Bonnâe Ogunlade
Jan 9, 2017

Women at work: Rise of the female 'millenipreneurs'

Especially in Southeast Asia, young women are reinventing the way businesses are created and operated.

Bonnâe Ogunlade
Bonnâe Ogunlade

In Asia Pacific’s emerging markets, the development of technology and the proliferation of mobile phones is opening up new career paths to women. Consequentially, we are seeing a bourgeoning trend of female ‘millennipreneurs’—entrepreneurs under the age of 35—especially in Southeast Asia.

Access to global networks via social platforms, mobile apps and digital payment methods is allowing young women to break the cycle of working menial jobs for a meagre allowance.

In Asia Pacific alone, there has been a twofold increase in the number of active internet users since March 2015. This translates to 1.8 billion internet users and 4 billion mobile connections. Speaking in broader terms, the number of mobile connections in APAC alone equates to more than half of the world’s population.

Young and restless: New face of business in emerging markets

Dentsu Aegis Network’s recently released whitepaper, Amplifying the Voice of Female Entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia, found that female millennials are more likely to start a business than their older counterparts. In Vietnam and Thailand respectively, 86 percent and 73 percent of current entrepreneurs are aged between 18 and 34. Further still, millennipreneurs are likely to have launched twice as many companies as baby boomers. 

So what’s so special about the young and restless? Behavioural trends suggest that most millennials are synonymous with ambition, authenticity and early adoption of technology. They use tech as a seamless enhancement to their lives and value convenience over cool. Additional traits embodied by millennipreneurs are leadership, boldness and a social conscience.

This translates to millennials having clearer expectations of brands and choosing to interact with those that offer transparency and are aligned with their values. It also places them in prime position to create companies that resonate accordingly.

Campaign360, taking place on 22 March in Hong Kong, will focus on driving gender equality and celebrating women in leadership. This high-level, invitation-only event will bring together global and regional heads of media, marketing and advertising who believe gender equality and diversity are issues that impact their business.

One notable example is the female founder of Grab, a ride-hailing mobile platform (reportedly worth US$3 billion). At the tender age of 32, the Harvard Business school graduate, who hails from Malaysia, ranked 17th on Fortune’s 40 under 40 list. What’s also revealing is the increasing number of women included in this list year on year.

Positive effect

However, despite the increasing number of women-founded businesses, Dentsu Aegis Network reported that nearly half of female-led business ventures are self-funded. This may be due to the disparities they face in terms of funding and legal systems.

Shannon Kalayanamitr, the female founder and chief marketing officer of ecommerce platform Orami, a self-confessed advocate for women, states in an interview that there remains a double-standard in terms of how men and women are perceived and treated in business. (Kalayanamitr is a member of Campaign Asia-Pacific's 2016 40 under 40.)

What the industry needs to realise is the significantly positive effect of female entrepreneurs on both emerging countries and businesses. According to the 2016 BNP Paribas Global Entrepreneur Report, companies helmed by women make on average 13 percent higher revenues than those run by men. This rings truer for businesses led by ambitious young women with revenues rising by 9 percent to 22 percent amongst millennipreneurs. In fact, if there were greater parity between male and female business owners in terms of access to capital, women would potentially be able to lift the GDP of emerging markets.

Furthermore, our research shows that almost all female business owners are willing to mentor others and have the impetus to inspire a single child to a whole community. Young female business owners are tremendous role models as they tend to be more concerned with their social impact and are very conscious of giving back.

To foster both a financially and socially progressive environment, we must encourage women and girls into business, provide them with early access to the right knowledge, support and funding and direct them towards positive role models.

Brands need to keep pace

Research has proven the capabilities of successful female millennipreneurs in disrupting and shaping the digital economy, especially in emerging markets. Women are using mass technology to tap into local consumer insights to create powerful offerings that resonate by providing transparency, immediacy and convenience. They are reinventing the way businesses are created and operated and, they are commanding the way platforms, providers and devices evolve.

In recognition of the growing force of the millennipreneur, leading companies like Facebook and Google have even dedicated significant resources to emerging market developments for small businesses. However, some global brands are stagnating in the face of smaller more agile and relevant competition. These brands need to ‘stop’, ‘look’ and ‘listen’ to these women and their consumers or face extinction. Rather than try to market, persuade and preach to millennials that they should heed what they are doing, brands need to start considering how they too can assimilate themselves into the lives of consumers in the meaningful and impactful way that millennipreneurs are so adept at doing.

Bonnâe Ogunlade is regional associate insight director with Carat APAC

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