Women entrepreneurs don't want any special treatment in Asian startup scene

The small but growing number of aspiring female CEOs at DEMO Asia would rather talk about their products than their gender

Tucked among the mostly male entrepreneurs at a bustling conference for startups this week in Singapore are a number of aspiring women CEOs, but most would rather you didn't make a big deal about it.

"The more people highlight women, the more I feel I'm different," said Elisha Tan, 23.

Tan was the lone female to pitch her company to a group of venture capitalists during one session of DEMO Asia, a conference for startups being held this week in Singapore. She is currently launching learnemy.com, a service to connect teachers and students across different subjects, and said her gender mainly helps people remember her after presentations.

Her opinion, which largely matched that of other women attendees at the conference, stands in contrast to the west, where female entrepreneurs and executives tend to be highlighted by their companies and the media. On the show floor in Singapore, everyone just wanted to talk about their products.

Adriana Gascoigne, the founder and CEO of Girls in Tech, recently moved to Singapore from Silicon Valley. The organization, which has a pinkish logo with "Girls" written in curly script, holds a variety of networking events and lectures across its locations, of which there are 38 globally.

Gascoigne launched a Singapore chapter on Feb. 15, and it now has 125 members. She said attracting local women to sign up wasn't difficult,but feels there is much less emphasis on gender than in the U.S.

"Here, it's much more integrated and normal," she said.

Some girls at the conference said they feel more pressure from their families and spouses than professionally. Danielle Siauw, who at 37 is running fashionspace.com, an online clothing marketplace, said her husband is fine with her endeavors, but that can be a rarity.

"He told me, 'Go and do whatever you want!'" she said. "A lot of my friends don't get that."

One thing that entrepreneurs of both sexes still lack in the burgeoning Singapore startup scene is an example of a home run, a small company that made the big time. In the dozens of pitches made during DEMO Asia, presenters repeatedly quoted foreign tech idols like Steve Jobs, or compared themselves to U.S. giants Facebook and LinkedIn.

"That's important for the success of a startup hub - to know that other people have done it, and you can do it too," said Gascoigne.

Yvonne Lim, 24, started an entrepreneur club at her university, for both sexes, which she has since converted into a non profit. Her startup, openflea.com, operates flea markets that run once a week for 24 hours, with the first one due to open next week.

"The females here, they are more driven compared to other countries," she said.

Lim said she occasionally feels like people don't take her seriously, but that can also work against the males around her.

"It's a lot easier to forgive a women, so I take advantage of that."

DEMO Asia is produced in part by IDG Enterprise, a subsidiary of International Data Group (IDG), which also owns the IDG News Service.

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Jay Alabaster

IDG News Service
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