The Weekend Leader - WEDO Founder Kadambari Umapathy Empowers Women to Launch Their Own Businesses

Chennai Woman Overcomes Setbacks to Build a Rs 40 Lakh Turnover Organisation Mentoring Women Entrepreneurs

Khimi Thapa   |   Chennai


Vol 15 | Issue 25

Kadambari Umapathy’s journey from a predictable life to becoming a beacon for women entrepreneurs in India is nothing short of inspirational.

As the founder of WEDO (Women Entrepreneurship Development Organisation), based in Perambur, Chennai, Kadambari has transformed the entrepreneurial landscape for countless women.

Kadambari Umapathy launched WEDO in 2015 with Rs 1 lakh (Photos: Special Arrangement)

She has empowered over 35,000 women, and has emerged as an influential leader in the women’s entrepreneurial community in India.

Starting with an initial investment of just Rs 1 lakh in 2015, WEDO now boasts a turnover of Rs 40 lakh, offering comprehensive support and resources to women across India and beyond.

WEDO is a membership forum with a basic membership fee of Rs 500. “The idea was to keep the membership cost cheaper than a cab or the price of a kurti. Every month we offer two free training programmes,” says Kadambari, 42

The training topics cover different business models, market strategies, import and export practices, GST rules, and hacks for scaling up businesses.

The membership renewal is month on month. In addition to basic membership, WEDO offers a variety of business starter courses starting at Rs 499.

From "How to Use Business Networking for Your Business Growth" to "Start Your Montessori Teacher Training Academy," WEDO offers a diverse range of courses. WEDO also facilitates investors in exploring multiple women-owned businesses before making investments.

WEDO organised a women's acceleration conference in Nigeria recently

Recently, they hosted a women's acceleration conference in Nigeria, where WEDO strategised on creating pathways for women from India, Malaysia, and Nigeria to connect and collaborate.

“WEDO puts women entrepreneurs in an environment where they can overcome limitations related to mindset, exposure, funding, time, and even mobility,” says Kadambari.

“A woman entrepreneur no longer has to work as a single entity; she can collaborate with others. With WEDO’s support, women entrepreneurs often achieve their business goals in two to three years, which otherwise would take six to seven years without any support.”

Citing examples, Kadambari recounts the success story of Sreeranjitha G, the founder of Littlesparkles Toys.

“Sreeranjitha, a young mother, used to attend our sessions and networking meetings with a child on her lap. She started her own business of educational toys, learning materials, and activity kits after joining WEDO. Today, she has over 1,500 customers across India.”

Kadambari also mentions Vinothini Shridhar, who successfully launched Little Bitty, a children's clothing brand with two stores in Tambaram, Chennai.

“Vinothini’s journey began with scribbling notes during our sessions, which got her thinking and launching her business. Today, Vinothini specialises in creating casual wear for children.” Tulips & Daffodils (nursery products) and F2F designer boutique have also thrived after their inception at WEDO.

Born into a middle-class family in Chennai, where her father was a dedicated central government employee and her mother a “perfect homemaker,” Kadambari’s childhood bore no connection to her current entrepreneurial journey.

“As a kid, I was never exposed to business at any point in time. I grew up in an environment where everything was provided for us. I didn't realise how limited my exposure was because my needs were minimal and always met by my parents,” she says.

“I had no clue about what I would become. I had no dreams and had not given my future a thought. Even if my family had problems, we were not exposed to them.”

As expected by her mother, she pursued a Bachelor's in Allied Health Sciences specialising in Cardiac Technology at Sri Ramachandra Medical College and Research Institute in 2000.

However, she got married while still in college, and by her final year, she was expecting her daughter.

The main turning points in her life came after experiencing two business failures, neither of which were financial setbacks. “Back in 2006, I co-founded a recruitment company. The business was highly profitable. The venture ended due to irreconcilable differences with my partners,” she says.

“Despite having prestigious clients and establishing a strong staffing presence, the strain among partners became too much to sustain, leading us to the mutual decision to close the business. We responsibly distributed our client base to other firms and moved forward from there.”

Kadambari enrolled in a 21-day training programme for women entrepreneurs at IIM-Bangalore before launching WEDO 

The second venture was more personal. Feeling directionless at home, she decided to assist her husband, a photographer and solo entrepreneur, in 2010. She played a crucial role in expanding their photography business into various verticals.

Given their limited marketing budget, she leveraged her network of mentors to achieve success over the next three years. Despite the financial success of the photography business, she felt an inner drive for more, like launching a photography franchise.

This, however, led to conflicts with her husband, who thought they were in a “happy space.” This tension escalated until a friend’s advice prompted her to pursue her own path.

She enrolled in IIM-Bangalore for a 21-day training programme — MPWE (Management Programme for Women Entrepreneurs). It was during these 21 days that the idea of WEDO was born.

“The programme not only helped me discover my passion for building businesses but also helped me realise my true potential for developing strategic business networks,” she says.

When she was launching WEDO, someone suggested she should start an NGO instead. She firmly rejected the idea, stating, “If I can't run a successful business myself, how can I help others do the same?”

Discussing future plans, she says, “As a woman entrepreneur, I understand the challenges of advancing without sufficient support. My vision is to create a unified platform where women can collaborate.”

Dr. Abdul Manaff, a dynamic and strategic leader, joined as Chairperson and Strategic Investor of WEDO recently, bringing his unparalleled passion for aviation, finance, and technology to the forefront.

“This means expansion and more investment in technology. By August 2024, we will have our mobile app in place,” she says, revealing more of the things in the pipeline.

“We just launched in Nigeria and Malaysia. Once we enter more than three countries, we will have a clear roadmap to enter other countries. I aim to expand to five countries by year-end, and from there, strategically grow to 20 countries within the next five years.” -©TWL

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