Meet the women who are making their marks in the APAC startup ecosystem
Women entrepreneurs are gradualy claiming more space in the startup ecosystem in the Asia Pacific region, despite a funding gap that often prevents women-owned startups from expanding.
According to the Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs 2019 (MIWE), in terms of Knowledge Assets & Financial Access, ‘women in Asia Pacific (APAC) are taking a prominent lead, with Malaysia, Singapore, Korea and Vietnam assuming 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 5th spots, respectively. Women in these markets are driven by high access to financial products and services, strong support for SMEs, and high opportunities to tertiary education.’
The report further claims that in the Philippines and Vietnam, women are on par with men in entrepreneurship, with an equal ratio of male and female entrepreneurs. Women in these countries are also more likely to borrow or save money for business purposes than their regional counterparts.
‘In Malaysia, women are strongly placed, driven by conducive business conditions such as high support for Small and Medium Enterprises (SME), ease of doing business, positive cultural perception of entrepreneurs, and strong entrepreneurial supporting factors… Although there is no gender bias in terms of tertiary education enrollment in mainland China, their role as business leaders, professionals and technicians, and business owners is lower than expected,’ the report states.
Below–not ranked in any particular order–are ten of the top women entrepreneurs in the Asia-Pacific region.
Tan Hooi Ling, Co-founder, Grab
Tan Hooi Ling, a publicity-shy 35-year-old Harvard MBA, is the co-founder of Southeast Asia’s first decacorn (private companies with valuation above US$10 billion), Grab. She leads the startup along with Co-founder Anthony Tan, and has helped raise $9.9 billion since Grab’s launch in 2012. Grab is now Southeast Asia’s most valuable startup, with a valuation of $14 billion.
Manuri Gunawardena, Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), HealthMatch
As the Co-founder and CEO of health tech startup HealthMatch in Australia, this 26-year-old runs a startup that helps connect patients with clinical trials of potential cutting edge treatments, for free. She was featured on the Forbes 30 Under 30 List Asia in 2019. HealthMatch has raised $7.3 million in funding—the latest funding round was conducted in November 2019.
Rashmi Kwatra, Founder and Chief Investment Officer, Sixteenth Street Capital
In 2017, Rashmi Kwatra founded Sixteenth Street Capital, a Singapore-based hedge fund with investment interests in South and Southeast Asia. She featured in the Forbes 30 Under 30 List Asia in 2019 and was one of the 50 Leading Women in Hedge Funds in 2018, according to the Hedge Fund Journal.
Natalie Nguyen, Co-founder and CEO, Hyper Anna
Natalie Nguyen co-founded Sydney, Australia-based Hyper Anna in February 2016. Her startup has raised $17.3 million in funding from investors like Sequoia Capital, AirTree Ventures and others. Hyper Anna’s artificial intelligence-powered data platform helps users make sense of data by asking Anna simple questions in English, thereby enabling them to make informed decisions in seconds, claims the startup.
Shraddha Sharma founded media technology platform YourStory to tell India’s ‘untold stories’ of entrepreneurs. Since its inception in 2008, YourStory has published over 70,000 stories of entrepreneurs. It claims to be India’s largest tech media company and has received $13 million in funding. Sharma describes the company as, “India’s biggest and definitive platform for start-ups and entrepreneurs-related stories, news, resources and research reports.”
Melanie Perkins, Co-founder and CEO, Canva
Melanie Perkins featured on Forbes’ ‘Top Under 30 Founders of the Decade,’ published earlier this year. A college-dropout, Perkins cofounded Canva, an online design website, with the aim to make design easy for everyone. She flew out to the U.S. to pitch her startup idea to technology investor Bill Tai, who introduced her to other investors and later invested in Canva himself. Canva is now valued at $3.2 billion and reported a revenue of $56.2 million in 2018.
Sarah Chen, Co-founder, The Billion Dollar Fund for Women and Beyond the Billion
In October 2018, Sarah Chen co-founded The Billion Dollar Fund for Women (TBDF), a consortium of Venture Capital funds that as of October 2019, have pledged to invest more than $1 billion into female founded companies. Chen founded TBDF to tackle the gender gap in venture investments by pledging to increase investment in women-founded companies.
Building on the success of TBDF, Chen co-founded ‘Beyond The Billion,’ a forum in which investors are educated on investment and business aspects and are introduced to companies for possible investment, particularly those led by women. She recently landed in the Young Global Leaders 2020 list by the World Economic Forum.
Windy Natriavi, Co-founder, AwanTunai
Windy Natriavi’s Indonesia-based fintech startup AwanTunai was founded in 2017 and raised $4.3 million in Series A funding in November, 2018. The startup is currently in the PayPal Singapore incubator and offers financing to unbanked micro-merchants through their mobile application. The solution also helps them with inventory purchase financing, digital ordering, and wholesaler subsidized logistics. As of December 2019, AwanTunai has a total of 29,085 accumulated borrowers. Before AwanTunai, Natriavi worked for several years at GO-JEK and McKinsey after graduating from the University of Indonesia.
Ankiti Bose, Co-founder, Zilingo
Ankiti Bose is the co-founder of Zilingo, a retail startup that is valued at almost US$1 billion. Founded in 2015 as a Business-to-Consumer (B2C) fashion ecommerce platform in Singapore, the firm changed tack and has ventured into Business-to-Business (B2B) sales. Before Zilingo, Bose worked at Sequoia Capital and McKinsey, and specialized in consumer internet and ecommerce through mobile platforms. She earned a place in the Forbes India W-Power: Self Made Women 2020.
Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao, President and CEO, VietJet
Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao is Vietnam’s first and only woman billionaire with a net worth of approximately $2.3 billion. VietJet Air started operations in December 2011, and claims to be the largest airline in Vietnam with one of the youngest and fastest growing fleets in the world. It is also one of the most cost efficient airlines in the world. As of December 2019, VietJet is valued at $3.4 billion. Thao was named ‘APAC CEO of the Year’ by the Aviation 100 Awards in 2019 and also featured on Forbes Asia’s Power Business Women 2019 list.