Monday, March 24, 2014

MDeC & Industry Pioneers Share Five Tips for Aspiring Women Entrepreneurs

24 March 2014 . If you are a woman juggling work and family life, becoming your own boss opens the door to the world of flexibility that you need. But getting a business off the ground can be daunting. This is even more so when you consider that the world of business, particularly technology-based startups, is a male-dominated one.

According to Ms Ng Wan Peng, Chief Operating Officer of MDeC, “There is no denying that while we are progressing in getting more new business ideas off the ground, there is still not enough women participation in entrepreneurship in Malaysia. According to the National Economic Census 2011, women-owned establishments amount to only 13.2% of all business service establishments in the country. If we are going to move successfully towards a developed high income nation by 2020, we should start supporting women to have greater presence in the business landscape.”

Nevertheless, we have seen some successful women entrepreneurs rise out of this perceived masculine arena and they have served as inspiration to many. So how did our homegrown female entrepreneurs make it? What sets them apart? MDeC and our MSC Malaysia female entrepreneurs share their insights on how they have made the transition from office workers and home makers to confident and sassy business owners.

1. Don’t feed the stereotype trolls
Do not feed the stereotype. If the area of business you are interested in fits your passion and expertise, you should just go for it. Not having many women in the space may mean lesser competition and can put you in an advantageous position.

According to Nasruna Rahmat one of the founders of Tomato Animation an award winning 3D CG animation and game studio, “ For me personally, I like the challenge of starting a business that doesn’t necessarily involve women-specific products and services. Being from an accounting background, venturing into the creative multimedia industry is almost unheard of. But I love the challenge and the opportunity to learn a different skillset and to meet a new network of professionals.”

Janice Tan, from app development company, Alphapod, added, “To me it’s all in the mind. I never thought I could only start a business for women just because of my gender. Maybe having a brother and being able to do the things that boys could do while I was growing up, helped.”

2. Work that passion to your advantage
Plenty of entrepreneurs jump into the game of business ownership for only one reason, the money. But this is a misguided principle and they would end up disappointed. Sure, being the boss and having that extra money for a regular dose of well-deserved retail therapy is great but that will not be enough to keep you going in the long run.

Many successful businesses start from a single idea that the individual is excited about, or a cause that she believes in. Debbi Fields for example built her multi-billion Mrs. Fields empire out of her passion for baking cookies; Rachael Ray built a business around her passion for cooking and Oprah Winfrey became one of the richest women in the world through her passion for communications and public speaking.

On the home front, Nasruna Rahmat said, “At Tomato Animation, we believe that having passion is key in developing the best games and apps. While the best technical skills can help you develop the sharpest and most sophisticated graphics, it is the passion that will lead you to create the most awe inspiring characters and the strongest game storylines, all of which are crucial to our studio’s long term reputation and growth. As a woman in the business, I do my best to inject this passion in our team members.”

Goh Ai Ching, co-founder of Piktochart, a company that creates web applications that helps non-designers create stunning infographic visuals for their presentations, added, “I spend more than 16 hours a day working on our products and building our business. I wouldn’t be able to do it if I didn’t have passion.”

Ms Ng Wan Peng added, “In our experience of helping startups, we do observe that women often start businesses based on their passions and life experiences. This may start from their desire to offer a new product or service that will make the world a better place.”

In essence, women are essentially more passionate beings and you should harness that passion to drive and sustain a successful business idea.

3. Create strong connections and build lasting relationships
Networking involves actively cultivating relationships with people, businesses, community leaders, and others who present possible opportunities for your business; not just as potential customers, but also as vendors, partners, investors, or in other roles. These relationships need to be cultivated ahead of starting the business or asking for their support.

This will ensure that not only can you establish a relationship based on sincerity and trust, it will also allow you to evaluate the parties’ ability to deliver on what you need.

“What we do is very niche. This, coupled with the fact that unlike most technology startups, we are based in Penang, means that we have to work much harder to create awareness on our existence, products and services. Therefore, networking and creating business connections are extremely important, particularly when the product is ready for expansion. Personally, as a woman entrepreneur, networking and building relationships also help me identify and attract new talent to join our team and it’s a process I truly enjoy.”, Goh Ai Ching said.

According to Ms Ng Wan Peng, “MDeC organises different events targeted at women entrepreneurs and SMEs across different industry subsectors. Last year, we organised the MSC Malaysia Tech La Femme Meetup, designed to empower existing and aspiring women technopreneurs in creating a flexible career and lifestyle for themselves. In 2014, we have embarked on the Let’s Accelerate radio campaign that features successful women entrepreneurs to share their startup journey to listeners on air.”

“These are aimed at enabling MSC Malaysia startups to interact with, network and learn more from industry veterans, particularly those that were a startup once but have grown locally or even made it in the international arena. These sessions are often via invitation. So if you are a woman who is just starting out in the technology business space, applying for an MSC Malaysia status could be beneficial for you as it will allow you access to these opportunities,” added Ms Ng Wan Peng.

So ladies, it’s time to put on your social butterfly hat and start making those connections today.

4. Show Me the Money..
One of the concerns most commonly cited by women entrepreneurs is difficulty in finding startup financing. Traditional banks typically do not lend money to new ventures that do not have a track record of success or creditworthiness. Instead of focusing on conventional big chain banks, startups should instead look for local community banks, credit unions and other local financial institutions that have a vested interest in the health of the local economy. Often, their application processes and criteria are softer than the big banks.

Besides that, thanks to technology, there are also other great ways to fund your new ventures, such as through crowdfunding. Malaysian women entrepreneur have the option of going for our very own crowdfunding platform such as pitchIN. Additionally, there are other funding sources from various support groups and government agencies.

The Ministry of Communications & Multimedia for example offers grants of up to RM50 million to assist 50,000 small entrepreneurs, particularly women to promote their businesses by increasing their sales online. Alternatively, you may choose to fund your own business first before looking for funding.

Nasruna explained, “We start our first project with our own money. Once we are sure that the project is on the right track then only we applied for a grant from MDeC. This is because we wanted to show that we had the numbers and statistics that validate the viability of our business during the pitching session. As a result, we became a recipient of the ICONdap 2 from MDeC a few years ago.”
She added, “There are a lot of funding opportunities in the creative industry. New players must do a lot of research to find out where those opportunities are.”

5. Establish systems and mechanics to reach your goals
Most female entrepreneurs tend to determine what they want to accomplish, establish the time frame to get it done, and then work backwards to spread out the workload. But what is often missing is the system, a defined set of time set aside with the necessary tools to work towards the goal.

Smart entrepreneurs not only set goals. They build systems to support those goals. By doing so properly, women entrepreneurs are making a decision on whether or not they want to succeed and how fast they want to make it happen.

Janice of Alphaphod observed “Not all businesses may be suitable for you no matter how passionate you are about a subject matter. The startup journey is tough and takes a lot of sacrifice from yourself and understanding from people who are dear to you. Therefore, always evaluate whether the businesss is suitable for you and what steps you are willing to put in place to make it a success.”

“Think big and you must have confidence in your vision and set out to scale your business from beginning.” Nasruna concluded.

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