Lida Loem, Celia Boyd, and James Wilson founded SHE Investments in 2015, aiming to help women in entrepreneurship through accelerator and incubator training programs to expand their businesses from micro-enterprises or small family businesses to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The programs focus on understanding the challenges women entrepreneurs encounter and how to respond to them.
SHE Investments also organizes networking events and created a website called “Ngeay Ngeay” to provide information about entrepreneurship. On the website, women entrepreneurs and the public can access information on how to register businesses with the Department of Taxation and the Ministry of Commerce.
The initiatives were launched after the SHE Investments team discovered that 65% of Cambodia’s total number of entrepreneurs are women whose businesses are unofficial and family-based. However, medium and macro-enterprises are mostly owned and led by men. This inspired SHE Investments to try to close the gender disparity in entrepreneurship.
Focus interviewed Lida Loem, co-founder and project manager of SHE Investments, about the mission of the company and the importance of improving micro-enterprise and business registration for women entrepreneurs.
How does SHE Investments support entrepreneurial women?
Currently, SHE Investments provides many programs and training, including our core program centralizing on training through the incubation and accelerator program. For the training program, we have various activities, such as team consultation, field trips, and one-on-one consultation. The company helps them build self confidence in expanding their business, and the website “Ngeay Ngeay” can provide them information related to business registration and model.
We are creating an application called “Kot Tra Riel”, which will be available later this year, allowing them to make a record of incomes and expenses, and the application does not require knowledge in finance. SHE Investments also has networking events, hosted every one or three months, which is a platform for women in entrepreneurship to meet up and broaden their networks.
Who did you approach when the business idea first came about?
When we had this business idea, my business partners began large-scaled research. First, we wanted to invest in businesses, but the research showed that the problem is not only about finance. The main issue is entrepreneurial women do not understand business strategies to expand into SMEs, and they do not know where to seek consulting in order to understand themselves and their businesses, so we have talked to women in all types of entrepreneurship including tailoring and crafting.
We founded SHE Investments to tackle the issues entrepreneurial women face, providing training courses on business knowledge. In 2016, we started a funding program ($10,000) for entrepreneurial women who can also borrow materials and equipment to expand their business. This year’s funding program will begin soon.
How did SHE Investments deal with finance when the founding plan was certain?
At first, we did not have financial support; we organized a fundraising event, where we raised enough money for a pilot study. After detailed research, we presented the results to our partners, mostly international companies.
What are the difficulties for SHE Investments to reach out to prospects and the public?
It was challenging to find prospects, and we fortunately were able to collaborate with our partners, who work with a variety of associations dealing with entrepreneurial women. We provided a training program as a platform for the company to reach out to prospects. SHE Investments also uses other methods, such as a Facebook page, which now has many likes and shares. Also, we created the SHE Investments Community, which includes all students and alumni, and people in the association recommended more people to join the membership program.
Working with entrepreneurial women was difficult at first, as they are mainly occupied with business and family, so if they enroll in a training, they must completely believe in the program. It was not easy to build trust between the two parties, but we tried everything to provide whatever kind of support they needed. After we gained their trust, business went smoothly.
How many training and programs has SHE Investments organised?
For core programs, we have organised many. We have trained 300 women in entrepreneurship, excluding networking and other gathering events, whose participants can reach as many as thousands.
What are the key takeaways from the training to entrepreneurial women?
Apart from teaching, we provided consultation services to customers. SHE Investments gives value to the development of customer’s critical thinking and creativity in order to tackle their problems and seek opportunities.
We use the Coach approach when answering questions. The majority of our customers expect lessons and discussions on a few questions, but SHE Investments has a different learning approach, allowing them to understand their own purposes and goals. We also give them some questions for their customers to help define their business problems and then search for solutions.
We inform our customers of our consulting process, as we have created an association including mentors who will assist them. We tell them that mentors’ role is not to provide advice and suggestions, but to create a safe space for entrepreneurial women to talk and discuss ideas, which fits to our approach.
According to SHE Investments’ website, only 1% of entrepreneurial women are officially registered. Why is the number low? What are the benefits for registration?
Only the minority of Cambodian female entrepreneurs have registered their businesses, as they face some challenges, such as time, social pressure, awareness and networks, resulting in less confidence and insufficient time to manage and expand their businesses. Business registration requires entrepreneurs to have a clear picture of their business operation in order to most likely be successful. Since many women entrepreneurs in Cambodia lack exposure and ambition, they cannot be bothered to register.
However, business registration will allow them to partner with many companies for the importation and exportation of the products, building a reputation for their business. If their products or services are not recognized, it is hard to grow their business. With an official registration, all stakeholders, including employees, suppliers, customers and partners, will have business legitimacy.
What are the common mistakes of some entrepreneurial women? How should they avoid those mistakes?
Based on my experience, a common mistake is the mix of business incomes and personal finances, which have to be clearly defined if they want to grow their business. Another secret to avoid this mistake is to manage and separate personal and family finances, which requires determination from the start to resist the temptation and a lot of practice. They must understand the importance of financial management within both sides of their finances as well as simple strategies to budget for the business.
What are the challenges to the expansion of women’s businesses?
According to SHE Investments, many entrepreneurial women have encountered difficulties when it comes to growing their business.
- Time: women spend a lot of their time focusing on family; they have to simultaneously run a business and take care of their family, leading to barely adequate time to concentrate on their business.
- Mindset: social stigma is a huge barrier for women. Normally, people say that women should “just make extra money”, which is already a great contribution to the family. The mindset about Cambodian women being family caretakers exerts a great deal of pressure on them and suppresses their ambition although they have a great vision for their business.
- Knowledge: many women have not seen the big picture and potential of their business, as the main purpose was to make extra money for the family. The lack of support and exposure makes them believe that a micro business is sufficient.
- Networks: many entrepreneurial women do not have broad networks or support; they are not confident enough to share and trade ideas and experience for their business.
Here is a link to seven tips from Lida Loem to women who want to start or grow their business.