Accelerating Asia’s Gender Advisory Committee is primed to bolster female-founded startups.
Women-owned small and medium enterprises (WSMEs) are making their presence felt in Southeast Asia, especially in emerging markets such as Malaysia, Singapore, Korea and Vietnam, but they are still not receiving their money’s worth.
WSMEs are beleaguered by financing problems. Women entrepreneurs shoulder a disproportionate amount of the near-trillion unmet SME credit requirements in East Asia, and according to a United Nations Economic and Social Commission report, constrained access to finance is one of the main causes that keep women from launching businesses.
Accelerating Asia realizes this. The Singapore-based accelerator and early-stage venture capital fund launched a Gender Advisory Committee (GAC) earlier in April, with the aim of providing Accelerating Asia with advice on gender initiatives, as well as thought leadership for a gender-inclusive Southeast Asian entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Amra Naidoo, Co-Founder and General Partner at Accelerating Asia, and one of the GAC’s seven members, spoke with Jumpstart about the Committee’s vision and gender equality in the startup ecosystem.
Shifting The Gender Lens
Naidoo says the startup ecosystem intuitively goes against the grain and challenges conventions, but it is not free from the limitations of the earlier industrial and cultural order.
The gender bias within the startup sector is not always in plain sight, she continues, pointing to the gender-based discrepancies in the demographics of founders, funded startups, angel investors and venture capitalists. But she believes things are shifting.
“In recent years, there has been a significant increase in female-focused incubators, accelerator programs and venture capital funds, which are creating more substantial investment opportunities for women,” she says. “There is also much more representation and visibility of women-led businesses.”
Making Startups Gender Inclusive
On account of their agility, younger businesses may find it easier to implement gender inclusive practices compared to established businesses that take longer to implement changes across their organizational structures.
Naidoo points to Accelerating Asia, which she co-founded with Craig Dixon, as an example. Both the founders and the core team are split equally between men and women, and female-led ventures comprise 40% of its portfolio.
“For us, the Gender Advisory Committee builds on the work we already do,” she says.
Leveling The Playing Field
Creating access to enabling networks can help shift some of the weight for women-led ventures. While the needs of each startup are different, access to mentors, investors, and deal flow are the need of the hour, Naidoo says, citing the fact that a scant 2.8 percent of venture capital investment went to female-only founding teams in the U.S in 2018.
“As an industry, we need to move past thinking about what men versus women bring to technology. It implies that the industry isn’t big enough to fit everyone and starts from the perspective that the industry shouldn’t be for everyone. We need to start from the point of view that there are more than enough opportunities in the industry for all kinds of people,” she says.
The real challenge is to create equitable access to opportunity, she adds, stating that a diversified space creates more opportunities to leverage multilateral thinking.
Evaluating Accelerating Asia’s portfolio, Naidoo observes that diverse founding teams are more effective in dealing with the demands of startup culture.
The GAC’s immediate focus is on bringing more women into the startup sphere and extending support to female founders. Members are currently working on engaging mentors and subject matter experts, expanding Accelerating Asia’s women investors network, building a Code of Conduct and a gender lens approach to investing, and providing a platform for leadership to emerge.
When it comes to gender inclusivity in investing, Naidoo notes that it “is not just a ‘nice to have,’ but a ‘need to have’ from a portfolio and venture capital perspective.”
She says, in no uncertain terms, “If you had about half of a population not able to meet their full potential or capabilities because they’re unable to access the same opportunities… then it moves past being just about the individual. In essence, it’s society and humanity as a whole that loses out on all of this lost potential.”
Header image courtesy of Accelerating Asia