Second Shri Shakti Challenge opens to women entrepreneurs with a new topic

Date: Tuesday, August 24, 2021

This year’s Shri Shakti (Women Power) Challenge is offering women-led companies the chance to win funding and support for technology solutions that improve women’s safety and empowerment.

The competition was launched jointly by UN Women and MyGov under the Ministry of Electronics and IT, Communications, Government of India on 17 August and will be taking entries until 17 September.  It is part of the Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav initiative, to celebrate the 75th anniversary of India’s independence.

Candidates must be women entrepreneurs or women-led start-ups with a technology innovation that improves women’s safety and empowerment. It builds on the success of the 2020 event, which focussed on technical innovations to help fight the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Hosted on the government’s citizen engagement platform MyGov, the Shri Shakti Challenge will shortlist 10 nominees who will be supported through a mentorship programme and an initial grant of INR 100,000 (approx. USD 1,345) each to develop a proof of concept. Following a rigorous second screening, five winners will be selected by a jury in November 2021. The winners will be awarded INR 500,000 (approx. USD 6,725) each to develop, market and implement their solutions.

Encouraging entrepreneurs to participate in the Challenge, Minister of Electronics and IT, Communications and Railways, Ashwini Vaishwnaw said, “the Government will be supporting the start-ups and entrepreneurs in the most difficult phase, the initial risk phase. Out of 100, even if 20 entrepreneurs grow to the next level, that will be a great journey for the country. And we are looking at million more flowers to bloom, a million more entrepreneurs to create more jobs, to make their mark.”

“Investing in women entrepreneurs and women-led businesses will unlock the full potential of Indian markets,” said aid UN Women Representative in India, Susan Ferguson. “Across the country, women have led the crisis response to Covid-19 and demonstrated incredible resilience, adopting new ways of working. The Shri Shakti Challenge provides a much-needed platform to foster women-led solutions that can improve women’s safety, build economic gains and benefit thousands of other women as we build back from Covid-19.”

“The Amrit Mahotsav Shri Shakti Innovation Challenge is a platform where women tech entrepreneurs and start-ups can showcase their products designed by women, for women,” said MyGov chief executive Abhishek Singh.

The Shri Shakti Challenge comes at a time when women-owned small businesses need targeted investment and policies to recover from the economic downturn of Covid-19. The World Bank estimates that globally, female-owned and run small and medium-sized enterprises were almost 6 per cent more likely to have closed down than male-owned businesses. UN Women’s recent survey found that majority of women entrepreneurs lacked information and access to financing, training and mentorship, especially as first-time borrowers.

Building upon innovation and success

The first Shri Shakti challenge in 2020 received an overwhelming response, with a total of 1,265 entries and 11 finalists comprising of women entrepreneurs, scientists, and change-makers from across the country, who submitted innovative solutions to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Three winners were awarded INR 500,000 each. The winning solutions included a low-cost, plant-based, non-alcoholic hand sanitizer; an ultra-violet sterilization cabinet that makes it possible to sterilize and reuse personal protective equipment, including masks; and an antimicrobial solution that can be sprayed on any piece of cloth to use it as a mask, providing a lower cost and sustainable alternative to disposable masks.

P.  Gayatri Hela, scientist and managing director of Reseda Lifesciences, won the Shri Shakti Challenge 2020 for her idea of the non-alcoholic, plant-based hand sanitizer. “When I won the initial prize of INR 75,000, we could finally test our product on 600 participants,” she explained. “We found that not only does it sanitize, but it also boosts immunity and helps with rashes.” Hela and her team are now working on developing a sustainable way to source raw materials from farmers while supporting their livelihoods. Since winning the final award, she has further developed her product and received global orders from the United States and China. Her company has seen a 20-per-cent increase in revenue and generated employment opportunities.

The Shri Shakti Challenge is being implemented under the Multi-Partner Trust Fund (COVID-19) Programme, jointly managed by UN Women, UNICEF, WHO and UNHCR. For more information, registration details and application guidelines, visit MyGov at https://innovateindia.mygov.in/amrit-mahotsav-shri-shakti-challenge-2021/.