I never imagined that I would be an entrepreneur when I was young. My childhood ambition was to be a barista, serving coffee and cakes in a cafe. Today, I am grateful to co-found an award-winning online florist and work with a vibrant team that creates beautiful gifting moments for our clients nationwide.
But it was not a rosy journey. My responsibilities started growing exponentially as I had to quickly learn how to run a company, raise funds and manage finances, while also crafting the organisational structure of the company, figuring out its operating systems and strategies to flourish in a highly competitive market. Even through all that, I was also working building partnerships and hiring talents for the business.
Try naming five famous female entrepreneurs that you know in five seconds. It’s okay if you struggled, because globally only 4 in 10 entrepreneurs are female. In Malaysia, the figure is about 2 in 10, that’s from a total of 650,000 entrepreneurs registered officially.
If you are a female entrepreneur in the start-up circle, or aspiring to be one, I encourage you to keep going. The work is hard, but don’t give up. I always tell myself that I have what I need to get through tough situations.
Here are five areas that will help women thrive in this challenging yet fulfilling work of providing solutions through businesses.
1. Refuse to be intimidated
A friend of mine, a female entrepreneur who delivers exceptional services in her industry, was at a pitching event where another male entrepreneur presented first. She felt intimidated by how eloquent, articulate and confident this person spoke about his company’s big vision.
Perhaps men are more comfortable to take risks. Perhaps women are more conservative and careful. Or not.
We need to stop comparing ourselves with others. Men or women, we need to recognise that we are qualified founders with different backgrounds and strengths.
Once we relieve ourselves from the burden of comparison and focus on our mission, we can present our company more confidently.
When you feel small, then you act small. When you feel confident, your actions will follow too.
You might like this: Panacea for Challenges Faced by a Female Leader in Malaysia
2. Grow boldly into high-value segments
"How can you add billions of dollars in e-commerce to Southeast Asia?” this video by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) asked.
The short answer is this: Invest in women.
The IFC’s study found that although women comprise half of the active e-commerce vendors in Southeast Asia, they “tend to run smaller-scale businesses and feature prominently in high-competition, low-value segments.”
Therefore, if women’s gross merchandise value were to reach parity with men by 2025, the market could grow by more than US$280 billion between 2025 and 2030, the study says. This could include your company. But…
- How can you niche further in your business?
- What is a high-value offering that your company can explore in the next quarter?
- How can you scale this?
- What kind of training and support do you need to make that happen?
To help you get ready…
3. Get trained
The COVID-19 pandemic caused an increased number of new entrepreneurs. In a U.S. survey reported in mid last year, women-led startups made up almost half of the total number of startups that were created in 2021, which is a significant increase of 29% compared to the numbers in 2019.
Closer to home, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) highlighted the story of four Malaysian women who leveraged on its training programme during the pandemic and steadily steered their company through the storm, with businesses ranging from healthcare to artisanal F&B products.
The market demands are dynamic and require even the most experienced companies to keep abreast with the latest skills and tech to stay competitive. Digitalisation, fintech, communication, business and personal leadership, sales and marketing… What do you or your team need to level up your game?
And since every woman’s business success contributes to the economy as a whole, we must not forget women entrepreneurs in rural settings. Wiki impact has compiled a list of resources to empower businesswomen in the outskirts. Do check it out.
4. Leverage on entrepreneur groups for support
For a female entrepreneur trying to get your startup going, one of the best ways to get noticed and support is to network with other female founders, such as WENA. Last year, I had the opportunity to join an AWS (Amazon Web Services) Women Founders Program and selected a mentor to help me with personal development, leadership, growing and scaling my business.
You could also check out the Endeavor network, which aims to create a Multiplier Effect by inspiring high-growth entrepreneurs to dream bigger, scale faster, and pay it forward by supporting other entrepreneurs.
We were scaling at that time, which was a big break for us given the post-pandemic economic recovery challenges. The Endeavor platform connected us towards wider market access, fundraising opportunities and collaborations with high-impact organisations and business leaders.
I ended up learning so much from the Endeavor mentors who generously spent their time helping me identify my blind spots and navigate through some of the challenges. It’s true what people say: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Do you have a mentor that you can speak to for guidance?
5. Increase inclusive policies and funding
I wrote about why investing in women could make the economy richer. I’m not for tokenistic awarding of funding based on gender. Grants and opportunities must of course go to the entrepreneurs who deserve it the most based on merits.
In a survey of more than 350 startups, Mass Challenge and BCG found that women-run businesses deliver higher revenues, equating to more than twice as much for every dollar that was invested in the business. The reality is that the role women play in economic development will benefit organisations and the economy overall.
Image source: Mass Challenge and BCG
Another report by MSCI ESG also supports these findings by revealing that companies with strong female leadership tend to generate a return on equity of 10.1% per year versus 7.4% for those without, although no direct causal link was found.
Realising the potential of what the female leadership is able to contribute to the global economy, Malaysia has launched initiatives to nurture the ecosystem of women entrepreneurs and encourage its growth, enhance financial inclusion and help them overcome various challenges.
Discover: Women are Risk-Takers Too: Busting Gender Myths in the Star
In the Budget 2022 announcement, the Malaysian Government introduced a number of women empowerment programs such as MyKasih Capital Program, the Women Leadership Foundation, funding for women entrepreneurs from Bank Simpanan Nasional (BSN), Agrobank, MARA’s DANANITA program and TEKUN’s TEKUNITA, among others, which amounted to RM230 million. With the programmes in place, women-founded businesses in Malaysia were able to continue surviving during the pandemic and even expand their production capacity.
Malaysia also has the highest percentage of women in the boardroom across Asia, along with a further mandate by the government for big firms to have at least one woman director, we will continue to see this shift taking place through 2023.
The landscape has certainly improved for more women entrepreneurs to grow and contribute to the economy. Pandemic or recession, there will always be a curveball waiting. But that’s where our entrepreneurial spirit comes in, and in every woman, I believe we have the extra strength and grit to overcome hurdles in our way. See the opportunity.
Dear optimist, pessimist, and realist: While you guys were busy arguing about the glass of wine, I drank it! Sincerely, the opportunist! - Lori Greiner, inventor and 'Shark Tank' investor
There’s no better time than to act now.
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