What is it about California that lifts your spirits and puts you in a dreamy state? The golden state, inextricably connected with the Gold Rush, has come to be associated with fresh starts and opportunity, where hard work could lead to fast success and great wealth. In the words, a place where you could be living the “California Dream.”
Maybe it’s the pursuit of this dream that caused Indians to move to California. Or it was the golden opportunity of working in Hollywood and Silicon Valley tech. Whatever the reason, California today has one of the largest populations of people of Indian origin.
According to a 2016 report by the National Foundation for American Policy Immigrants and Billion Dollar Startups, India is the leading country of origin for immigrant founders of billion-dollar companies in the United States, with 14 start ups on the list, and the report states that California is a preferred destination for headquarters for immigrant-led start up companies, with 32 out of 44 immigrant-founded companies setting up base there.
And today, while there are still only 2 women on the 2019 list of the next billion dollar start up list, women are gaining momentum and the list of female-led start ups is growing. In this context, where there is no aggregate data on Indian-women-owned start ups, I could imagine, and am optimistic that the list is growing.
On a recent trip to California I had a chance to meet an impressive group of women who are living the California dream in their own way.
Indian women are making great strides in Hollywood in mainstream movies and in Television shows—from well known figures like Mindy Kalinga, Priyanka Chopra, and Freida Pinto, to others who may not be as well known but are still making great progress. For example I met the impressive Meera Simhan, a stage actress and writer who has appeared in Date Movieand several TV and stage productions, including a recurring role in Anger Management. Not only is a talented actress but a supporter of putting increasing focus on the representation of South Asian women.
I also met women who have start-ups that are making a major impact as measured by the communities they touch. Take for example Akshaya Patra, led by Vandana Tilak. It is the world’s largest NGO-run mid-day meal program serving school lunches to more than 1.75million children across 12 states in India. Another example is Copia, led by Komal Ahmed, which uses a tech-enabled way to fight world hunger and reduce food waste by matching businesses that have to get rid of unused food from events that would otherwise go waste with nonprofits in need of food.
California has a thriving community of Indian entrepreneurs all across the state, with the Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) chapters of Silicon Valley and Southern California being two of the largest in the country. Southern California is also home to a women innovators network (WIN) which connects women innovators of India origin in that area. It is heartening to see the rise of entrepreneurship and especially the representation of women increasing. But not enough, which is why at SEEMA we are eager to partner with TiE both on the East Coast and the West coast to increase awareness and investmentin female entrepreneurs. Not only because it is the right thing to do to but also because, as many studies have shown, greater inclusion and participation of female entrepreneurs will lead to economic growth overall. Look for future issues of SEEMA, seema.com and our newsletters to read more about these entrepreneurs.