Empowering Women Entrepreneurs

The future is bright for women setting up business in Asia’s world city.

Hong Kong’s start-up-friendly environment is inspiring many women to set up their own business in the city – and those who do can find practical support and advice from Female Entrepreneurs Worldwide (FEW). Set up last year by local entrepreneurs Anna Wong and Ines Gafsi, the social enterprise recently hosted its first major event, Female Entrepreneurs Day. This first event of its kind was held at Hong Kong Cyberport in May. It attracted more than 500 guests and featured keynote speakers from Google and KPMG.

The core message of the conference was to promote an entrepreneurial mindset and can-do attitude, according to co-founder Ms Wong, who says the networking events are also an opportunity to help each other to grow personally and professionally and meet potential clients. 

The advantages of being a female entrepreneur in Hong Kong is its supportive environment, and she believes the future is bright for women executives in the city. “Qualities such as being more understanding are good character traits for the next generation of leaders as management structures become flatter,” she says. 

With more than 1,500 members in Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Macau, Tokyo, Los Angeles and London, FEW is developing a global network and will introduce a mobile app later this year to help members get more closely connected.

Attracting Talent

Hiam Sakakini, Head of Manager Development, APAC Google

“I wanted to give the entrepreneurs some ideas around attracting great talent and to think about their own unique selling points that larger corporates do not have,” says one of the speakers, Hiam Sakakini, Head of Manager Development, APAC Google. Joining a start-up is exciting especially when you believe in the mission, values and goals they are trying to achieve.” 

Even within large companies, people move around looking for a leader that inspires them the most and matches their values, she says. “One thing each entrepreneur can do is get connected with their core values and vision for their business, and really get crisp on that narrative and communicating it.”

Ms Sakakini says she got involved with Female Entrepreneurs Day out of curiosity about what led women to set up their own business, what obstacles they faced and how they overcame them.

People attend FEW to be inspired, build informal networks and to learn about the practical steps to starting and growing their business, she says. “Like anyone starting a new role even inside a large organisation, they need to be armed with the tools, processes, mentors, coaches and a network they can tap into as and when needed.”

Embracing Diversity

One of the sponsors of the event, Silicon Valley Bank, is engaged in projects and organisations supporting female entrepreneurs, and promotes changing the ratio of women in leadership positions in technology and healthcare sectors. The US-based commercial bank has helped fund more than 30,000 start-ups, including Airbnb, Fitbit and Pinterest. Managing Director and Head of Asia Private Equity Services Alice Chan says more and more big corporates are supporting female leadership and entrepreneurship. “From our experience working with thousands of tech companies for more than 30 years, we believe firms with a diverse workforce and an inclusive culture create higher-performing environments. 

“Innovation is global and is touching every aspect of our lives, which is creating even more need for inclusiveness of ideas and approaches. Businesses that understand how to incorporate and maximise diverse points of view will create new opportunities for themselves and their employees,” she adds.

Feeling Inspired

Irene Chu, Head of the High Growth Technology & Innovation Group at KPMG, says now is a good time to be a female entrepreneur in Hong Kong. 

“There are many more activities supporting entrepreneurs in Hong Kong now compared to a few years ago,” says Ms Chu. “The idea of creating a conference that allows female entrepreneurs to share ideas and learn from each other is important to the start-up ecosystem.

“I admire the relentless energy and determination entrepreneurs have to turn their passion into business, and how fearless they are in the face of challenges, uncertainties and setbacks.”

Women entrepreneurs tend to be less vocal about their successes, according to Ms Chu. “A good networking platform such as FEW can facilitate more women entrepreneurs to share and exchange their stories and ideas and be inspired to start their own businesses.”

Seeking Funding

Tech entrepreneur and author Carman Chan, founder and Managing Partner of angel fund Click Ventures, offered some advice on how to secure investment. “I look at the founding team’s ability and know-how, as well as their idea and business model. I also look at their ability to set up KPI and evaluate their business matrix and the traction of their KPI and how long to achieve it.”

As an investor, Ms Chan says Click Ventures prefers to fund teams that have diversity in their ranks, be that female and male co-founders or start-ups established by people with different talents, from technical know-how to business prowess.