“Gender blind.” This is how Minette Navarrete, founder and president of Kickstart Ventures Inc, describes the venture capital and private equity space in the Philippines. She cited that more diversity, and more points of view would mean more innovation.
“I think women are actually able to join the investing industry because the skills and interests are reasonably different,” said Navarrete, who led her Business Development team at Globe Telecom Inc to found Kickstart Ventures in 2012.
Kickstart is Globe’s wholly-owned corporate venture capital subsidiary that funds early-stage digital startups, providing capital, mentoring, and market access.
“Based on my experience, I was always testing the things that I didn’t know. I think society does support women today. Although I don’t know necessarily if there exist equal opportunity for men and women across all social strata,” Navarette said.
Before joining Globe, she was managing director of online game publishing startup Level Up. She previously served as Levi Strauss & Company’s country manager for Philippines and Guam; and president & CEO of Shangri-La Plaza Corporation. She also did stints in global giants, Unilever and L’Oréal.
In an exclusive interaction with DEALSTREETASIA, in celebration of the International Women’s Month, Navarrete explained how unique the Philippines is when it comes to policy, attitude, and business practices in the investment industry.
Is there a skewed proportion of women in the VC/PE industry?
I think when you look at the investor and the angel investor cycle, Philippines maybe unique where there are quite a good number of women. When you think of the longest running venture capital fund in the Philippines, the Investment & Capital Corp of the Philippines (ICCP), the most active members of the team are females, also in IdeaSpace Foundation, and even at Kickstart Ventures. In our team, six out of eight members are women. Two out of the three like the deal team including me are women. And when you look across the range of angels and super angel investors, there are a good number of both men and women. I think, Philippines is slightly different in the investor group. Women largely have an equal representation. It feels like there’s a good mix of men and women across angels, super angels, corporates, and traditional businesses.
What are some challenges that women in the PE/VC face in general? Are there any that are specific to a certain country?
Policy regimes differ from country to country. When you do a policy review in Philippines you don’t have policies that expressly, explicitly discriminate against women. Philippines’ policy in large especially around the industry and business tend to be fairly even, especially in the way laws and regulations are written about treating the genders. I think it’s a different case in some of the other Asian countries where a woman may not take up a loan or may not set up a business unless her husband agrees to the same.
What are some factors that you think would discourage women from working in the PE/VC industry?
I think for investing, just my hypothesis, venture capital carries the highest risk. However, I’m trying to get data on women in the finance industry from the trade department. Certainly, I was raised not to take risks, to always exercise caution, to be reasonably well protected. Women look for things that offer stability, security, safety, and these qualities are not associated with high risk investment. But I could be wrong, certainly. If you look at Philippines, there are a lot women in the venture capital, private equity space. When you look at SMEs in the Philippines, when it’s not digital, there are lots of women. We have a lot of success stories of women in SMEs. And we’re trying to get data on what are the other causes, or where the phenomenon comes from.
What do you think is the importance/significance of having a diverse workforce for both startups and the PE/VC industry?
When you’re trying to build innovation it’s important that you examine all possibilities. If you all have the same point of view, you won’t consider alternative perspectives. I think for Kickstart, we benefit from the fact that we know that not everybody belongs to the same background, like education, character, nationality etc. And what that means is we’re conscious that you have to explain why you made a certain decision, as one cannot assume. When we know you’re different, I am different, it will make more of an effort when we’re trying to arrive at the decision to explain. I think it matters to have the diversity because it allows you to examine that breadth of options and to test things that have not been done because you have no assumptions that it’s already given.
What do you think will be the impact of more women in decision-making positions in PE/VC on the whole startup ecosystem, and for PEs on the companies they invest in or fund?
I think people just approach things differently and that the discussions and debates would be different. I think a good balance works for everybody. One of the things about the Philippines specifically is everyone is quite competitive and that’s a good thing. And I think if we balance it with very competitive but also very collaborative people, that’s a great thing. I think women add something to the nature of discussions. I believe more diversity, and more points of view means more innovation.
What do you think can be done to encourage women to work in the PE/VC industry? What sort of mindset change do you think needs to take place (in both men and women)?
If you look at Asia, there are countries where perhaps have policies that are still not balanced for men and women. In the Philippines that’s not the case. But certainly there are environments that make it less possible for women to participate because whether you like it or not, when you start a family, it’s the woman who gets pregnant and gives birth. So there are given biological truths for which you have to find ways to make things work. Technology of course offers solutions. I think everybody makes adjustments, if you’re willing as an individual to make it work. You make adjustments to your own life in what you do, and a company that is progressive thinking is also able to make adjustments. Because if you want great talent then you need to have a bit more flexibility. There are jobs in other industries where that’s not possible like retail, it’s a little harder to adjust. But maybe in our sector whether it’s investing in tech or working in tech, I think there is scope for adjustment. And maybe technology can offer solutions that will make all these possible.
Is there a glass ceiling for women in this sector?
I think in the Philippine context, not in the investor circles, I don’t think necessarily there is a glass ceiling. It’s just very early days and there are not enough success stories of digital startups founded by women. When you look at the best, there are as many women as there are men. When you look at the up and coming pipeline, that’s where I worry we don’t have enough women.