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Embrace Challenges As Opportunities & Step Out Of Comfort Zone To Grow As Entrepreneur: Rithika Mohan Agnishwar

In a conversation with Marketing Mind, Rithika Mohan Agnishwar, Co-founder and Chief Information Officer of Garuda Aerospace, shared her heartfelt mission to empower women through drone training, aiming to improve their financial stability. She also discussed her company's initiatives geared towards achieving this goal.

| Published on May 3, 2024

Embrace Challenges As Opportunities & Step Out Of Comfort Zone To Grow As Entrepreneur: Rithika Mohan Agnishwar

Embarking on the journey of “firsts” often means navigating through a maze of uncertainties and obstacles, and it was no different for Rithika Mohan Agnishwar, Co-founder and Chief Information Officer of Garuda Aerospace. However, she forged ahead with a clear vision since the beginning of her career – to empower women nationwide through drone technology and undeterred by the challenges, she soared towards her goal ultimately achieving a big milestone of becoming Garuda Aerospace’s first woman drone pilot.

She is also one of the very few women drone pilots across India with a Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) licence.

Agnishwar firmly believes in stepping beyond one’s comfort zone to foster entrepreneurial growth. She views challenges as valuable opportunities for learning and personal development. Throughout her professional journey, this mindset has consistently guided her, shaping her into the resilient leader she is today.

In conversation with Marketing Mind, reflecting on her journey and the pivotal moments and experiences that have shaped her professional trajectory, she said that as Chief Information Office (CIO), she is able to leverage her educational background and experience of working in D2C and service sectors to seamlessly integrate aspects of information technology into Garuda Aerospace’s operations.

“It is exciting for me to work on emerging technology and be on top of every new development that takes place in the tech sector around the globe. But when I assumed the role of a Co-founder in Garuda Aerospace, along with being CIO, it turned out to be a defining moment in my professional journey,” Agnishwar said.

As a leader, she understood that the organisational goals are to be achieved through elevation and growth of everyone within the internal ecosystem.

“Being one of the first few women leaders in the drone industry, I made it a priority to create and foster a culture of inclusion where everyone feels valued, respected, and empowered to contribute their unique perspectives and experiences. It is essential to communicate one’s vision, ideas, and even progress. The working environment is volatile and every idea and suggestion needs to be addressed. This is something I have consciously worked on as a woman Co-founder,” Agnishwar added.

Agnishwar, Garuda Aerospace’s first woman drone pilot, shared that when she was seeking to get a DCGA licence, it was unheard of and her decision was met with a lot of apprehensions.

“However, it was a very natural step for me. If I want to inspire women all across the country to use drones, it is imperative for me to go through the entire process with full commitment. It is necessary to step outside your comfort zone to grow as an entrepreneur. I embrace challenges as opportunities to learn, grow, and develop resilience,” she said.

Furthermore, she said that building Garuda Aerospace alongside her Co-founder Agnishwar has shown her that strong ideas and sharp skills are the cornerstones of entrepreneurial success. Their vision and strengths were instrumental in seeking investments, not their genders.

“In my experience, rather than any gender-specific dynamics and strategies, our vision and research backed plans played a crucial role in navigating the challenges and achieving success in fundraising. It highlights the importance of a cohesive entrepreneurial team and a shared commitment to our organisation’s vision in securing the support needed for our growth and impact,” Agnishwar said.

The focus of discussions with investors is on core business aspects like the business model, market strategy, scalability, and team dynamics.

“This suggests we are moving away from questions based on gender and a trend towards evaluating women based on their skills and qualities. Investors are increasingly prioritising diversity and inclusion, seeking out ventures led by women. This opens doors for female founders to showcase their innovative ideas and contribute to a richer startup ecosystem,” she said.

She believed that leveraging dedicated networks, mentors, and platforms can further empower women on this journey. While challenges remain, focusing on merit, innovation, and the inherent value of their ventures will pave the way for success based on talent, not gender.

“I have observed a positive shift in mindset and an improvement in bias against female founders so I am optimistic,” she added.

As women holding leadership positions in the aerospace industry are still relatively scarce, Agnishwar shared her views on why this is the case and what steps can be taken to promote more gender diversity in this field.

“The aerospace sector in India is still evolving. We are working towards widespread adoption of drones but are yet to reach that stage. The regulatory and safety clearances are a little complex. As the sector will grow, I am sure women’s representation in leadership positions will also increase. Existing stereotypes and biases make it harder for women entrepreneurs to succeed and feel confident in their abilities,” she said.

“Being among the first few women drone pilots, I take my position as a woman founder in a room full of male aeronautical engineers and scientists with utmost sincerity,” she added.

While discussing how she balances her professional responsibilities with other aspects of her life outside of work, she emphasised that with proper time management and prioritisation, she is able to maintain a good work life balance.

“My family has been an incredible support system to back me up. At the end of the day, it is about directing your attention and resources towards the most important tasks. To manage multiple responsibilities in my professional and personal life, I use my time and energy in the most efficient way possible,” she added.

Garuda Aerospace has already trained more than 500 women in drone technology in rural areas. Agnishwar shared more about why they are doing this and how it fits into the company’s big goals. She also talked about other plans they have to keep helping women in rural areas with technology, making sure it grows and helps even more people.

She said that women empowerment was and always will be the focus at Garuda Aerospace. Right from the research and development stage of their Agri Kisan drone, they envisioned them to be utilised by women engaged in agriculture.

“We are as equally invested in training programs as in the manufacturing process. The Namo Drone Didi initiative’s focus on empowering rural women entrepreneurs aligns perfectly with Garuda Aerospace’s values, creating a natural partnership. This initiative is just the beginning for us,” Agnishwar said.

Furthermore, she went on to say that with a huge part of the population engaged in farming, the company aims to reach every corner of the country.

“India has widely adapted to technological advancements in recent years and we have witnessed the same with the Drone Didi program. These women are receptive to change and are motivated to learn and upskill themselves for economic growth and prosperity. Drones enable women farmers to conquer challenges like high labour costs and time-consuming tasks, boosting their incomes and fostering self-reliance,” she said.

The training programs are being conducted across diverse locations like Naini, Ranchi, Gurgaon, Masika and Thazhambur and the company is working to expand on these.

Agnishwar highlighted, “We are proud to have 35% female representation in Garuda Aerospace. I advocate for equitable hiring practices and clear and transparent channels across the workforce. We have set the goal of achieving 50% female workforce by 2025. We are consciously working towards hiring women across all departments of the company so that the overall ratio becomes more balanced.”

She also encourages girls to pursue science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) education courses to improve women’s representation in the skilled workforce. Moreover, she also conducts regular workshops and organises events focused on opportunities specifically for girls and young women.

“These events provide them with networking opportunities and exposure to the exciting world of aerospace. We have seen a consistent rise of women in the STEM field, but it’s not proportionate to the increase of women in the aerospace industry. I think it is also because of a lack of awareness about the vast scope of job opportunities in this arena,” Agnishwar said.

Sharing some advice for fellow female entrepreneurs in aerospace, she said, “They should focus on developing strong leadership skills, maintaining unwavering commitment to their vision, and actively participating in networks that support and promote women in business.”

Agnishwar strongly believes that skills are not a subset of gender in any way.

“Having said that, we have seen women are keener and more passionate to learn and grow. The trainers from the Drone Didi programs were pleasantly surprised with the program’s commitment and gave really positive feedback. All of them are self-motivated which is why the program has been so successful.”

“When Garuda Aerospace started the first training batch, I would not have imagined the high acceptance it has received. For me, transforming the lives of so many women, enabling them to be financially stable and improving their agency is the biggest milestone,” she added.

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