How might Female Founders become the New Normal in Asia?

Updated: Nov 11, 2021

By Jessica Bong, Everard Ong and Elise Tan 8 August, 2021 This Makan For Hope session that discusses empowerment of female founders in tech was hosted by Qing Ru Lim, a Singaporean female founder who co-founded Zopim (a live chat software that was acquired by Zendesk (NYSE:ZEN) in 2014). Setting the context In Southeast Asia, startup deals involving women-founders or co-founders accounted for a mere 17.1% of the total private equity (PE) and venture capital (VC) activity tracked, according to the report Women in Startups: The SE Asia Edition by DealStreetAsia, published in March 2021. Share of funds raised by startups with female founders or co-founders stood at a mere 4.7% - in contrast, the US was higher at 11%, according to Crunchbase. On the other side of the table, only 2.4% of all VC partners globally are women. That is just mind-blowing, to say the least. Yet, in reality, female founders were found to actually deliver better returns. A study by Boston Consulting Group found that women-led startups, as opposed to male-founded startups, provided better financial returns to investors-- for every dollar of funding, women-led startups generated a return of 78 cents, while male-founded startups generated less than half that, at just 31 cents. On the other hand, having more women in funds has proved higher fund returns and more profitable exits. A Harvard Business Review study showed that VC firms which increased the number of female partners by 10% experienced a 1.5% increase in fund returns each year, plus 9.7% more profitable exits. Data from both sides of the table seem to suggest that women could outperform their male counterparts. Why now? So, why should we all care? In a 2017 study by Boston Consulting Group, Singapore is behind our peers, with only 29% of our undergraduates studying tech, compared to almost 50% in Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand. As Qing Ru shared, we are moving closer to a digital heavy, post-pandemic world and without deliberate intervention, women might be left behind, The COVID pandemic could push more women out of the workforce, in particular, working women. also could make it worse overall-- a September 2020 McKinsey report on women in the workplace found “as much as 30% of working mothers are considering leaving the workforce. This could throw equality for women back 10-20 years,” This paints a picture of both opportunity and urgency as the tech space becomes increasingly lucrative. Empowering female talent could also be part of the solution to continued economic growth for Singapore. To achieve that, Singapore has traditionally relied on foreign talent. This has been effective to some extent but empowering females to become tech entrepreneurs, which is 50% of the local population, could help create meaningful jobs and sustain economic growth.

From top left, in clockwise direction: Davis Ng (Helicap), Qing Ru Lim (Host), Everard Ong (MFH Team), Pin Duangdee (Goldman Sachs), Yiping Goh (Quest Ventures), Georgina Lee (RGS Alumnae), Yen-Lu Chow (Asia Institute of Me