Issue / Women Inc.

Women Inc.

Jun 25, 2013

Enterprising business women tell us what it takes to make it.

The key to all the successes of all four South Asian female entrepreneurs – Jain, Minhas, Khan and Manwar – is their ability to dream big and see that dream through.

Sarina Jain “Think about where you want your business to be 10 years from now, then start working backward. You’ll be able to focus your energy toward what you need to do now to get to that goal in the future. Your path becomes clear and you can start planning and investing from there. Also, make sure you copyright your unique idea. Finally, I know this sounds cliché, but you have to love your business.”

Manjit Minhas “Although it might make more time for your business to become big, it’s better to not make your company public. That way you have complete business control over the direction you want to take your company and you don’t have to answer to anyone else.”

Lynn Manwar “Find a mentor who inspires you or does something similar to what you want to do. They can become your sounding board to go out and give you the confidence to accomplish it.”

Zehra Khan “Develop a good understanding of your clientele and cater to that.”

When Sarina Jain first decided to launch her own bhangra workout, she expected roadblocks. “It’s always scary when you are a pioneer trying something new,” Jain said. “I thought the American community would make fun of me, but I wanted to do it for the desi community – to get them moving and exercising.” The gem of the idea was rooted in personal loss. Jain lost her father to heart cancer and it’s a constant regret Jain carries that he did not exercise more. From that place of grief, a desire for change and a love for all things desi, Jain decided it was time to introduce the world to Masala Bhangra Workout in 1999.

What she did not expect was the backlash from her own community. “All the Indian aunties said, ‘OK, baccha, have fun. Do this for a while and then get a real job. Get married,’” Jain said. “You want your own community to support you and that was hurtful.”

It was only when Masala Bhangra Workout became a success with the Caucasian American community did the South Asian community jump onboard, she said. Eleven years later, Masala Bhangra Workout has made it around the world and is recognized as a first-class aerobic workout. ANOKHI named Sarina Jain one of 2010’s Sexy and Successful people in their anniversary issue, and Jain has appeared on various shows including hosting her own TV segment on Discovery Channel’s Fit TV and regular appearances on The Dr. Oz Show and NBC’s The Today Show. Jain is also the new face for Nestle Fitness throughout Latin America, where 2.6 million cereal boxes include her Masala Bhangra Workout Bollywood Style DVD.

If there is one lesson Jain has learned from her rise to a successful South Asian entrepreneur, it is to always have faith in your project. “If you don’t believe it can work, who will?” she said.

Becoming an entrepreneur is never easy. Add to that the pressures of being a female of a visible minority, and the road to making it big just got that much harder.

It certainly wasn’t easy for Manjit Minhas. Today she is the president and CEO of Minhas Creek Craft Brewing Company, which brings in revenues of more $120-million. But when she and her brother Ravinder Minhas first decided to foray into the beer industry in Alberta, Canada, in 1999, it was a very different story. “Firstly, I was a woman entering a male-dominated company. I definitely did not belong in the old boys’ club and that meant a lot of stereotyping,” Minhas said. “And then being Indian when mainly Caucasian people are in this business; there is a definitely a lot of racism.” Minhas said she felt she had to work “twice as hard as [her] counterparts” but she learned to develop a thick skin. Over time things changed and the beer baroness has had the last laugh. She won several awards in quick succession, including the Young Achiever Award from the Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce in 2005 and was named one of Canada’s Women Executive Network Top 100 Women Entrepreneurs in 2007 and 2010. Minhas has also been featured in ANOKHI and her company was ranked sixth overall in Alberta Venture Magazine’s Top 50 Fastest Growing Companies in 2005.

Perseverance and dedication to their dreams are the key to success for Minhas and Jain. But sometimes life takes an unexpected turn and presents added challenges, as it did for Lynn Manwar. After launching Talent Detective, a Toronto-based recruiting agency serving the non-profit sector, arthritis made it hard for her to keep up with her regular work. Ever focused on keeping busy, Manwar applied for a $20,000 grant from the Self-Employment Benefits Program from the Canadian government. Talent Detective was the result in 2006. But when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, her business was brought to a stand still. Today Manwar is a cancer survivor, works part-time and has recruited volunteers successfully for a number of years. And none of life’s roadblocks have stopped her from dreaming big. “I want to take my company across Canada some day and serve clients everywhere,” she said. Manwar said she feels pride in her work when she sees the success of her volunteers and their careers grow. “In 2006, I arranged for a volunteer to work at an event with ReelWorld Film Festival in Toronto and today [that volunteer] has risen through the ranks to become a paid employee,” Manwar said. “I would call it one of my proudest moments when I see people grow like that.”

Zehra Khan feels that same pride when a bride and groom are left awestruck by her wedding cake creations. When working at a demanding auditing position at a bank became too stressful, she decided to take refuge in baking. “Eventually I just decided to bite the bullet,” she said. Khan launched her Fine Cakes by Zehra business in 2005 in Toronto and since then business has been booming. Her cakes sell upwards of $500 and can be as much as $4,000. From Mughal-inspired dome-shaped cakes to henna designs on traditional white cakes and Mardi Gras frivolity to high couture designs, Khan approaches each cake as an “edible work of art.”

“Since I specifically targeted the South Asian community, I had to create cakes that would appeal to them and include the sense of glamour, fashion and colour that Indian weddings have,” she said. In Khan’s case, tapping into her South Asian roots proved an advantage. She is already constructing her own bakery and plans to participate in various bridal shows soon. Luckily for Khan, her friends and family supported her decision to launch her own business – and it of course helped that she has a business degree from the prestigious Schulich School of business in Toronto.

“They used to tease me about baking, but honestly, my friends were the ones who gave me the idea because everybody loved my cakes so much,” she said. “But my two young girls are my biggest fans. It’s so cute when I see them getting excited by my baking.”

The key to the successes of each of these four South Asian female entrepreneurs – Jain, Minhas, Manwar and Khan – is their ability to dream big and see that dream through. As Jain puts it, “It’s a gut feeling. If you don’t let your dreams become reality, you’ll regret it.”



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