Entrepreneur

Women Making Waves: 8 S'pore Female Founders Share Their Challenges And Hopes In Business

Women have been beating the odds and breaking traditional stereotypes, especially in the startup world today where there’s no lack of amazing female entrepreneurs to recognise and celebrate.

However, there’s still a long way to go to close the gap as Singapore sees women only making up 26.3 per cent of all business owners.

But among them are founders who are fiercely claiming their space, bravely making a difference, and we’re certain they will pave the way for more women to enter business.

This International Women’s Day, we hear from eight female founders, sharing where they draw their inspiration, what they hope for, and their advice to other aspiring women entrepreneurs.

Elizabeth Wu, Co-Founder of Trehaus

Elizabeth and her co-founders experienced first-hand the difficulty of starting a business while not wanting to miss out on their children’s growing years.

To solve that problem and empower many other working mums and dads, they created Trehaus, a family-friendly coworking space with a preschool on-site, that allows parents to stay close to their kids while they hustle hard.

Female entrepreneurs in Singapore: Elizabeth Wu, co-founder and COO of Trehaus
Elizabeth Wu, co-founder and COO of Trehaus / Image Credit: Trehaus

Do you face any struggles that come from being a woman in the startup scene?

Many female founders like myself are starting families, being involved in our children’s early years, and building our businesses all at the same time.

I get people who ask: “What about the kids? Can you juggle starting up and raising kids?”, as they don’t think about the notion of shared parenting. Sometimes, society still sees raising kids as mainly a mother’s responsibility.

Who is a female figure you look up to?

My mom, who in her own quiet strength, keeps the family together and well taken care of.

And my tribe of women whom I call friends and family, including my fellow co-founder and business partner, Elaine Kim, and my team of passionate coworkers and educators at Trehaus who believe in raising change-makers.

What do you hope to see for women in business in the next few years?

I hope to see more female-led businesses taking the lead in being movers and shakers of our generation, solving problems and giving back to the community.

What advice do you have for aspiring female founders?

Life is short, do stuff that matters. Find your purpose and explore the possibilities!

Nikki Chua, Co-Founder of Retailers’ Market

As second-generation owners to their parents’ business, which served the retail scene since the 1990s, sisters Nikki and Alison Chua founded Retailers’ Market to deepen their support for local retail players in today’s challenging environment.

They’ve helmed the business’ transformation from a mannequin supplier, to an agency that helps retailers through designing their store layouts and creating new shopping experiences.

Female entrepreneurs in Singapore: Nikki and Alison Chua, co-founders of Retailers' Market (Singapore)
Alison Chua (left) and Nikki Chua (right), co-founders of Retailers’ Market / Image Credit: Vulcan Post

Do you face any struggles that come from being a woman in the startup scene?

I’ve been quite blessed to not feel undermined, be it by gender or age. I think generally if you are respectful and diligent to learn, my industry is fairly nurturing.

I have heard horror stories where women are shut down for their ideas and contributions, but I do believe it happens much less now, thanks to women who stand their ground and speak up.

Who is a female figure you look up to?

Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx. She is unapologetic about not knowing everything she needs to know in business. She also believes in putting herself in uncomfortable situations to push her limits. I love how she always encourages entrepreneurs to face fear with courage.

What do you hope to see for women in business in the next few years?

More childcare support, and for society to be less judgemental towards mothers who work. I hope women will receive less thoughtless comments that unnecessarily inflict guilt on them for juggling motherhood and business.

What advice do you have for aspiring female founders?

Don’t expect handouts just because of our gender. If what we seek is to be treated as an equal, then we must also manage situations without expecting special concessions.

Hazel Kweh, Founder of BloomBack

Having grown up in a single parent family with a partially disabled sister, Hazel now helps disadvantaged women find their footing in the workforce through her online floral business, BloomBack.

BloomBack is a beneficiary of DBS’ Social Enterprise Support Programme, which provides mentoring, financing options and courses for social entrepreneurs.

Female entrepreneurs in Singapore: Hazel Kweh, founder and CEO of BloomBack (Singapore)
Hazel Kweh, founder and CEO of BloomBack / Image Credit: Youth.sg

Do you face any struggles that come from being a woman in the startup scene?

In the social enterprise space, people have all been very supportive of what I do, because regardless of gender, everyone is fully focused on creating an impact in society.

Who is a female figure you look up to?

Queen Esther in the bible. She was a Jewish orphan who became a Persian queen, as she never allowed her difficult circumstances to make her bitter.

She was humble to seek wise council. She knew where to find her strength. She waited and trusted the perfect timing. She loved her people more than her own life.

What do you hope to see for women in business in the next few years?

I hope to see women going back to the basics, learning how to care and invest in relationships with their time.

When you genuinely care for others and think in their shoes, you will often realise that issues are easier to solve. Businesses are run by people and for people. If you put people first, things will start to change for the better.

What advice do you have for aspiring female founders?

Bloom one step at a time and trust the journey even when you don’t understand it. Focus on relationships and character building.

Ankiti Bose, Co-Founder of Zilingo

Ankiti Bose was only 23 when she co-founded Zilingo in 2015, to give small fashion business owners access to technology and solutions that help them scale in the ecommerce space.

By the age of 27, she built her startup to greater strength with operations in eight countries, and coming close to ‘unicorn’ status at a valuation of US$970 million.

Ankiti Bose, co-founder and CEO of Zilingo, shares her challenges and hopes as a female entrepreneur
Ankiti Bose, co-founder and CEO of Zilingo / Image Credit: Zilingo

Do you face any struggles that come from being a woman in the startup scene?

I think the biggest struggle of being a woman in any industry is that the playing field is not levelled.

Women are still expected to be less ambitious and to settle for less. And although this is slowly changing, we definitely still have a long way to go towards gender equality at work.

Who is a female figure you look up to?

Whitney Wolfe, founder and CEO of Bumble, is one of my role models because of the way she fearlessly took on her former employer, never gave up on her aspirations, and built a company which has now become America’s fastest growing dating app.

Michelle Obama is another incredibly inspiring figure to me. Her memoir Becoming has had such a huge impact on the way I think of myself as a woman, and a woman of colour, who can really have a voice and use it.

What do you hope to see for women in business in the next few years?

I hope to see more female role models for young girls to look up to, and more recognition for work that women do.

There aren’t enough women in key leadership roles, so I think it’s important to create equal opportunities for both men and women to have mentorship and coaching.

What advice do you have for aspiring female founders?

Actively seek coaching, mentorship and any opportunity to grow. Never let anyone make you feel guilty for dreaming big, nor tell you that you’re doing ‘good enough’ for a woman.

Bandana Kaur, Co-Founder of Inspired Snacks

Last year, Bandana and her co-founder embarked on creating a new snack that preserves the traditional you tiao loved by many Singaporeans.

Within two months of their launch, their you tiao chips were distributed across 50 locations in Singapore, and they’re gunning to hit 300 online and offline touchpoints by mid-2020.

Female entrepreneurs in Singapore: Bandana Kaur, co-founder of Inspired Snacks, the brand behind the world's first you tiao chips.
Bandana Kaur, co-founder of Inspired Snacks / Image Credit: Inspired Snacks

Do you face any struggles that come from being a woman in the startup scene?

Every entrepreneur or newcomer in a business faces the challenge of building credibility.

But for women, it’s even harder to build such credibility in industries predominantly managed by men. I often feel I have to prove myself 10 times more than a male colleague or male entrepreneur.

Who is a female figure you look up to?

Oprah Winfrey has been my idol since I was a little girl. She is a literal manifestation of what sheer determination and strength can achieve.

Growing up a minority in Singapore, I remember watching her stand out in the sea of white people and thinking, “Wow, she’s a woman of colour and she’s just as successful!”

If she could channel all her pain and suffering into helping others find their voice, then what’s stopping me?

What do you hope to see for women in business in the next few years?

I hope to see more women dare to become entrepreneurs! And not just in industries we have been pigeonholed into, like makeup and fashion.

I think women bring a unique perspective to problems, and this can add a lot of value or even disrupt very traditional markets.

One great example is Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand — her very powerful and empathetic approach to the terrorist attacks in New Zealand is but a glimpse of how much impact a woman in a position of power can make. 

What advice do you have for aspiring female founders?

Of all the advice, feedback and criticism you get, don’t just evaluate what people are saying, but also who is saying it.

Is this person someone you respect and value? If yes, take what they say seriously. If not, then just hear them without listening. Don’t let the noise define you or your product. 

Caecilia Chu, Co-Founder of YouTrip

In 2018, Caecilia Chu led a new, unknown fintech player to challenge the big banks and launch Singapore’s first multi-currency travel card and mobile wallet.

YouTrip then went on to secure US$25.5 million in funding under a year, and expanded to Thailand shortly after.

Caecilia Chu, co-founder and CEO of YouTrip, shares her challenges and hopes as a female entrepreneur
Caecilia Chu, co-founder and CEO of YouTrip / Image Credit: YouTrip

Do you face any struggles that come from being a woman in the startup scene?

Starting a company from the ground up is undoubtedly hard work, but being a female founder has not impacted the way I approach these challenges. In today’s society, I feel that women are placed on equal footing alongside men to tackle any ambitions.

Who is a female figure you look up to?

My mother. She is the strongest woman I know. She always carries her moral compass no matter what situation she walks into.

I’d go as far as saying she is my secret weapon in my entrepreneurial journey, because I know she’d always believe in me through thick and thin.

What do you hope to see for women in business in the next few years?

I hope to see substantially more women who radiate high levels of confidence and conviction in the business world. Especially within the context of Asia, where we are brought up to present ourselves as humble individuals.

What advice do you have for aspiring female founders?

My biggest advice for aspiring female founders is to immerse yourself in a supportive environment. Find not only the most talented people to work with, but also those who embrace an inclusive and collaborative mindset.

Cheryl Ou, Co-Founder of The Nail Social

Cheryl runs a socially-conscious nail salon that trains and employs local underprivileged women with a high barrier to employment.

The Nail Salon is a beneficiary of DBS’ Social Enterprise Support Programme, which provides mentoring, financing options and courses for social entrepreneurs.

Female entrepreneurs in Singapore: Cheryl Ou and Germaine Monteiro, co-founders of The Nail Social, a socially-conscious nail salon
Cheryl Ou (left) and Germaine Monteiro (right), co-founders of The Nail Social / Image Credit: LadyBoss

Do you face any struggles that come from being a woman in the startup scene?

It’s definitely tough being an entrepreneur, but I don’t feel that gender has anything to do with it.

I’m surrounded by amazing, passionate and accomplished female entrepreneurs who are all holding their own and showing the world that it can be done.

Who is a female figure you look up to?

I have the most respect for my staff — These women joined my social enterprise as ‘beneficiaries’, but they have really taught me more than I could ever teach them.

For example, some of them are women who found the courage to leave an abusive husband and single-handedly raise their children; or women caring for children with special needs.

They are some of the strongest women I know and they inspire me every day.

What do you hope to see for women in business in the next few years?

My hope is for women to recognise the importance of their own voice and power, and use that power to build up the less fortunate and create an impact in their community.

What advice do you have for aspiring female founders?

The road to entrepreneurship is a hard road intended for those who create their own opportunities. The only limits are those that you impose upon yourself.

Anna Gong, Founder of Perx Technologies

When Anna joined Perx Technologies, the previously consumer-facing loyalty app was struggling to stand out in its crowded market.

Anna led the company to redevelop itself as a loyalty platform provider to businesses, and Perx now powers brands like HSBC, Prudential, UOB, and Digi.

Anna Gong, founder and CEO and Perx Technologies, shares her challenges and hopes as a female entrepreneur
Anna Gong, founder and CEO of Perx Technologies / Image Credit: Perx Technologies

Do you face any struggles that come from being a woman in the startup scene?

One of the few gender-related challenges I encountered was in my early career, when I was denied a promotion simply because I was female and young.

However, for the last 20+ years that I have been in the mostly male-dominated tech sector, the challenges I faced were not because of my gender.

Challenges came from other factors, like being bullied as an immigrant in the US, or struggling to save failing startups.

Who is a female figure you look up to?

There are a number of great female role models I am inspired by, such as Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Lady Gaga, Zhang Xin, and Indra Nooyi.

These women self-made yet relatable, courageous yet vulnerable, resilient yet compassionate, and they all created their own path.

What do you hope to see for women in business in the next few years?

I hope to see women in business push boundaries and challenge the status quo even more in the next few years.

I’d like to see more women in STEM fields, women being less critical of each other, asking for what they deserve, learning to negotiate better, and helping to set a higher bar for all of us.

What advice do you have for aspiring female founders?

Learn to be a compassionate but resilient leader. Be vulnerable and acknowledge mistakes, so that you can become someone your employees can relate to.

Find a network of like-minded founders with whom you can share ideas and unload stress on, as well as mentors who can provide constructive guidance.


Vulcan Post is hiring full-time Singapore writers! Candidates must possess a minimum of 2 years of writing experience, and demonstrate strong interests and curiosity in the tech and startup scene. Please write in to team@vulcanpost.com to send in your resume.


 

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