It was an exciting journey for me in 2017 with multiple milestones, from giving birth to a baby boy to curating H.E.R Entrepreneur. I would like to share with you my story and the big WHY that motivates me to create a platform like H.E.R Asia to inspire, educate and empower aspiring women entrepreneurs who are transitioning in their career or in family-planning.
Here’s my opening speech at the recent H.E.R Asia that was held on the 1 November 2017 at the Holiday Inn Orchard City Centre,
Who am I?
I started off as a typical girl who was very sure that I wanted to become a scientist where I could improve and save lives. I studied hard and even took up a job in stem cell research. I even thought that the routine of killing mice for their embryos to experiment with various drugs could eventually lead me to saving lives.
But the reality is, after countless repeated experiments, we are not even close to clinical phase 1. Reality sets in and I realised how much further I was in impacting anyone’s life. As you can see here, I face bottles of chemicals, mice and machines daily. And I asked myself, do I wanna do this for the rest of my life?
I pursued my studies in other areas & joined the B2B media industry. I greatly benefited from my interaction with decision makers who are investors and industry leaders from multiple trades from various sized companies in the Asia Pacific region. I led and managed teams and was traveling quite a bit. It was fast-paced, exciting but had very little time with anything outside of work.
But as life would have it, I decided to get married & start a family. Then comes the constant dilemma a woman will face at this stage, career or work, what’s my definition of fulfilment now? All the frequent travels, super tight deadlines, & very little time with my family, will that make me and my family happy? But at the same time, I was contemplating; do I want to relinquish my leadership role?
I decided to take the step to steer my own ship so that I could achieve a good balance. Opportunity came knocking amidst the booming start-up scene and my skills were sought by a tech start up. That’s when I found my niche consulting for companies and subsequently over the years, I provided trainings for institutions, corporates and individuals.
So who am I, really? I am just like any one of you, going through all these different phases in life: The dream to be someone important, the lure of doing well in our careers and then juggling kids, parents, work and other priorities in our lives.
So Why HER Asia?
I’d like to cover 3 important components in my life story that complements today’s theme:
As a child, I witnessed my mum, who was a housewife with low education. She transformed to becoming an entrepreneur to supplement the household income so that her 3 children could receive good education
This is what we call Necessity Entrepreneurship, where people venture into business due to a necessity to provide for the family, which is still prevalent in developing regions.
She had no experience, no mentor, and no source to be educated in business literacy.
In the 80s, she was running a provision shop, converted it into a coffee shop and also had a side-line beauty business. Because I was so little then, she had to ferry me to and from work, to watch over me while working.
With no experience in business, she had to learn how to manage inventory, finances, and manpower, and because there was no courier service back then, she had to personally deliver her beauty products directly to her customers, sometimes with me in tow.
I remembered asking her once, “Mum, why can’t you just get your staff to deliver your products, so that you don’t have to run around?”
She said “I would prefer to hand my products to customers personally & have a good chat with them.”
Her customers stayed long with her and she taught me the importance of face-to-face interaction & relationship building, which is getting less common these days with businesses going online.
Despite her busy schedule, she finds time to coach me in studies & make time to prepare dinner for the family. It is the communal bonding during dinner time that helps her maintain good relationships with everyone in the family. This leads to the next point, relationship..
After giving birth to a baby boy this year, it seems that every decision I make revolves around family, my boy… the same goes for business decisions: Can I find a way to work from home instead of the office? How can I negotiate with the key stakeholders in the family when I need to be out for long meetings, or if I need to travel?
A sustainable biz would not be plausible if not for the good relationship we build with the people around us, be it in biz or at home. In successful relationships, there is always a balance between accommodating and one party taking the lead at critical junctures. This leads me to my last point..
Let me share some interesting insights I gathered though my course of work.
When I was consulting for a tech start up, I noticed an interesting trend. When I was pitching in front of investors, the panel was mainly men, when we were competing in hackathons, majority of the presenters were males. When we went to meetings with prospects, the IT teams had very few female representation as well. I was thinking, where are the ladies?
But when I was conducting a Skillsfuture course on Steps to Starting a Business, the flip side was, 90% of the attendees were women. Ahh, maybe that’s where all the women have gone to…
They were diligent at learning, but very fearful of applying. They were hesitant to start a biz, fearing failure, citing that entrepreneurship is challenging for women with families, or that entrepreneurship should be for their husbands, & many other reasons.
Due to their self-limiting beliefs, there was no continuity in the learning process. What a waste!
We are fortunate to be in a region which has a conducive environment. Singapore is ranked no. 5 where women entrepreneurship is largely driven by strong enabling conditions.
As you can see here, there are 2 spectrum of entrepreneurship:
Necessity: Like my mother’s time or now in developing regions, people venture into entrepreneurship due to necessity to supplement the families’ income.
Opportunity: people venture into business due to presence of various government schemes, access to resources and education.
Though we are in a conducive environment, something is lacking.
There’s still inertia for aspiring women entrepreneurs with families or who are transitioning, to start a biz, and if they were to start something small, they don’t know how to scale…
Research has shown that the possible deterrents to entrepreneurship for women could be:
- The lack of social capital and support (networking opp)
- Their responsiveness to government support
- Internal barriers like self confidence
- Cultural biasness
It’s clear that challenges that woman leaders or entrepreneurs face are different & because we are more self-conscious & risk averse, when any of the deterrents are present, there’s a tendency to shun away.
Because of this gap, it’s important that these issues are addressed, and thus the purpose of having today’s gathering, to provide a platform for aspiring women entrepreneurs with families, those who are transitioning in life, or those who are looking at growing their business to be inspired, educated and empowered.
Oprah Winfrey once said,” Thoughts are the greatest vehicle to change power and success in the world” So we can be leaders, if we choose to. & take action.
It could have been easy for me to use my kid as an excuse and wait till the stars are aligned before thinking about entrepreneurship. But I choose not to. I would rather choose to think of my baby boy as the impetus to drive the business because being financially independent is important to me.
Also, the sudden demise of my late father, made me resonate with this quote very much, “if not now, when, if not you, who?”
The 3 elements make up the holistic well-being of a balanced woman entrepreneur/leader, & that is the main focus of HER Asia: To harness the power of women in entrepreneurship, leadership, and relationship.
I have moved on from killing mice and hopefully today we could inspire some lives.
H.E.R Asia 2017
We have convened so many successful entrepreneurs and leaders and 1 day, you will get to learn and meet with 26 of them from multiple trades, from retail, F&B, funeral service, pest mgmt to innovation and technology. They come from start-ups, SMEs to MNCs, to share insights on leadership, business strategies, funding & capital raising, innovation and technology, and female talent. A big thank you to all of the speakers here who made this possible.
We would like to express great thanks to our sponsors and exhibitors: UOB, PWG Asia, Funding Bridge, Lara ’J, Hicomi, Noel, and all of our supporting partners and also the attendees for your presence.
In case you are not aware, part of our proceeds will be donated to World Vision to empower girls as agents of change in India. Thank you so much for supporting this cause.
Written by Renee Tan, Founder & MD of Rendeur, H.E.R Entrepreneur. Renee inspires, educate and empower aspiring women entrepreneurs, besides educating corporate professionals in excelling in functional skill sets such as sales, marketing, customer service, exhibition strategies and communication skills.