The Start-up India, Stand up India event had all the hustle and salesmanship of Silicon Valley and some sops for women too

Slogans and selfies marked the beginning of Prime Minister Modi’s ambitious Start-Up India/ Stand Up India programme. The road to Vigyan Bhawan in Delhi may not have been paved with gold but certainly there were dreams of gold going by the slogans on display.

“Wings anyone? Start up India”, said one. “We Unobstacle,” proclaimed another. And inside the venue was a large signboard — “Perhaps the only place where Disruption is Applauded”.

Even before the high-powered panel of ministers could flag off the event, hashtag #StartupIndia was crowded with selfies of the attending entrepreneurs. Mostly bearded and male. After some time the Welfies – the new digital autographs – with start-up celebs began trending. Again largely male. But then as Minister of State for Commerce Nirmala Sitharaman said, “Only 9 per cent of start-ups in India are led by women.” That could explain the skew in selfies.

But the ratio could change going by the slew of schemes for women unveiled at the event. During his speech, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said, “Women and SC/ST categories are not throwing up entrepreneurs. Each public and private bank will be asked to adopt one entrepreneur each from these two categories. The idea is to create 300,000 entrepreneurs in the next two to three years.”

He said that the Stand Up India scheme will be separately launched, and will primarily help women and SC/ST entrepreneurs. Collateral-free loans would be given.

Their numbers at the event may have been small, but the women entrepreneurs at the show certainly created a buzz at the session — Celebrating Women: Stories of Innovative Women Entrepreneurs — displaying the same hunger, passion and aggression of their male counterparts.

As Shaili Chopra, founder of SheThePeople TV, said there was a 50 per cent jump in women joining the start-up ecosystem in the last one year.

But despite the encouraging noises made by the government, the fact that the women’s panel was relegated to the lunch hour, when attendance thinned, showed that they still remained the second sex.

Also, as Shanti Mohan, founder Let’s Venture said disapprovingly, rather than have a segregated women’s panel, “you need to have a woman at every panel to be at par”.

Another catchy slogan at the event — ironically showing during the women’s panel discussion was — “Ecosystem minus the trappings of the system”. In a sense, that was voiced by Arun Jaitley who promised that the government would stay at arm’s length and said there would be freedom from regulation for entrepreneurs. But the trappings of patriarchy still showed.