Women’s work

Nicole Denholder, founder of crowdfunding initiative Next Chapter, explains why women are being served a smaller slice of the financial pie when it comes to funding startups. She was speaking at Hong Kong’s International Women’s Day Networking Event

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Nicole Denholder, founder of crowdfunding portal Next Chapter, explains why women aren’t quite cutting it in the boardroom

It seems as if every week in Hong Kong there’s a new diary date involving entrepreneurs, and usually female entrepreneurs at that. Whether it’s a networking event, a new launch, a panel discussion or a pop-up shop, small, female-driven enterprises appear to be big business in this dynamic city. This week it was the turn of the International Women’s Day Networking Event, organised by three local small business owners.

According to studies in the US, female-led startups deliver high returns. Seed-stage venture firm First Round Capital found that companies with a woman at the helm performed 63% better than those with all-male teams. But despite this, companies led by females receive just 5% of venture dollars. Globally, it is estimated just 5-10% of women owned businesses have access to commercial bank loans. Until 1988, women in the US had to have a man guarantee a loan if it amounted to more than US$50,000.

In Hong Kong it’s a similar story. According to The Women’s Foundation (TWF), Hong Kong has a heavy gender skew. A massive 81% of high growth entrepreneurs are male and the ratio of male to female employers is 3.5 to 1. TWF believes targeted assistance is crucial to close the gap and to empower women-owned businesses to reach their full potential.

Nicole Denholder, founder of Next Chapter, a crowdfunding portal for women, has over twenty years in project and merger management – much of it for multinationals – under her belt. When it comes to launching a business, she’s been there, advised on that. Realising that women weren’t getting a fair slice of the investment cake, she was keen to get Next Chapter off the ground.

“Because women aren’t so dominant in business, they don’t tend to have the know-how that men have to access loans, and that is a major drawback,” she says. “Over the last 30 years things have improved, but women are still losing out on dollars when it comes to funding. When you mention an enterprise is female-driven, it’s always assumed that it is low cost. When I tell men I crowd fund for women, the automatic assumption is that it’s for low investment enterprises. Ok, we can’t all be unicorns (startups with a value of over US$1 billion) but we’re often worth more than what is assumed.

With Next Chapter, Denholder wanted to provide some sort of service that involved working with women, pushing female businesses to the next level. The crowdfunding idea is simple, but effective. A project or venture is launched online and investors are invited to contribute a small amount of money towards it in return for the product or service.

This year she’s launching an advisory service to help women sit at the table more effectively. “This won’t guarantee a better loan, but it does guarantee a better fighting chance,” she says. “We want to help women understand business jargon and what is required of them when the talk turns to areas such as ‘equity’ and ‘business value’. If you haven’t been in business before, why on earth would you understand these terms?”

Along with an understanding of how business works, Denholder lists passion and drive as key to success. “One of my clients was in the corporate world but desperately wanted to embrace her creative side as an illustrator. She had the drive, but had never been professionally trained. She crowdfunded a very conservative US$2,000 to launch some Christmas cards, but because this was something she really wanted to do and was passionate about it she really worked hard and this small step has now led to corporate commissions for logos, children’s book illustrations and mural work. It’s a great story.”

Denholder is eventually aiming to launch Next Chapter internationally. “I just want to keep women moving on to the next level,” she says. She recommends women take a look at internationalwomensday.com to find out how they can ‘press for progress’ in 2018.

According to research carried out by HSBC for International Women’s Day, just over half of expat women surveyed viewed Hong Kong as the best area in Asia Pacific to improve their earning prospects. This compared with over 70% who considered Singapore to be the most lucrative country. Hong Kong also trailed Singapore when it came to work culture and personal full-fillment at work. However, the SAR was considered the top place to acquire new skills and 64% agreed it was a good place to progress their careers. For job security, Japan and Taiwan were rated top of the table.

 

Food, fun and inspiring stories to celebrate International Women’s Day

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Event co-organiser Mawgan Batt
March 8 is International Women’s Day (IWD) and to mark the date, local entrepreneurs Mawgan Batt, Emma Pike and Lori Granito have put together a networking event for Hong Kong’s business-savvy ladies.
“We’re hoping it will be a low-key, fun and interesting event, bringing together like-minded women and celebrating female successes in Hong Kong,” said Batt.
“The theme of this year’s IWD is Press for Progress and we’ve asked our three speakers to use this theme to share experiences of bringing about change in their personal and professional lives.”
No strangers to professional lives themselves, the trio are all business owners. Pike is the founder of online butcher Farmer’s Market, as well as being involved in a number of other businesses. “The path to success isn’t linear,” she says. “But connecting with other entrepreneurs is always beneficial as it gives new perspectives and ideas.”
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Emma Pike, founder of online butcher Farmers Market
Granito is founder of women’s ‘leadership and success’ coaching company, Legendary Coaching. “I set it up in 2015 after I was asked to coach a few people to do TEDx talks. I’ve now transitioned from my previous career in catering to full time coaching. I’ve been mentoring women entrepreneurs for over 20 years.” Granito reckons one of the most important challenges for women in business is to keep moving forward. “Even when the path to success is not as clearly laid out as it could be.”
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Legendary Coaching founder Lori Granito
Batt founded online media company The HK HUB in 2012, which she sold at the end of 2015. She now runs marketing and communications company Bespoke Consulting, advising small businesses on marketing and strategy. “Running my own business has been a rollercoaster ride and I’ve learnt a tremendous amount along the way,” she said.
The event’s speakers include Nicole Denholder, founder of crowdfunding portal for women Next Chapter; filmmaker Joanna Bowers who directed documentary The Helper; and Bowie Lam, advocator for the rights of female sex workers and founder of Teens Key, which campaigns for sexual and reproductive health rights for young women.
“We want guests to make some great new connections, to be inspired by the stories they hear and to take away some goals for the future,” said Batt. “Networking events can be tough, sometimes awkward, but we’ve all found that women-only events tend to be less intimidating and can help create lasting relationships that are important both socially and in the work environment.”
Dress is smart-casual with a pocket full of business cards.
6.30-8.30pm, Corner Kitchen Cafe, 226 Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan, $250/person including free-flow food and drink – tickets are not-for-profit and monies will be donated to Teens Key, farmersmarket.com.hk/products/international-womens-day-network-event-pressforprogress.