Launched just about one year ago, Female Entrepreneurs Worldwide set out to bring together the city’s businesswomen to facilitate inspiration, idea exchanges and partnerships. Co-founder Anna Wong talks about the Hong Kong entrepreneurial scene and how it can be improved.
Anna Wong worked in the marketing industry at major international firms before launching FEW with co-founder Ines Gafsi. A social enterprise, FEW aims to connect and empower women entrepreneurs by hosting events, skills workshops, panels, and creating a global business community. Launched in July 2015, FEW counts more than 1,500 women in its network, from both Hong Kong and abroad.
1. We need more creativity and innovation
I have worked in different cities but I have seen in Hong Kong that young people tend to follow what they’re supposed to do. I hear from lots of friends in professional careers, and they say that it’s hard to give up their job to start a business. Their parents would encourage them to work for big corporations.
There are a lot creative people in Hong Kong, but it’s actually an interesting problem: there isn’t a community for these people. It’s really scattered and not always on the radar, because there’s not one place where they can connect and share their voice in unison. We work with a lot of creative women and there’s no real voice to stand up and speak out collectively.
The interest in angel investment is growing in Hong Kong, but it’s still an unfamiliar concept to many, and the investors tend to invest in late stage projects. However, the older generation is willing to help young people who have passion and potential. There are serious angel investors who are high net worth individuals or families but they have their own networks and are rarely public. If you’ve successfully secured the funds, the investor will make introduction to others in their network.
2. Hong Kong faces keen competition
I think near Hong Kong, Shenzhen is like a tech hub. A lot of big name companies are in Shenzhen, there are lots of gatherings there. The Singapore government is doing a really good job too. Just recently they launched a multi-billion dollar program to help people start their businesses, getting it all done in 30 minutes. They have shortened all the processes so it’s as easy as possible. I think we can learn from that. Making it easy, with more resources and more support.
That being said, the government is promoting the entrepreneurial ecosystem and encouraging more women in community and in business. Because of technology and education, it will make it easier for women to do business. There has been a big change.
The costs of doing business are actually pretty high in Hong Kong because rent is so expensive. This is a huge concern for people – rent, labor — and even online, there are not that many tech people in Hong Kong, compared with Shenzhen, The Philippines, or Singapore. It’s really expensive to get something done online in Hong Kong, and you have to outsource your technology to other cities because it’s not as affordable and there’s a tech shortage.
3. The more entrepreneurial festivals, the better
I think that events like RISE tech conference create synergies, and business opportunities — like at RISE we met a female founder in Finland, and we have lots of ideas on how to work together. Some women are looking for partners, some are looking for suppliers, investors, clients — it brings together all of these different groups and you can easily identify other potential business collaborations.
You can also get inspiration. They bring all these amazing speakers and it helps to raise the image of women in Hong Kong. They are really promoting the fact that the startup community is growing so in the eyes of the rest of the world as well, it benefits Hong Kong.
4. Males still dominate the investment industry
Banking and investments are still very male dominated. If you look for investors, the ratio of male investors is so much higher than women investors. We actually partner with other women platforms such as crowding funding, accelerator programs and investment firms that target women. There are women working in banking and finance, but few in investing. It’s such a hard role, and there’s lot of pressure and when women want to have a family, which is the turning point for many women. They don’t want to have that high-stress job.
5. We need more diversity
It’s still common in the old traditional set to think that women are emotional, and that it’s difficult for women to make good decisions. Sometimes you hear these things that are really outdated. Having women in the entrepreneurial world creates more jobs, opportunities, diversity — a better city overall. It’s important to follow your passions. More and more women are becoming entrepreneurs because they want to do something they care about. It would be amazing to see more support and solidarity, a sharing of ideas.
I think it’s important to always include men in the conversation. They shouldn’t be left out. They should be involved too and we can all work together. More startups in Hong Kong means that more talent is coming here, more business opportunities, and this makes the city more exciting. The ideas help Hong Kong to be dynamic and it attracts more people.
You know even at RISE conference, like 90 percent of the attendants are men. It’s actually not that easy to find female founders. Everyone is trying to push technology, so you see a lot more education programs pushing girls to not be so afraid of coding and to pick up these technology skills. From the early days, the way kids are raised now, I think it will change because they’re pushing the right message in schools to empower young girls to take on technology.
I would like to see more measurement in the government. Real support, real work, real results. We just want it to be a lot more accessible. Sometimes the new disruptive business models, they need to have more flexible regulations to accommodate those ideas. Otherwise, everything slows down and opportunities are lost.
In the next generation I would love to have more ‘smart cities’ and ‘smart Asia’ and see how they will combine technology with lifestyle. This could start in the university and education where they promote that in the curriculum. And more women entrepreneurs, obviously!