Entrepreneurship is now moving beyond the confines of metropolitan cities and finding its way into tier two and tier three cities of the country. With robust schemes and institutional push, women in smaller cities are latching on to the startup ecosystem and opening up business. It not only allows them to work from their own cities instead of migrating to other ones in search of better opportunities, but also makes the whole ecosystem more diverse and inclusive. One of the cities that has made it possible for its women to rise up and take to entrepreneurship is Jammu.

The city of temples, as it is popularly known, is making headways in promoting entrepreneurship amongst women, despite its challenges in the current political climate. Even the women of Jammu are unperturbed by the current scenario, determined to set their own business. While internet connectivity continues to remain a huge issue, the business doesn’t come to halt.

Also read: Sikkim Women Ready To Take The Entrepreneurial Path

Jammu’s women entrepreneurs speak

Aarti Mahajan Dhingra is a Jammu-based entrepreneur in her mid-30s, who started the town’s first-ever fitness studio for women and young kids around 11 years ago by the name of Shape ‘n’ Smile- The Fitness Studio. Born and brought up in the city, Dhingra never felt the need to migrate and wanted to bring different kinds of fitness activities to the natives o the city. She is also the first person to ever become a Reebok Certified Fitness Professional from Jammu. Her fitness studio is the only fitness studio that caters only to women and children in the city.

“When I was just seven, my mother started her own school and continues to run it even today. Watching her run her business and home efficiently inspired me to become like her.”

Talking to SheThePeople Dhingra recounts that the first woman entrepreneur she encountered was her mother. “When I was just seven, my mother started her own school and continues to run it even today. Watching her run her business and home efficiently inspired me to become like her.” Apart from running the fitness studio, Dhingra also organises various events in Jammu and she is also a social media influencer with a following of 22.4 thousand on Instagram.

Entrepreneurship Women Jammu
Aarti Mahajan Dhingra, founder of Shape n Smile (Pic credit- Aarti)

Another Jammu-based entrepreneur who transformed her art into a source of living is Sakshi Beri. Beri runs an Instagram page called Caliberi where she showcases her art of calligraphy and has created opportunities for herself to earn from it. While she was always an artistic person, she came across calligraphy on YouTube in 2015. “In J&K people don’t know the difference between cursive writing and calligraphy. When I came across it, I didn’t find an outlet to learn it. Two years later in 2017, a US-based artist, fortunately, came to India in Delhi and I attended her workshop. While it was a really expensive workshop for barely three hours, I still did it. When I came back to Jammu, I practised a lot and that’s when a friend of mine encouraged me to start an Instagram page for it,” Beri shares.

Within six months of starting her page, she got an offer to create a handmade wedding card for a destination wedding happening in Singapore. Possibly one of the first calligraphers from the UT, Beri continues to learn different kinds of art to upgrade her work and create better and far-reaching opportunities sitting right in her cosy home in Jammu.

Entrepreneurship Women Jammu
Sakshi Beri, Founder of Caliberi (Pic Credit- Sakshi)

Varuna Anand is probably one of the most known women among the entrepreneurial circle in all of Jammu and Kashmir. Founder of Splendor of Kashmir, Anand used her degree in textile designing in bringing the regalia of shawl-making from the interiors of Kashmir to the national and international elite market. Raised in Delhi and married in Jammu, Anand’s love for Pashmina and handwork artisanry compelled her to set up her business.

Speaking with us, Varuna points out the difference in entrepreneurship between bigger cities and smaller cities. She says, “Today, women in bigger cities take entrepreneurship in their stride, but it’s in the smaller cities where women entrepreneurs can truly surprise you with their abilities and skills. I wouldn’t brush anybody because they have lesser exposure as they are from smaller cities, it’s your strength within that determines your success and women here also have a large potential.”

“We have a well-educated base of women and most of them are working. It could be in a job and not as an entrepreneur. I have seen the concept of working couples prevalent here,” adds Anand.

Push from state and central governments

While many women do it all on their own, the real push happens when the state creates schemes and opportunities accessible to women to become entrepreneurs. In 2017, Jammu government’s J&K Entrepreneurship Development Institution (JKEDI) set up Centre for Women Entrepreneurship (CWE) with a focus to promote entrepreneurship among women by imparting mentoring and skill-training to women. Divya Bhushan, In-Charge of CWE tells us that in the last two years, the centre has trained close to 250 women in capacity-building techniques of entrepreneurship.

She says, “These women belong to the age group of 18-40 years and they come from across Jammu division with minimum educational qualification of 12th grade. Some of them were from marginalized communities and some came from lower strata of the society but they had the required education to set up their own businesses. Then there were also unmarried women with MBBS degrees and engineers who also wanted to start their own firms. We have established 100 functional units on the ground of which 28 were sponsored under the National Minority Development Finance Corporation (NMDFC) scheme by central govt. where we provided them soft loans of four lakh rupees at a minimum interest rate of six percent.”

Also read: Entrepreneur At 94: Woman Follows Dream, Sells Organic ‘Besan Ki Barfi’

Bushan also reveals that 34 units were sponsored under state government’s startup loan schemes in which a 12th pass candidate can avail loan up to 28 lakh rupees. “Apart from these, we established 68 units run by women through seed capital fund scheme which is also a J&K government initiative in which we provide 35 percent seed money to candidates which is paid upfront which they don’t even have to repay,” Bhushan elaborates on the schemes.

We have established 100 functional units on the ground of which 28 were sponsored under the National Minority Development Finance Corporation (NMDFC) scheme by central govt. where we provided them soft loans of four lakh rupees at a minimum interest rate of six percent. -Divya Bhushan

While there is the much-needed push from the government and there are role-models from within the town for more women to emulate entrepreneurship, the government’s inefficacy in providing a sustainable infrastructure in terms of internet connectivity is failing these women in achieving their true potential. Today when the most powerful tool to promote any business is social media, women entrepreneurs of Jammu are suffering for the last six months as the internet remains shut down. They say that they work from their broadband connections but when out and about, they have to wait till they get home to access the internet again. This hindrance is costing their business immensely and they have no other respite but just a hope for the territory to get back to normalcy.

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