Women CEOs, founders must find the right investors to overcome challenges of fundraising, panel hears

Peggy Sito
·3-min read

While the statistics might suggest that fundraising remains a challenge for women founders of companies, the tide on gender stereotypes is turning in Hong Kong, the latest event in the Redefining Hong Kong series organised by the South China Morning Post heard.

Fundraising might be more difficult for them in the very early stages, but pitching to the right investors was key to moving forward, said speakers at the event.

“Fundraising is difficult for both male and female entrepreneurs,” said Karena Belin, the co-founder of WHub, the largest start-up community in Hong Kong. Not everyone should be your board adviser or on your capital table, and pitching to the right investors was important, as they are the partners with whom you will be leading your company moving forward, she added.

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The discussion followed reports that suggest the Covid-19 pandemic has affected women founders and chief executives (CEOs) negatively. A second annual report released in December by PitchBook, the data provider for private and public equity markets, focusing on global venture capital investment in women founded start-ups found that funding to such founders was down 31 per cent from 2019, even as funding for all-male teams had dropped by just 16 per cent. HSBC’s “She’s The Business” report revealed in 2019 that 68 per cent of women entrepreneurs in Hong Kong were denied investment capital.

Belin, who is also the co-founder of Angelhub, Hong Kong’s first start-up investment platform for professional investors licensed by the Securities and Futures Commission, however said that while stats did show a gender bias, the trend was reversing. The key to success was focusing on pitching to the right investors in accordance with a company’s growth stage, she said.

Peggy Choi, Lynk’s CEO. Photo: Berton Chang
Peggy Choi, Lynk’s CEO. Photo: Berton Chang

“Targeting the right investors is important, so do not waste [your time],” said Peggy Choi, the CEO of Lynk, a “knowledge-as-a-service” platform that connects clients with more than 840,000 experts in a wide range of fields. Lynk recently announced that it had raised US$24 million in a funding round led by Brewer Lane Ventures and MassMutual Ventures, with participation from Alibaba Entrepreneurs Fund.

“Compared with the early stages, now it should be easier [to raise capital], because we have more stuff to show. When you are just starting your business, evaluation will be more on the founder, or founders. That is relatively subjective,” she said, adding that start-ups should focus on quality and output, which will draw investors in the long run.

“In the early stages, women might not have the biggest advantage,” said Juliette Gimenez, the CEO and founder of Goxip, a Hong Kong-based online shopping services start-up. She said decision makers in venture capital firms are still mostly male, but she was lucky to find women who were ready to be her initial investors, because of the nature of her business.

Juliette Gimenez, the CEO and founder of Goxip. Photo: Roy Issa
Juliette Gimenez, the CEO and founder of Goxip. Photo: Roy Issa

Gimenez said Hong Kong was a good place for start-ups to set up businesses, and pointed out that the high disposable income available in the city had benefited her business.

The speakers agreed that more publicity and marketing could help reverse the imbalance between founders of different genders, while government support would also be helpful.

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