Across all industries in India, including agriculture, renewable energy, cosmetics, and cooking, women have carved out a place for themselves. In the last five years, the percentage of women-led companies in India has increased to 18%, according to the WISER — Women in India’s Startup Ecosystem Report. Although this is a shining example of the success that women have had in entrepreneurship, according to a different DealStreetAsia survey, only 0.3 percent of venture capital funding in India went to firms that were started by women.

Women-led startups in India are making an impact on climate change at scale

The irony is clear.

Although progress is made in tiny steps, Cisco and Villgro, a social entrepreneurship incubator, have collaborated to create ‘Tvaran,’ an initiative that aims to bring about progressive improvements in the way women-led startups are empowered.

Launched in October 2022, its inaugural cohort achieved its objective of enabling women entrepreneurs to drive creative solutions in the climate action sector by giving them access to capital and markets.

Why concentrate on climate action?

It is, as Manager of Gender Inclusion Villgro Kalyani Krishna puts it, “the need of the hour.”

She warns that there is more to human-caused climate change than mere rumour. According to a 2020 research project led by the Center for Climate Change Research (CCCR) in India on behalf of the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES), surface air temperatures in the tropical Indian Ocean increased by 0.7 degrees Celsius between 1901 and 2018 and by 1 degree Celsius between 1951 and 2015.

“Why do we need startups for climate action? Why not? She highlights how Tvaran is combining two objectives into one by supporting female entrepreneurs who are also advocates for climate change. We are assisting female entrepreneurs in their early stages by increasing their market presence. According to Kalyani, this is being accomplished by providing them with access to capital and markets, which will enable them to expand and commercialise their projects.

She continues by saying that in order to help the companies commercialise their product and increase awareness, they are also given access to market contacts. The final phase is mentorship, in which Cisco subject matter experts offer the businesses insightful advice on markets, technology, and strategic growth.

Explaining why it is imperative that these firms complete this step before being judged completely equipped to go on the market, Chief Policy Officer and Managing Director of Cisco India & SAARC, Harish Krishnan, states that the company’s mission is to “power an inclusive future for all,” and this is evident in the way that our programs are designed. Through our partnership with Villgro on Tvaran, we want to make sure that each company had access to Cisco subject matter experts so they could refine their concepts, overcome obstacles, and obtain the support and direction they required to realise their goals. It also entails being aware of the industry and the rapidly changing technological landscape that is pertinent to their industry.

The success of the model is demonstrated by the impact stories of the seven firms.

  1. Climatesense

Krutika and Anita Ravishanker founded “Climatesense” to address the issue of deforestation, which affects 10 million hectares of land annually. The company uses drone technology, satellite data, and artificial intelligence algorithms to tackle the problem.

Apart from furnishing stakeholders with the information obtained via analytics and projections, the team has additionally imparted forest conservation training to more than 500 members of indigenous communities.

  1. MOWO Fleet

In a 2018 survey, the Ministry of Road Transportation and Highways found that women have just 1% of commercial driving licences. MOWO Fleet is working to make this different.

By putting women in the driver’s seat, this fleet of tech-enabled female drivers is enabling last-mile transportation and delivery services. So far, more than thirty-six female drivers have boarded through Tvaran.

  1. Swachha Ecosolutions

Repurposing plastic that would have otherwise ended up in landfills, Swachha Ecosolutions is giving value to garbage by turning it into granules that are either sold to vendors or used to make mixes and goods internally.

With the recent introduction of Replolymix, a low-value plastic-based mix for road construction, 55,000 tons of plastic trash were prevented from ending up in landfills.

  1. Bharat Krushi Seva

The three main concerns of farmers are soil erosion, climate change, and unpredictable precipitation. But what if the aforementioned could be predicted with the best possible usage of artificial intelligence (AI)?

Bharat Krushi Seva, a startup in agriculture, designed its smartphone application with this same idea in mind. It gives farmers access to real-time data and insights on crop development, soil moisture, and weather patterns. It also provides a market for them to sell their produce in.

The firm has expanded its operations to two other districts in Pune and Solapur using the incubation concept. Additionally, it has converted 500 acres of farming through climate-smart practices by piloting two new tech features with 100 farmers.

  1. Green Grahi Solutions

With Tvaran’s help, the startup—which uses insect bio-conversion techniques to upcycle food leftovers into premium nutrients for plant and animal nutrition—was able to mobilise 3,000 farmers for farm experiments and enhance plant productivity by 30%. Furthermore, they conducted market validation for their insect-based fertiliser in four Karnataka districts.

By feeding the pre-treated organic leftovers to insects, their novel procedure transforms the residues into premium protein, lipids, and organic fertilisers. Farmers that raise crops and cattle utilise these goods to increase the amount of food that humans can sustainably grow.

  1. GreenDelight Innovations

Did you know that a sanitary pad takes 250–800 years to break down? Some of them actually never break down.

Although most customers could give up using pads entirely due to guilt, this firm offers biodegradable pads made of Kenaf fibre (Pulicha keerai). This fibre was chosen by the co-founders because of its 100% organic composition, absorbent texture, and antibacterial properties.

They have experienced a 55% boost in revenue from e-commerce sales because of Tvaran.

  1. KNP Arises

Do you enjoy munching on the samosas your neighbourhood seller sells? If so, you might want to check the oil he’s using the next time. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) states that food industry owners must dispose of vegetable oils after three frying cycles or when the levels of total polar compounds (TPCs) reach 25 percent.

The startling thing is that, despite the fact that India produces three million metric tons of “used cooking oil,” very little of it is used to make biodiesel. What is the status of the others? This firm is urging restaurants to send their “used” oil to them so that it can be converted to biodiesel. 

30 tonnes of used cooking oil are collected each month from more than 250 vendors in South India and turned into biofuel thanks to Tvaran’s assistance. “The startup was introduced to The Chennai Angels (TCA) through Tvaran, and with their help, they were able to raise equity funding of Rs 3 crore,” writes Kalyani.

Achievements such as these realise the vision that Villgro and Cisco had when they designed Tvaran. “We simply zoomed in on this particular strategy,” Kalyani explains. Our common passion in assisting female entrepreneurs in the field of climate action enabled us to expand this concept to the point where it has influenced several enterprises.

Villgro and Cisco said that as we move forward, the goal is to strengthen this cause, even if the first cohort’s success allowed them to see firsthand how market relationships and assistance in putting GTM methods into practice benefited women-led firms. The overarching goal is to guarantee that these ideas are adopted while strengthening communities’ resilience and enhancing their standard of living, guided by the guiding principle that inventions are essential to bringing about change.

Villgro has raised about Rs 4.7 billion in investments by supporting 387 social companies since its founding in 2001. They have influenced more than 20.8 million lives and created 8,175 jobs. Villgro received the DivHERsity honors in 2022 and 2023 in addition to being named India’s best incubator by Invest India (DPIIT, GoI) in 2020.