How many times have we talked about the gender gap between male and female counterparts in entrepreneurship?
To put things into perspective, according to a research released by Catalyst in January 2014, women hold 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEO positions and 4.6 percent of Fortune 1000 CEO positions.
“Silicon Valley is an all boys’ school for entrepreneurs”, a Silicon Valley based entrepreneur once told me during an interview.
He might not have meant it the bad way; he was reflecting the reality where female entrepreneurs or executives are far and few in between - even in Silicon Valley.
TIME had a piece in February 2014 which highlighted two female venture capitalists, Theresia Gouw, formerly a partner at Accel, and Jennifer Fonstad, formerly a partner at Draper Fisher Jurvetson who left the prominent venture capital firms to start their own.
“The news is particularly significant because Silicon Valley’s insular venture capital community is dominated by men. And there are very few women in the top executive ranks of the nation’s largest technology companies,” TIME reporter Sam Gustin wrote.
The panelist sharing their entrepreneurial experience at the Teh Tarik Session at MaGIC Centre (Left to Right): Karamjit Singh, Founder of Digital News Asia, Tan Sri Dr Mohd Irwan Abdullah, Secretary General of Treasury, Ministry of Finance Malaysia, Cheryl Yeoh, CEO of MaGIC, Ngai Yuen Low, Head of Kakiseni and Mikkel Bjoedstrup, Co-founder of Hijab2Go.
To me, it is a challenge against basic stereotypes that are inherent to the society in varying degrees.
Things may be about to change right at the centre of innovation in Cyberjaya, Malaysia, at least for the entrepreneurial community.
The Malaysian government has been striving towards creating a conducive environment for nurturing quality entrepreneurs and contributes to the economic growth.
The formation of MaGIC is yet another commitment made by the Malaysian government to bring the nation another step closer towards developing a dense and dynamic entrepreneurial ecosystem. MaGIC will be a resource hub for Malaysian entrepreneurs, serves as a platform to guide and direct entrepreneurs to the right tools or resources that will help to either launch, accelerate or commercialize their business.
MaGIC will also bridge the gap between Malaysian entrepreneurs with the existing entities that provide funding and mentorship programs such as Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC), Malaysian Technology Development Corporation (MTDC), Cradle Fund, SME Corp, Unit Peneraju Agenda Bumiputera (TERAJU), Modal Perdana and more.
Who’s better to lead the Malaysian entrepreneurial ecosystem other than a seasoned entrepreneur with a global perspective?
It started with the official announcement of the Chief Executive Officer to Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC) on April 17, 2014 - the appointment of Cheryl Yeoh, a Malaysian entrepreneur recently relocated back to Malaysia from Silicon Valley. And yes, Cheryl is the first CEO, and also the first female CEO of MaGIC.
Who says that entrepreneurs can’t be sexy?
Cheryl Yeoh's startup Reclip.It was acquired by Walmart Labs -- cherylyeoh.com
When you really think about it, what really matters in entrepreneurship are an individual’s mindset and the personality traits he or she carry as a person: the drive and passion, the want to create impact, the agility and perseverance, and most definitely, how the successful ones learn and rise from the ashes of failure.
Gender should never have been a part of the equation that determines whether a person will succeed in entrepreneurship.
There’s never been a better time for the appointment of a female entrepreneur with experience in startups and mentorship in Silicon Valley as the CEO of MaGIC. Silicon Valley may not be perfect but it is by far the leading entrepreneurial hubs in the world.
Quoting from an interview with Tom Byers, Entrepreneurship Professor at Stanford University, “There is nothing specific about Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley is just a gigantic lab of mostly technology company, sometimes consumer company as we know”.
At the press briefing Tan Sri Dr Mohd Irwan Abdullah, Secretary General of Treasury, Ministry of Finance Malaysia, addressed the main setback that Malaysian entrepreneurs perceive as a roadblock to their success: Malaysian entrepreneurs believe that they can’t market their product in Malaysia.
Between Malaysia and Silicon Valley, Malaysian entrepreneurs would choose the latter. “This is the mentality we want to change,” Tan Sri Dr Mohd Irwan emphasized.
Tan Sri Dr Mohd Irwan Abdullah, Secretary General of Treasury, Ministry of Finance Malaysia answering questions from the press after the Teh Tarik Session.
The change we need in order to create the next wave of entrepreneurs is a change of mindset. This is where MaGIC, and its partners, and more importantly the leadership of Cheryl Yeoh come into play.
With a successful exit to Walmart Labs in 2013 and a strong portfolio under her belt (mentoring at 20 under 20 Fellowship, 500startups, Founder Institute and Lean Startup Machine, etc.), there is no doubt that Cheryl is a good fit to the role.
I would say, the challenge will not be so much of whether there are sufficient funds or programs for entrepreneurs, or if there are ample of mentors (successful entrepreneurs) to nurture the next wave of successes.
Before we know it, MaGIC would have mapped out pockets of entrepreneurial ecosystem in Malaysia, connecting and bridging their forces together to create a stronger entrepreneurial community that drives innovation and creativity.
The challenge for MaGIC would be to change the nation’s mentality or perception towards “entrepreneurship” and perceived failure.
At one end of the spectrum, the entrepreneurial community (specifically the tech space) would be motivated by the success stories of people like Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, Kevin Systrom or Lei Jun (CEO of Xiao Mi); on the other hand, majority of the general public are still skeptical towards the very notion of entrepreneurship.
The fact that to launch a web and mobile product takes lesser capital with various open source programming platforms and related tools have further democratize entrepreneurship does not mean that majority of the country’s population find it appealing to start a web and mobile venture.
For many if not most of them, the lack of understanding about web, mobile and programming culture may be the barrier that stalled them progressing and transitioning from traditional business to digital economy.
While the technology space in Malaysia has become more dynamic in the past few years with initiatives from both the public and private sector, the idea of “embracing and celebrate failure”, “pay it forward” or “idea sharing among entrepreneurs” are still very much a mentality that have yet to be adopted by the majority.
MaGIC Centre's main lobby.
The establishment of MaGIC is a good start to inspire a new wave of entrepreneurs. Greater challenges are ahead for Malaysian entrepreneurial ecosystem to flourish but it is a fight we all must endure to win.
At 31-years-old, Cheryl seems to be set to take on the bigger challenge ahead - to lead the Malaysian entrepreneurial community to new heights.
Cheryl Yeoh also serves as a mentor and advisor at notable foundations such as Founder Institute, Lean Startup Machine, Thiel Fellowship's 20 Under 20, and accelerator 500startups. - - cherylyeoh.com