A CNN report last November shared that female-founded start-ups were seeing higher investments than ever. That sounds positive but data shows that while women-led businesses attracted US$46.3 billion in capital in 2018 — twice more than they received the previous year and 15 times more than the US$3 billion in 2010 — they made up just 20% of venture capital-backed companies.
Business media platform Crunchbase pointed out that it took 10 years for the percentage of venture capitalists investing in women-owned businesses to double from 10% in 2009 to 20% in 2019. A Harvard Business Review article early this year put this down largely to biases at the pitching stage, in which men were consistently asked more promotional questions that highlight upside and potential gains, while women were asked more preventative questions pertaining to potential losses and risk mitigation.
“While men just need to demonstrate how their ideas work, women have to justify why their ideas would work,” says HanaFundMe co-founder Angie Chin. “Women-owned businesses hardly get the attention they deserve.”
It was a consistent imbalance in opportunity that Chin had witnessed for herself. After leaving her corporate career in 2016 to invest more time in her daughter’s education, Chin began organising events that gathered women for social activism or professional networking. In the conversations that ensued, she realised there were many aspiring or fledgling entrepreneurs among them who, for various reasons, were struggling to take their ideas or businesses where they wanted.
“Many of them were just starting out and a common issue they faced was funding,” she says. “Investors want to validate your business, banks require collateral for loans. But some of these entrepreneurs are not even asking for much, just RM5,000 maybe, to get started. I knew first-hand what it was like to be in the early days of a venture and have no one to guide you through the ideation, realisation or processes. That’s why we founded HanaFundMe.”
Chin’s own entry to entrepreneurship was a baptism of fire as she navigated her way through the complexities of starting a business in 2019. She is behind the HanaWomen Hub in QSentral, Kuala Lumpur, a no-frills co-working space that affords users the privacy of a female-only community so they can take off their tudung, perhaps, or breastfeed in peace while working. The name Hana was inspired by Hannah Yeoh, the former deputy minister of Women, Family and Community Development, who accepted an invitation to tour the newly launched hub. Its variation turned out to be fortuitous, with positive meanings in various languages, including grace (Hebrew), craft (Hawaiian), happiness (Arabic) and even flower blossom (Japanese).
With that experience, as well as years of corporate practice and social activism to draw from, Chin sought to help other women — or even men with female business partners — in similar positions. HanaFundMe is officially a flexible crowdfunding platform but also walks aspiring entrepreneurs through the necessary steps of starting out.
“Interested parties come to us with vague proposals; they often know what they want to do but are not sure how to articulate their plans or carry them out, so we start with a comprehensive dialogue,” says Chin. “We help them flesh out the thoroughness of their plans and discuss elements such as costs, pricing, packaging, marketing and scalability.”
The ideas cover a wide range of interests, from wellness and beauty or F&B businesses to coding classes, Traditional Chinese Medicine access and cleaning services. Once a business model is in place and products or services are ready, entrepreneurs can upload their pitches onto the HanaFundMe platform for investors to look through. The former offers some flexibility in setting the terms for their campaigns and can continue to pitch for funds should they not raise enough during the initial target period set.
“Some of these women are micro-entrepreneurs or have never run businesses before and find it intimidating to present their ideas or justify them to male venture capitalists,” Chin continues. “HanaFundMe allows them to present their ideas via text or video content, putting a face to the brand and encouraging investors to put in seed money or aid its expansion. This is the sort of support women need. Most investors these days are looking for solutions in technology or social issues. A beauty business doesn’t feature high on that list, but just because an idea is women-centric does not mean it should be laughed at or dismissed.”
HanaFundMe was launched on March 18 and its coinciding with the start of the Movement Control Order to stop the spread of Covid-19 offered an unexpected opportunity for the co-founders to help the community. Its objective was quickly expanded to cover a larger variety of causes such as fundraising for personal protective equipment for frontliners in Sabah, the RumahKita home for single and abandoned unwed mothers, closing the digital gaps of rural students in Sabah by providing them with devices for continued studies, and even aiding a street sweeper’s urgent need for a motorcycle when his was ruined beyond repair.
“The past few months have given us some ideas on the direction that the platform could organically gravitate towards,” says Chin. “Moving forward, we will focus on both women and causes as our way of doing our part for women and the community.”
But while the platform is for women and the co-founders of HanaFundMe still offer free reviews of their content and ideas, success is only possible if users are willing to put in the work.
“Entrepreneurship requires consistency, creativity, tenacity and resilience,” she concludes. “While crowdfunding is easier than applying for bank loans, allowing entrepreneurs to raise funds without giving away equity or going into debt, campaign owners must do more than just upload content on a platform and hope for the best. There is a lot of active work involved; that is the reality of crowdfunding and entrepreneurship. We are helping to establish better opportunities but there is still work to be done, both in the businesses themselves and the business ecosystem at large.”
This article first appeared on Jul 27, 2020 in The Edge Malaysia.