Women must seize opportunities in startup space: Michelle Sun

July 21, 2016 11:19
Women should not let family issues and duties constrain them from entrepreneurial pursuits, says Michelle Sun, the founder of First Code Academy. Photo: EJ Insight

Asian women must look beyond traditional jobs and be more open to entrepreneurial pursuits, given the emerging opportunities in fields such as technology, a successful young businesswoman says.

"There are a lot of opportunities for women in today's business world, especially in the technology sector," says Michelle Sun, founder and chief executive of First Code Academy, a digital education startup founded in 2013.

Women should make good use of their advantages, which include social media utilization and communication skills, the entrepreneur said at a forum organized by Facebook and The Women's Foundation this week. 

"We are equally active, if not more, than men on social media... yet a majority of technology companies globally are still dominated by male engineers," said Sun, who had earlier worked as an analyst at a global investment bank.

“There is a lot of need for women to step in, to design better user experiences for both men and women," she said.

Asian women tend to hesitate in starting their own businesses as they worry about too many things, according to Sun.

Sun founded First Code Academy three years ago, aiming to provide students digital literacy and computational thinking skills.

Offering coding skills that can be used to create games and apps, the business was expanded to Singapore last July.

The firm is now serving more than 3,000 students.


On Monday, Facebook, the world’s largest social media platform, launched a new hashtag "#SheMeansBusiness" to celebrate and support Hong Kong Women entrepreneurs.

It follows a regional initiative launched earlier in Singapore on March 8, which marks International Women’s Day, to support more than 8,000 woman entrepreneurs across Asia Pacific.

Between 2014 and 2015, the number of women-owned small-and-medium-sized business pages on Facebook nearly tripled in Hong Kong, said Clair Deevy, Head of Economic Growth Initiatives APAC, at Facebook.

In Hong Kong, women-owned businesses tend to remain small due to a number of factors.

The factors range from women not having the same business management experience and networks as men to women entrepreneurs under-utilizing technology to scale up their operations, said Su-Mei Thompson, chief executive of The Women’s Foundation.

The Women’s Foundation is a non-governmental organization that aims to ensure full and equal participation of women and girls in all aspects of Hong Kong society.

The launch of #SheMeansBusiness project, which involves workshops and online resources, in Hong Kong can provide women-led businesses equal access to technological tools and resources, Thompson said.

Female entrepreneur ratio

According to the Global Entrepreneurialism Report 2015 published by BNP Paribas, Hong Kong ranks No. 2 globally in terms of female entrepreneur ratio, with a figure of 45 percent.

India ranks No. 1 with 49 percent while France is No. 3 with 42 percent, said the report, which surveyed 2,523 entrepreneurs in the US, Europe, Middle East and Asia.

Annie Tam, Permanent Secretary for Labor and Welfare Bureau of the Hong Kong government, said at the same forum Monday that Hong Kong women are in a good position to start their own businesses as the city has a lot of domestic helpers to take care of the home and children.

First Code Academy's Sun said women can achieve a balance between career and family, and that they should not feel constrained by household burdens.

"I chose to devote my time and energy on a cause I am passionate about, and on a career that I find meaningful," she said.

"Being an entrepreneur has taken me to places and helped meet people who are inspiring, creative and ambitious," Sun said. "I would not trade this for anything else."

Prior to setting up her coding school, Sun had worked as an equity analyst for the technology sector at Goldman Sachs.

Realizing her interest in technology, she joined a 12-week women-only coding camp and later volunteered to teach programming to school students.

That inspired her to create a startup focused on educating kids in the digital arena.

"When I started my business, I didn't pay myself for nine months, and did not have spare money to go and socialize with friends. I would skip all the dinners," Sun said.

"The experience taught me a lot about being resilient and flexible."

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Facebook's Clair Deevy (extreme left) says her firm has seen a significant rise in accounts opened by women-owned businesses. Photo: EJ Insight

Intern reporter at EJ Insight