Hong Kong's female entrepreneur revolution

When you look closely at the big issues around women in business – particularly entrepreneurial ones - they often don't lie with the women. It's the men we need to fix.

We need to bring Mars and Venus closer together and ensure women have access to the same opportunities as men.

"We need to bring Mars and Venus closer together and ensure women have access to the same opportunities as men."
Su-Mei Thompson, Chief executive, The Women's Foundation

At The Women's Foundation, we love female entrepreneurs. For all of you working in big companies, let me quickly say I believe entrepreneurship is fundamentally not about starting a business. It is a state of mind.

As Guy Kawasaki, former chief evangelist at Apple, says: “Entrepreneur isn't a job title, it's the state of mind of people who want to alter the future".

What we need to do is lead revolutions, change traditional mindsets and raise expectations of what women are capable of.

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We want more women to found companies and grow companies, not least because you can do so at any age and regardless of your social background.

Entrepreneurship is vital to allowing women to become more economically self-reliant. And extensive studies show when women are given economic resources in developing countries, their families and communities also benefit.

We recently conducted a study on women and entrepreneurship. As everyone knows, the SME sector is incredibly important to Hong Kong's economy. Hong Kong has 214,000 SMEs, representing 97 per cent of all enterprises and providing 45 per cent of all jobs in HK.

However there are only 28,000 female employers compared with 96,000 male employers and 58,000 self-employed women compared to 165,000 self-employed men.


Women make up just 19 per cent of high growth businesses in Hong Kong. While HK is recognised as a very positive environment for setting up new businesses, we know women owned businesses face particular gender-related challenges. These include:

  • The difficulties encountered by women in attracting capital beyond microcredit. Globally only 5 per cent to 10 per cent of women owned businesses have access to commercial bank loans and they account for less than 5 per cent of venture capital investment.
  • A lack of technological savvy means women entrepreneurs aren't leveraging the Internet to the extent they can and should to scale their businesses.
  • Women often lack the same educational advantages and work experience as men, particularly the experience of managing budgets and teams.
  • Many women feel they aren't taken seriously by potential employees, partners and professional advisors and they don't have a network of mentors and sponsors to turn to for help.
  • Women find it hard to balance family and childcare commitments with the demands of running a business.


I think these factors go some way to explaining why so many businesses owned by women start small and stay small.


So what we can do about this? Well, TWF is launching women's entrepreneurs' network (WEN) in partnership with the WBOC which was founded several years ago by Elizabeth Thomson and Kimberly Whiley.

The initiative will provide female for profit and social entrepreneurs with knowledge and skills training, mentoring and networking opportunities. ANZ have signed up to be our network title sponsor.

Goldman Sachs funded our original research through its 10,000 Women initiative. Its partnership with IFC to increase the funding available to women owned businesses are a tremendous source of inspiration to our program.

Accelerating genius

The Women's Foundation, together with ANZ Hong Kong have launched the TWF-ANZ Women Entrepreneurs Accelerator Program, a series of practical skills workshops and access to financial services advice.

The programme is designed to help address the fact women make up just 19 per cent of high growth businesses in Hong Kong, despite the city's business-friendly environment.

The initial program will involve over 20 entrepreneurs including names such as Cat Rust, founder of cloud platform group Exicon, Alice Zhang, founder of online art platform Mischmasch and Sally Ryder, founder of Ryder Diamonds. The participants come from a variety of sectors including fashion to construction.

Google sponsored a series of workshops to empower women entrepreneurs through online resources. These included Blueprint , the co-working space in TaiKoo Place owned by Swire which currently houses 200 entrepreneurs and Cocoon, another co-working space in Causeway Bay run by the visionary Erica Ma.

The TWF-ANZ Women Entrepreneurs Accelerator Program is a special initiative we are launching as part of WEN and we're excited about how it will allow us to focus close-up on our 20 Accelerator participants and contribute to their progress from close quarters.

If we're going to make this revolution a success, the business community has a critical part to play and not just as role models, mentors, colleagues and volunteers. I know many of you are already performing these roles driven by a passion to alter the future.

From today, let's ALL embrace the entrepreneur inside us to bring about brighter prospects for women and girls and their families.

Su-Mei Thompson is chief executive of The Women's Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated to improving the lives of women and girls in Hong Kong.

This story is an edited version of a speech given by Su-Mei at the launch of the TWF-ANZ Women Entrepreneurs Accelerator Program.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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