Priya is a Managing and General Partner at Goddess Gaia Ventures, a female founded impact fund investing in tech-driven food, health, and wellness start-ups.
She is also the Founder and Managing Partner of Oberoi Capital Partners Limited, a boutique firm providing third-party fundraising and positioning expertise in the Middle East.
What is your background? What made you decide to get involved in supporting entrepreneurs?
I always wanted to be a lawyer and when I left Oxford, it was clear to me that this was going to be my path. At the time, the ambit of available professions was quite narrow; you could either be a banker, a doctor, a management consultant, or a lawyer.
When I was working as a lawyer, I really enjoyed engaging with new clients and creating new business strategies. . I was a pioneer in Islamic derivatives bringing to market the first standardised template documentation in the global market. I discovered a real passion for finding solutions to problems. I also love building things: teams, business plans, projects etc., and this is precisely what an entrepreneur does – build teams and products to solve problems.
I founded Oberoi Capital Partners in 2010 and haven’t looked back since. My love of being an entrepreneur came very naturally to me. One the one side, it gives you a lot of freedom to express yourself. But it also comes with a great amount of responsibility. As an entrepreneur, you are responsible for so many different things, including pay checks, creating ideas, and directing other people. These two sides have to be juggled and balanced.
Being an entrepreneur isn’t for everyone, you have to want the lifestyle and be prepared to work really hard. My own entrepreneurial journey started after I was diagnosed with cancer. I had to decide between being a Partner at a law firm or carving out my own path and showcasing my skillset through my own firm. I chose the latter since being an entrepreneur suits my personality well. I wanted to change the narrative and show that a British-Asian girl can step into a male-dominated field and be successful on my own terms.
Entrepreneurship tends to be very glamourised nowadays which can conceal the fact that it requires a lot of hard work. It isn’t for everyone, but if it is for you, then your job won’t feel like work.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
Entrepreneurship to me means freedom to create solutions for the problems that you see. Being an entrepreneur also means building and living by your own narrative.
How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
With the fund I recently launched, I don’t know whether the idea is good. However, I do believe that that the time is right to invest in the intersection of food, health, and wellness technologies. No ideas are bad ideas, it’s about finding the right timing in the market, having self-belief and convincing others to trust you to execute on your investment thesis.
Covid-19 has unearthed a lot of global, problems that are prevalent in our society. As an entrepreneur, you should be asking yourself whether you have identified the right problem and whether you are good enough to execute the solution. You have to believe in yourself and your idea. I am not looking for validation from other people, I believe that our idea is brilliant and that now is the right time to set up a fund like ours because more money needs to be invested into women, into food tech and into health tech. Emboldening and empowering women makes society as a whole a better place to live in.
What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
Firstly, being able to hustle. Not taking no for an answer getting people to listen to you are very important skills to have. As an entrepreneur, you have to figure out what makes you special in order to succeed and stand out.
Secondly, having a vision. As women, we are often taught not to dream bigger than we should. However, an entrepreneur has to be able to dream big.
Thirdly, the ability to execute. Dreaming big is one side of the equation, the other one is execution. Without the latter, you cannot bring a product to the market and your ideas will remain ideas.
What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
My favourite part of being an entrepreneur is the ability to decide my own future. I love having the freedom of accountability for my own decisions. I appreciate having the ability to create my own destiny as well as the responsibility that comes with it. Some people might not like it, but I crave this freedom- a double edged sword.
Work tends to have a negative connotation, but it can be fun as well. I am genuinely interested in and passionate about what I do. The best thing about being an entrepreneur is having this ability to create my own vision and act on it.
What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
My mum is more of a role model to me than anyone else. She brought me up on her own (my father passed away when I was 16) and made sure I was fed, clothed, loved and received a good education. I felt safe and that I could achieve anything. The importance of mothering is often overlooked, and yet, having that stability at home is significant to becoming a stable person. Becoming a mother has made me realise that being a mother is tough. Women aren’t valued enough at home and working mothers especially should be given more acknowledgement and recognition.
What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
The closing of our first deal at Oberoi Capital Partners was very rewarding. It was a wonderful pat on the back, and I remember thinking “thank God I kept going”. To achieve that in a very male-dominated environment was very satisfying. I also felt an enormous sense of achievement when finally setting up a new fund after eight months of hard work. It felt triumphant- as if my two fellow female founders and I are going to make a real difference.
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
A mistake I made earlier in my career was not believing in myself enough. When I became a of- counsel at a law firm, I realised that I should have put myself forward earlier. It’s about having the confidence and self-belief that you’re as good as anyone else around you. If you don’t try, you don’t get, and I often ask myself why I wasn’t more confident back then. Men more often shoot for the stars, e.g. when it comes to securing a pay raise, they go in guns blazing whereas women tend to undershoot. Over time, I learned to accept that I am as good as any man out there and I could do anything I wanted to do. Having the same track record, performance and deliverables gives me the right to ask for the same pay raise as any man.
When it comes to mistakes, I make them on a daily basis. However, I have learned to forgive myself and move on. Never be fearful of the future and always give it your best shot. If you don’t try, you’ll never know, and that’s far worse. Take the chances when they are given to you and if they are not, make those chances happen.
Life experiences are also very important, travelling widens your breadth of thought and imagination and teaches you to ground yourself better.
How have you funded your ideas?
For the most part, I have been funding my ideas through my own savings and revenue-streams.
Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?
I think that grants can be very helpful but can take a company off the competitive track and completely change its trajectory. It’s very important for start-ups to be able to demonstrate their competitiveness. When I look at start-ups, I like to see that they can create their own revenue streams. A company does not necessarily have to be profitable at the early stages, but it has to be revenue-generating.
If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
Oxford Innovation is amazing. I would suggest talking to them, they work hard and have great ethics – they’re brilliant. Mark Mann and Chas Bountra in particular.
I would also advise new entrepreneurs to go and work with some of the portfolio companies and social enterprises in Oxford to get some hands-on experience. The Oxford Foundry and the Skoll Institute also provide great resources.
Have you faced any challenges as a woman entrepreneur? If so, how have you overcome them?
As a woman entrepreneur, most people underestimate you and will often think you’re not really up to the mark or have a rich daddy who’s supporting you. As a woman, you often have to prove your worth a little bit more, and it comes down to investing in yourself and believing in your leadership qualities.
How could institutions such as the University of Oxford better support women entrepreneurs?
The University of Oxford could do more to connect current students with alumni. It could create a programme to encourage wealthier female alumni to invest in female-led funds that in turn invest in female student start-ups. This would result in a virtuous circle of wealth creation.
Do you have any advice specifically for other women who want to be entrepreneurs?
Make a plan and jump – stop listening to the noise.
Any last words of advice?
Go and (Zoom) meet entrepreneurs you like and do some work experience with them to see what their workday looks like. Also educate and empower yourself with as many tools as possible. For example, learn how to read a balance sheet or how to create a fund model, and don’t shy away from numbers, especially since men will sometimes try and catch you out on numbers.
Be confident, invest in yourself and go and do what you’re scared of, e.g. speaking at events.
For young women, it’s also important to surround yourself with supportive women and create a network of people who will lift you up.