Southeast Asian startups raised $8.6b in 2020 — just 16.5% of it went to women-led firms

Startup funding in Southeast Asia has a gender bias, and, in a first, DealStreetAsia has quantified it.

Women founders and co-founders accounted for a mere 16.4% (or $1.4 billion) of the overall disclosed fundraisings ($8.6 billion) in the region in 2020, according to DealStreetAsia’s latest Women in Startups: The SE Asia Edition report.

However, the overall deal value was skewed by the ride-hailing and payments decacorn Grab. The Singapore-based startup, co-founded by Tan Hooi Ling, closed two deals worth a combined $1.06 billion in 2020, accounting for 75% of deal value involving a woman founder and/or co-founder.

Without Grab, the figures are more dismal.

“It [fundraising for a woman founder] is definitely not easy despite the fact that research has shown women-led teams generate a 35% higher return on investment than male-founded companies,” said Sara Dhewanto, the founder of Duithape, an Indonesian fintech app, in an interview for the report.

In terms of deal volume, we tracked 625 deals across eight Southeast Asian countries last year, of which there were only 107 deals (17.1%) where the startup had a woman founder or co-founder.

Of these, 76 deals involved startups with a female co-founder and at least one male founder, while 21 had a female founder (but no female co-founder), while 10 had a female founder and co-founder.

 

While this leaves ample scope for improvement in terms of gender diversity, the share of women-founded startups in Southeast Asia has in fact inched up over the decade. In 2011-15, the share of female-founded startups in the region stood at 6.8%, which improved to 9.2% in 2016-20.

This growth rate was the second-highest globally, behind only the US’s 2.7 percentage points growth in the same period. China is the only region that recorded a lower share of women-founded startups in the 2016-2020 period, compared with 2011-15.

The rising share of women-founded startups in the region tallies with what the female founders that we spoke to, for the report, observed: there are noticeably more women stepping forward to build their own companies, especially in the technology space, even though they are still rare.

“From my observation in Thailand and SEA, I do come across more women founders than before but it is limited to certain industries like lifestyle, leadership coaching, fashion and design, and news media. Many other industries are known to be male-dominated like fintech, healthcare, and mobility,” said Cindy Kua of the Thai InsurTech firm Sunday in an interview presented in the report.

Southeast Asia vs the US

Southeast Asian startups founded solely by women garnered only 0.9% of the capital raised in 2020. This percentage is lower than in the US, where companies founded solely by women garnered 2.1% of the total capital invested in venture-backed startups, according to Pitchbook data. However, if we include startups with women co-founders, Southeast Asia (16.4%) fares much better than the US (14.4%).


The report is available exclusively to DealStreetAsia – Research & Analytics subscribers. Highlights include a list of all fundraising deals in 2020 where the startup had women founders and/or co-founders. We have also interviewed women founders who raised funds in recent years, including:

      • Roshni Mahtani, founder of Tickled Media
      • Caecilia Chu, co-founder of YouTrip
      • Cindy Kua, co-founder of Sunday
      • Raena Lim, co-founder of Style Theory
      • Rosaline Chow Koo, founder of CXA Group

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Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.

Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.