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My Way: A Young Heir with a Big Punch 'I just wanted to be an entrepreneur.'

By Sandeep Soni

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Entrepreneur India
Ananya Birla, Founder Chairperson and Director, Svatantra Microfinance

In 2013 Ananya Birla, business scion of Indian conglomerate Aditya Birla Group and daughter of Chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla had two options, either join the $40 billion group which brings along instant fame and power or put all that aside to toil and sweat it out to build something truly of her own.

Ananya preferred the ruthless startup world where you are all on your own and launched micro finance lending platform. Ananya, 21 and Founder, Chairperson & Director, Svatantra Microfinance unravels her personal and professional side in a dialogue with Entrepreneur.

Would you call yourself a social entrepreneur since Svatantra lends to micro entrepreneurs belonging to low-income group to become self-sustainable? Also why most of your customers are women?

No, in fact I have been trying to undo this perception. I just wanted to be an entrepreneur. I don't see Svatantra as a social venture; it is a proper financial services firm.

99.9 per cent of our customers are women as it has been scientifically proven that within micro lending space, when you lend to women, it does benefit their business as they don't travel much unlike men who travel more because of their lifestyle.

This also impact collection process of businesses like ours. But we are open to lending to men as well. We are completely sector agnostic and have disbursed more than Rs 100 crore. Our loan book currently is of Rs 147 crore which we are certain that it grow to Rs 500 crore by next year.

How do you authenticate people seeking loans from you?

We look verifying people looking for loans from qualitative and quantitative aspects. Qualitatively, we look at the way the person talks, her reputation in the local area where she lives or do business, her ambitions, what kind of clients she has, how she runs the business etc.

Quantitatively, we look at how have been the cash flows of her business in the last two years, her level of business understanding, whether she has expanded her business in the past, her credit history etc. However the most important thing for us is to make them realize that at least 80 per cent of the loan we provide must be used for business activities instead of consumption purpose.

What is your aim with Svatantra?

With Svatantra, we want to become a small finance bank which would help us expand our product base and also our reach among people. We want to evolve all our products around innovation which no other micro finance institutions have done.

It could be in any way for e.g. energy and its different forms, solar panels, education etc. We are also working on an initiative for cashless transfers and collections through mobile banking for a seamless process which we will announce in around three months.

You turned entrepreneur because your family business didn't interest you?

It is not about my interest in the family business neither I had any family pressure to join the business. My focus has been to create something from scratch on my own.

Working in a set environment doesn't excite me as much as building a startup. I like to implement my ideas and see them grow. I believe start-ups with great products and ideas have the potential to change the world.

What are you planning to do beyond Svatantra?

I would be launching a lifestyle and product design e-commerce venture in June this year as I love design. I would also like to invest in start-ups may be after a year when I feel I'm in a position to give my expertise and invest in innovative and disruptive technologies.

Any childhood learning towards business and other areas you remember.

While growing up I was always a perfectionist and very ambitious girl. I always wanted to do something impactful and different from others. In business, I never understood the concept and mentality of being a promoter and delegating work to others.

I believe as a promoter you need to be a part of the team, doing and taking care of even small things by yourself rather than asking others to do. But that doesn't mean lack of a structure. We also have proper management structure but the culture is very open. One of the other things I realized apart from business was about our education system. I never understood how written exams could completely assess your knowledge. So I didn't have much interest in studies.

I thought viva was relatively better way to do that. But when I went to the UK to study at University of Oxford I realized it was more about learning and thinking process than results and grades. So I really started enjoying education.

What you do to unwind yourself from work?

Football is very close to my heart. It really channelizes my habit of over-thinking and teaches me about teamwork apart from helping me stay fit. Apart from football, I have been very close to music which has been a form of expression for me and helping me come up with better ideas. I also love travelling, so every two months I take a five-day off to exotic locations to shut myself off from work and other things.

Sandeep Soni

Former Features Editor

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