you originally thought. Especially, if you don’t know exactly how or what will be your solution or you are struggling to find your passion, keep testing ideas, and experiment, it will give you clarity.
You can not make everyone happy and that is not what you’re supposed to do
In my personal life, I was being influenced too much from the outside world, my community, and society. I learned that you can not make everyone happy and that is not what you are even meant to do. I had to learn to stop seeking validation outside and start believing in myself. And today, I feel very happy about all my small and big achievements in life.
In professional life and as an entrepreneur, I learned that things don’t always go as planned. You need to be able to adapt quickly, sometimes you have to make difficult decisions. I learned to stop focussing on short-term goals and rather keep an eye for the long game.
These two attitude shifts, of believing in myself and focussing the long game took time to come by but once I learned it has helped me in many situations.