Limited funding, gender biases, a timid support system and a challenging business environment are just a few issues female entrepreneurs have to deal with in the venture capital world today. Funding, especially, is one of the first and arguably most important steps in starting a company.
For Shuyin Tang, the CEO and Co-Founder of Beacon Fund, making the fundraising process more transparent and accessible for female entrepreneurs is only a small piece of the puzzle towards changing the narrative in the business world. Instead of trying to change female entrepreneurs to fit the system, Beacon Fund’s mission is to change the system itself. Today Beacon Fund is focusing on celebrating the everyday success stories of female leaders and shining a light on alternative models of what it means to be a successful entrepreneur.
Patamar Capital, an SEA-focused impact investing firm where Shuyin is currently a Partner, was instrumental in seeding Beacon Fund and getting it off the ground.
We ask Shuyin about the story behind Beacon Fund, what challenges female entrepreneurs typically face in the VC world and her advice for women hoping to start their own companies in Vietnam.
How did Beacon Fund start and what is its mission?
A particular passion of mine has always been figuring out how to support more female entrepreneurs and how to celebrate their successes through story-telling. After talking to hundreds of women running their own companies, it became clear that many of their startups don't fit into the typical VC worldview where firms are expected to become these exponential growth companies on a universal scale.
Everyone is after “the elusive unicorn” which causes many great, moderate-growth companies that are still cash flow positive and are providing much-needed services to their customers and stakeholders, to be overlooked. These types of companies don’t receive enough funding.
Why should this approach be the gold standard? Why do female entrepreneurs specifically receive less funding? How do we get more capital - and the appropriate type of capital - into their hands? These questions were the genesis of the Beacon Fund.
What kind of challenges do female entrepreneurs typically face in the VC world? What is Beacon Fund’s role in changing the status quo?
What we’ve seen time and time again is that female entrepreneurs are rockstars at growing a business organically. They start with a deep understanding of an unmet need, are laser-focused on solving it and achieving paying customers, and growing steadily over time. The challenge for female entrepreneurs is that when approaching a venture capitalist, they're often told that they’re not being ambitious enough, unless they’re tackling a billion dollar market or targeting 1 million users, for example. I’m not saying it’s a problem to be tackling a billion dollar market or aiming for 1 million users, I’m just saying that shouldn’t necessarily be a prerequisite to getting investment. We’re trying to cram them into this bucket of venture capital when that’s not what they need.
What we really hope to do with Beacon is to be a different type of an investing partner for these female founders, to really understand their growth path and their vision. Oftentimes, women are made to feel small for wanting to run a business that doesn’t necessarily scale nationwide - let alone regionally or globally - or if they ‘only’ serve the needs of a very particular community.
Because the system right now really celebrates these ‘new and cool’ venture-backed companies that are achieving exponential growth, who are continuously raising larger and larger funding rounds at ever-higher valuations, I think a lot of entrepreneurs are starting to feel this need to conform to that level of success. In an ideal funding environment, people can follow different paths and still feel like they’re being ambitious and successful, that they’ve really knocked it out of the park.
What’s wrong with running a great business which makes money, and which both you and your customers feel joyful about every day? That’s more than enough. I just want all those female founders out there to feel that “this is an extraordinary thing that I’m working on, even if it’s not a unicorn."
How can we grow the number of women running their own companies in SEA? How can Beacon Fund support them?
There are definitely fewer women running businesses and receiving funding in the tech ecosystem, but if you look at the broader economy, there's actually a very high proportion of women who run their own companies in Vietnam, the Philippines, and Indonesia -- Beacon Fund’s main focus geographies. In this quest for these sexy, exciting, tech companies, our mistake was not to see those businesses right in front of our eyes. We missed all of these companies who are running, for example, kindergartens, building healthcare clinics, working in the agriculture industry.
Part of our mission is to make people realize that there’s actually many different paths open to being a successful entrepreneur. Changing that narrative is something I think we can achieve with Beacon Fund.
What advice would you give to female entrepreneurs who are looking to start their own business?
My advice is compassion, especially compassion towards yourself. As a perfectionist, while my drive, idealism, and ambition have helped me, they have also held me back. Many of the women in my network have the same perfectionist – and self-critical – tendencies. I’m not sure if that little voice inside our heads will ever go away, but I’m trying to smile at it and hold it with kindness.
My other piece of advice is to learn to enjoy the journey more; don’t doubt the path that you’re on; control what you can but don’t obsess over what you can’t! And find people who are going to support you. At the end of the day, it's such a cliche, but having a great team behind you is the most important thing; finding people who share the same passion and who are smarter than you. It’s a much more joyful journey once you’re able to do that and appreciate that.
What’s next for Beacon Fund? Are you looking to expand anywhere else in the future?
We have been running a number of funds in the region for quite some time at Patamar, so we do have that history and experience. With the Beacon Fund, we are laser focused on proving out a slightly different model. Our fund doesn’t look like a typical venture capital fund where it’s gone after 10 years; it’s an evergreen fund, which means we’re here... well forever! Why limit ourselves to this artificial 10-year timeframe, when there’s so much more to be done? We’re going to keep on building, and continuing to invest in and support more businesses.
I think our ultimate goal for both tomorrow and for the next 10 years is to really understand the needs of female entrepreneurs, what kind of financing and support will actually make a difference for them, and how we can help them achieve their amazing visions for the world. Right now, we’ve got a strong hypothesis that there’s a gap around debt financing, but in the future if we need to change, we’re not afraid to do so. We are simply going to keep laser-focused on our mission of building an investment firm that works for women.