ACE Startup Feature – The Hub Singapore
Woman in the Driver’s Seat: Grace Sai
Every strong, successful woman in business today is a role model for others. In our bid to inspire and empower more women to turn their ideas into startup reality, we talk to Grace Sai, CEO and co-founder of The Hub Singapore and Managing Partner of Hub Ventures Fund, about her journey.
In a 2017 global ranking by Dell and IHS Markit, Singapore was named the eighth best city in the world, and the top Asia Pacific city, for attracting and fostering women entrepreneurship. But how many local women business leaders can you think of?
“Most people I speak to can’t name three women role models,” said Grace Sai, CEO and co-founder of The Hub Singapore, the country’s largest co-working community of entrepreneurs with its founders raising S$300 million collectively since its inception, and boasts of a 1:1 gender split. While she agrees that Singapore, and Southeast Asia at large, offers a healthy ecosystem for women entrepreneurs to thrive, Grace also believes that success breeds success — when more women entrepreneurs achieve success, more will occur in the ‘next generation’ of founders.
This is part of the reason why the busy entrepreneur accepted an invitation to join the ACE Women Entrepreneurship Sub-Committee. Comprising women entrepreneurs who are influencers in the startup community, the Sub-Committee creates initiatives that celebrate, empower and support women in entrepreneurship.
The Sub-Committee regularly organises events that allow women entrepreneurs to network and share their experiences, to provide and receive peer support. For Grace, however, helping women entrepreneurs starts with defining the issues that they face.
“The conversations I’m having with ACE and Enterprise Singapore are around building a master database of women entrepreneurs and investors. We need to crunch that data and analyse the problem before we can talk about solutions,” she said.
Interestingly, Grace revealed that she only started getting involved in women entrepreneurship matters this year.
“I accept about 60 public speaking gigs a year but, previously, I would decline, on principle, to speak at women’s conferences or when I felt I was being asked to represent my gender,” said the highly-sought-after public influencer.
This has now changed and Grace hopes to address the unconscious gender bias that exists in society and business. As Managing Partner of Hub Ventures Fund, an early-stage Southeast Asian technology investment fund, she admits that she did worry about being excluded from the traditionally male-dominated venture capital circle but doesn’t intend to let that stop her. Today, two of Hub Ventures Fund deals have impressed the industry – first being Soho (a LinkedIn for property), founded by Series B co-founder of AirTasker, and Horangi (a cyber security-as-a-service startup), founded by former Palantir and Grab leadership, led by Monk’s Hill Ventures.
“If you asked me for advice for women entrepreneurs, I would say drop the ‘woman’ and just focus on being the best entrepreneur you can be. That simplifies things a lot more,” said Grace.
While it’s been five years since she founded The Hub Singapore, Grace says that not a day goes by without challenges. She’s thankful to be part of the ACE Peer Group, a peer-mentoring initiative that brings entrepreneurs of similar profiles together.
“I can’t live without my group,” she said with a smile. “Despite our hectic schedules, we all look forward to our monthly meetings — that really says something. The peer sharing format offers a great sounding board, especially for solo founders like me, and the friendships forged are invaluable. It not only helps my business performance; it also helps my mental performance.”
Inspired by the ACE Peer Group format, Grace has since introduced a similar initiative at The Hub for entrepreneurs at different development stages under its Elevate founders programme. She encourages entrepreneurs to drop by Hub@Prinsep or Hub@Cuppage for a tour or learn more about their founder programmes at http://singapore.impacthub.net.
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