The rising tide of women entrepreneurs and women-owned businesses: How they’re changing the world for womankind.
By Faith Chanda
“Studies show that women have higher levels of empathy than men. I think that this makes women-owned or women-led businesses very special. Having a successful business is all about understanding what your customer feels, the customer user journey. Women can understand this very well – a truly underrated superpower,” says Devi Sahny.
Evening the Playing Field
And women are using that superpower, and the organizations they run, to make a difference. Sahny is founder and CEO of Ascend Now, a start-up ed tech company offering three streams: Academics, Beyond Academics and Entrepreneurship. While the initial focus was about updating the way we think about educational curriculum across the board, Sahny has noticed that Ascend Now’s tailored curriculum has had a potent effect on students, especially girls.
“Female students tend to transform much more quickly [in the program] than our male students,” she says, and the girls have blossomed with empowerment and confidence. “For example, we have two students, Sofia and Luciana, only 13 years old, who have launched a clothing start-up focused on tie-dye clothing. They have made $30,000 since inception!”
Ascend Now also sponsors a one for one program whereby students can share online lessons with children in underprivileged communities. “I love to see our female students advocate for education in communities in Afghanistan. The playing field is far from even, and we try to do our bit every step of the way to even it – even if it’s just a small shift.”
Changing the Narrative
PoPstrings Project began from the idea that there has to be a better way for women to succeed in the workplace. Founder Dr Rajeshree Nimish Parekh, known modestly as simply “Gina,” wanted to harness the power of women’s strengths. “While working with women, I have learned that women bring perspectives and personal experiences into their work that can be special. Once given a safe platform to express themselves, their creativity and voices just shine!”
One thing she didn’t like about the workplace was competition, “Historically, women tend to compete with other women rather than support them, as a result of various cultural and systemic issues. I spent a large part of my career proving to myself and to others that I was better than the rest. That can be exhausting. I decided to change that narrative – inside my head and through my actions. I stopped competing and started collaborating and it felt really good!”
As a volunteer at Star Shelter, which offers temporary shelter to women who are escaping violent domestic situations, she wanted to share her commitment to empowerment and collaboration with women there, who desperately needed something positive. So she launched PoPstrings, a business that teaches women and girls to make and sell braided and beaded jewelry. “Over the past five years, we have worked with survivors of domestic violence, slum dwellers, and pregnant teen moms. We are totally volunteer run so it’s a bunch of women from all walks of life that want to give back or pay forward.”
A fruitless search for a swimsuit she felt confident in led Paula Kenneally to eventually launch UBU Swimwear. She decided to do something about the discomfort and self-consciousness many women feel when buying and wearing swim wear. She says, “UBU Swimwear is designed to look and feel good. When you feel good, you are more confident. And when you are confident, you enjoy yourself more!” UBU is all about helping women feel better about themselves, from researching fabrics to creating designs that prevent the dreaded “wardrobe malfunction” to flipping the purchasing experience on its head (“I will never try to talk someone into buying if they are unsure. I provide a free “Try At Home” service so you can try the swimwear in privacy and comfort with no obligation,” she says).
UBU’s recent #youbeyou campaign really brought home the message of body positivity and body confidence with real-size models, including Paula herself!
Sharing Strengths and Resources
Starting a business can be hard, especially if the business has a creative or artistic slant. Yet, there are quite a few small businesses in the creative space run by women in Singapore. Flipping Creative Collective isn’t a business, but it’s a place for female business owners to collaborate and network, and it was started by a small business owner, Heidi Bouz. “I had an idea to form a group where creative women could connect and small businesses could cooperate to manage our own fairs or online marketplaces.” While the online marketplace hasn’t really resonated, the group has grown by leaps and bounds. That growth is thanks in no small part to Janet Privett, owner of her own small business GingerLily (in addition to her full time job!), who Heidi calls “the business mind of the group.”
What started with a Facebook page and a few small-group networking sessions has bloomed into a hive of productive collaboration, support and cooperation. Prior to covid restrictions, the group gave rise to dozens of educational talks and brainstorming sessions aimed at helping to grow businesses while offering valuable learning opportunities to the group’s members. Topics have included social media management and image consultancy, and have spun off small groups of job-specific groups such as writers and painters. Many sessions are given by members themselves, eager to share their knowledge with other women. Sometimes experts are brought in when there’s a lack of expertise in the group.
One of Heidi and Janet’s proudest achievements for the group was “organizing an inaugural Christmas Fair where we had 15 members showcasing our products. The camaraderie and the friendships forged were priceless!” The group also features a mentoring program where more experienced ladies can advise newer business owners. Online and in person, members can be found sharing resources and contacts, ideas and solutions. While members often collaborate, sharing tables at fairs and driving customers to one another’s businesses, “I vowed to never take funds for advertising or organizing fees,” says Heidi. “I just wanted to help other women enjoy their creative outlets and help them find a sense of purpose like my small business did for me.”