How 'She’s Next Empowered by Visa' supports female founders

April 27, 2020 10:46
From left to right: Sarah Fung, founder and CEO,; Karen Contet Farzam, Co-founder, &; Diane Younes, founder, Sponge; Kirti Lad, founder and Executive Director, Meraki Executive Search & Consulting; Maaike Steinebach, G

Visa survey of 650 small business female owners in the US shows that more women are starting their own businesses, a 15.4% rise in the last three years in 2018. Yet women entrepreneurs continue to face more challenges compared to their male counterparts: 73% reported having difficulty in raising funds for their businesses while 61% said they ended up bootstrapping. To boost women-owned business, Visa launched “She’s Next, Empowered by Visa” in North America and Africa last year, have also recently launched the Hong Kong edition to connect and provide local female founders with education and networking opportunities, in the hope to help them to fund, run and grow their businesses through tapping into Visa’s network and resources.

In Hong Kong, women account for 45% of the entrepreneurial community which is much higher than the global ratio according to a survey from French bank BNP Paribas in 2015, which interviewed 2,523 entrepreneurs in 17 markets. According to the “Global Entrepreneur Monitor” report published by Babson College and London Business School in 2016, Male / Female Opportunity-Driven TEA (total early-stage entrepreneurial activity) ratio is 1:1.1, which is slightly higher than region average; while the progress and overall achievement of women business owners in Hong Kong ranked 15th amongst 58 countries and markets from survey conducted by Mastercard in 2019, indicating the rise of She-conomy in the city.

Maaike Steinebach, General Manager, Visa Hong Kong and Macau: “I spent the last 20 years in the corporate world, and have noticed lots of challenges for women who wish to progress in their career but are concerned about the lack of flexibility at work. For example, many mothers take the lion share of looking after their family. The ability to work flexibly is an advantage to women, and has resulted in the flourish of women entrepreneurs.”

Connect Women Business Owners

Women have many strengths to the benefit of founding own businesses. Maaike believed that women entrepreneurs are filling the gap left by a corporate world largely dominated by men.

“The great thing about female entrepreneurs is that they are very inventive. Many female entrepreneurs start their businesses because they want to solve for problems specific to women that traditionally have not been addressed by men,” she added.

Yet many female founders when move from the corporate world into entrepreneurship do not have the network – of financiers, suppliers and buyers, or talents – to grow and turn their ideas into reality.

To support female founders, Visa launched She’s Next Empowered by Visa to connect like-minded women entrepreneurs in identifying key challenges to overcome together through shared research, experience and technologies.

“Having the right support group helps. I believe startups or companies that have female founders or board members are more cognitively diverse than male-dominant ones, and therefore more adept at recognizing opportunities and solving problems from different vantage points,” said Maaike.

Supported by local founders

Peggy Choi, founder and CEO of LYNK Global finds She’s Next supportive, “LYNK Global is a Hong Kong based company with a global vision so we have office in New York, Singapore, Mumbai and Shanghai etc. When I previously joined the local startup communities, I find little connection between local and global entrepreneurs. She’s Next connects the belief of women business owners which not only raise public awareness of female entrepreneurship, but also present business opportunities in the ecosystem.”

LYNK Global has raised capital in multiple rounds of financing since 2015, with funding came at no ease. “With no reference to financial history of a startup, investors look into the level of commitment as a key consideration to investment. As a female founder, I was always questioned by prospective investors on my capability to balance work and family. I hope She’s Next can eliminate unconscious bias along with its success,” said Peggy.

Diane Younes, founder of Sponge, believes She's Next is an indispensable program. "I have two law degrees, one from the US and one from Canada. I am a US lawyer with an investment banking background. While this skill set came in very handy for a number of things relating to one’s own business, like negotiations and contracts, this was not the case for tech-related items. This was a learning curb for me, especially given how tech-heavy Sponge is. Luckily, some female entrepreneurs personally invested a lot of time in helping me. The entrepreneurs in the She’s Next program are in exceptional hands. I think visibility of women-led businesses is key. The more visibility women-led businesses have, the harder it is to ignore how successful they are - and how much more successful they can become with more funding. Visa’s She’s Next program highlights a number of these businesses, while providing workshops and panels to help them grow."

Sarah Fung, founder and CEO of agrees with Diane, “I didn’t realise how challenging developing a bespoke website from scratch would be when I started HULA. I found it really productive to talk with other founders to get tips and know that I wasn't alone. She’s Next engages female founders and shares their insights which are an effort to support and champion women business owners as they advance their businesses.”

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Maaike Steinebach, General Manager, Visa Hong Kong and Macau believes She’s Next will support female founders as they fund, run and grow their businesses.

Hong Kong Economic Journal