While there are still barriers to women in the global workforce, women entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia are trailblazing their way to the top, breaking glass ceilings and making a name for themselves. Out of 57 economies representing 78.6 percent of the world’s female labour force, Singapore and the Philippines are ranked top 10 with the best opportunities to thrive as entrepreneurs. Vietnam was also ranked top 10 for countries with the highest percentage of women business owners.
To keep up with women’s ventures in the region, we’ve picked the top 10 women entrepreneurs who are defying odds and shaping Southeast Asia’s business landscape, in no particular order:
1. Tan Hooi Ling
Venture: Co-Founder, Grab
From a cramped garage in Malaysia, Grab Co-Founder Tan Hooi Ling has transformed her idea for a ride-hailing app to a regional cum lifestyle company valued at USD14 billion. Grab now operates in 225 cities across eight countries, with initiatives already rolled up to link riders with public transportation systems in hubs like Singapore and Jakarta. Coming from a middle-class family living in Kuala Lumpur, the Harvard graduate – with a background in engineering – is now worth USD300 million.
2. Rachel Lim
Venture: Co-Founder at Love, Bonito
10 years ago Rachel Lim and a couple of her friends launched an online blog where they sold overseas clothing brands when e-commerce was a rare sight in Singapore. In 2012, the business evolved into Love, Bonito, an e-retail brand that provides quality clothing options for Asian women who have difficulty fitting into international-sized options. Initially starting out with less than USD400, Rachel’s brand fundraised USD13 million in February 2018 and is now venturing into Hong Kong.
3. Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao
Venture: President and CEO, VietJet Air
Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao is Southeast Asia’s only self-made billionaire. The President and CEO of VietJet Air recently signed a USD12.7 billion contract to buy 100 Boeing planes during American President Donald Trump’s visit to Vietnam. She launched VietJet Air in 2011 at a time when there was no independent low-cost carrier in Vietnam. VietJet Air now boasts 34 domestic and 16 international routes. As for Thao, she recently ranked 44th on Forbes’ list of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.
4. Peggy Hartanto
Venture: Founder, Peggy Hartanto
This Surabaya-born Millennial co-founded her epynomous ready-to-wear label, Peggy Hartanto in 2012. As the brand’s Creative Director, Peggy oversees its seasonal womenswear collection. The label is known for its definitive design aesthetic, characterised by clean lines and bold colours. In 2016, Peggy was listed on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Asia list. She’s now brought her Indonesian fashion label onto the world stage. With a brand representative in a Los Angeles showroom, she’s dressed celebrities like actress Odette Annable for the Golden Globes Awards after party.
5. Rashmi Kwatra
Venture: Founder and CIO, Sixteenth Street Capital
The North Thailand native launched her own fund focused on financial and digital inclusion, Sixteenth Street Capital, in 2017. The firm successfully raised USD100 million in their first endeavor, which is no surprise considering that she first managed an investment fund at age 17. Rashmi was also the youngest partner at Prince Street Capital Management, a USD2 billion hedge fund with offices in New York and Singapore. As one of the 50 Leading Women in Hedge Funds in 2018, this high roller has no intention to stop breaking the glass ceiling.
6. Rachel De Villa
Venture: Founder, Cropital
In 2015, Rachel De Villa launched Cropital, a crowdfunding platform to help Philippine farmers. For a minimum investment of USD100, Cropital users can lend to farmers and help them break the debt cycle. With a starting capital of less than USD200, Cropital has now facilitated more than USD120,000 in investments and successfully provided financial support for more than 600 farmers in six provinces throughout the Philippines. In 2016 Rachel made Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Asia list – keep an eye out for this millennial entrepreneur.
7. Honey and Shwe Yee Mya Win
Venture: Technoholic, Chate Sat
In 2016, sisters Honey and Shwe Yee Mya Win launched Chate Sat to connect freelancers and employers, as well as to boost Mynmar’s tech start-up ecosystem. The online platform has more than 14,000 freelancers and 1,000 businesses on its platform and has expanded to countries like Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. In 2018 its parent company fundraised six-digit figures in a Pre-Series A round led by Singapore-based angel investors. The duo are now looking to focus on Mekong countries like Cambodia and Laos.
8. Vivy Yusof
Venture: Founder, Fashion Valet
In 2010 Vivy Yusuf launched Fashion Valet, a fashion e-commerce site that brings homegrown, high-end designers to consumers. With USD24,195 in starting capital and 30 employees, Vivy’s enterprise has grown to 500 brands and hundreds of staff across Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Jakarta. Among her brands is dUck, which offers affordable and trendy hijabs to Muslim women looking for modern day designs. With investments from Silicon Valley and Japan, Vivy is looking to Thailand for her next business gig.
9. Lida Loem
Venture: Co-Founder, Support Her Enterprise (SHE) Investments
Although women own 65% of Cambodia’s businesses, less than 50% employ more than 1 person. Which is why Lida Loem founded She investments, which dedicates itself to providing funding, training and consultation to women entrepreneurs to increase their skillsets and expand their ventures. Since launching in 2015, SHE has supported more than 250 women, who’ve seen an average of 155% revenue growth.
10. Kamonwan Wipulakorn
Venture: CEO, One Origin
At 56 and as CEO of business investor One Origin, Kamonwan Wipulakorn has had to prove her worth in the corporate world to get to where she is. She started at the lowest associate level at a brokerage firm more than 30 years ago, switching industries and rising through male-dominated ranks with perseverance and a tough skin. Now she has USD300 million in income-recurring projects and has been tasked with generating an additional USD1 billion in investments over the next five years.