The Co-founder of the First Sharia-compliant Venture Capital in Malaysia says the 'Glass Ceiling' is a Mindset We Need to Overcome Rina Neoh has invested in and built more than 80 startups in the last 20 years

By Aashika Jain

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ASEAN's market of more than 600 million people accounts for 9 per cent of the world's total population. The potential in this vibrant economic region, which has consistently surpassed any other region over the last decade, is quite obvious to any start up investor or venture capitalist.

Rina Neoh, a serial entrepreneur, angel investor, venture capitalist and entrepreneurship thought leader, whose investment focus is largely on ASEAN countries, a subset of APAC thinks the region is well positioned to take full advantage of the opportunities with the economic integration process increasingly taking shape.

With an annual growth forecast of around 5 per cent, ASEAN is expected to become the fourth largest economy by 2030.

With more than half of the population under age 30, mostly millennials and GenZ, the ASEAN market has the appetite and aptitude to embrace new technology and usher in the new digital revolution. "I'm very bullish about ASEAN and optimistic about betting on tech startups in the region," Neoh told Entrepreneur Asia Pacific.

The Business World for Women?

Women still have a less than favorable image in the global financial markets thinks Neoh.

"I'm very supportive of women startup businesses and encourage other women angels to do so. The "glass ceiling' is mostly a mindset that we need to overcome," believes Neoh.

Neoh is the co-founder of Ficus Capital Fund, the first sharia-compliant venture capital in Malaysia.

She is involved in advocacies that help mentor women startups, as well as in women investing in other women. She thinks it's time for smart women to take on leadership roles that overcome the gender bias in the entrepreneurship world.

"We need to recognize that around 50 per cent of the world's population is women. It's obvious we need more women to help build the startup ecosystem," Neoh said.

She says Singapore probably has more women VCs and angel investors compared to neighbouring countries as the capital market is largely a male-dominated industry.

Singapore – a HotBed

Neoh thinks the ease of setting up a startup business in Singapore makes it very easy for businesses to set up in the country.

"You can literally incorporate a company within a few hours. The hardest part is actually building a team that believes in the founder's vision and having the right people with the passion, patience and grit to ride out the storm," she said.

She counts challenges in starting up a business on the people side, not the technology side. In her view, it's crucial to set the right culture from the very start. "To me, success in business is all about the "heartware", not hardware! ," Neoh said.

Neoh co-founded Mercatus Capital Pte Ltd, a homegrown incubator based in Singapore and a venture accelerator since 2006. Through its angel networks, Mercatus Group provided seed capital to promising new small ventures, with more than 30 startups seeded and incubated in Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, India, China and Hong Kong. She has more than 20 years of experience in both the corporate and entrepreneurial world.

Tips to Grow a Start-up

From her experience in investing and building more than 80 startups in the last 20 years, there are three insights that she says she has gained from.

First is to know your market thoroughly.

Begin by identifying who is currently buying your product or service. Why are they buying? What needs are you filling? Who are the other individuals or groups who might benefit from your product or service?

Second is to check your analytics regularly.

It doesn't matter how you choose to enter new markets but you must know your customer demographics thoroughly. By looking at your website analytics, for example, you can identify the physical location of visitors and the language with which they browse the web. Your analytics data can also highlight other insights that will help you make the most educated expansion move.
Third is to find the right local partner.

Aside from financial capacity, know your partner's motivations and values. Find areas of compatibility and leverage areas of synergy. Partnerships, alliances or joint ventures should be a win-win situation where both parties bring complementary experiences, skills, talents, resources and customer bases.

Aside from helping startups make their "million dreams' come true, Neoh is building an International pre-school franchise with her team in the Philippines to improve the quality of preschool education in the country while supporting provincial schools through the venture.

Wavy Line
Aashika Jain

Entrepreneur Staff

Former Associate Editor, Entrepreneur India

Journalist in the making since 2006! My fastest fingers have worked for India's business news channel CNBC-TV18, global news wire Thomson Reuters, the digital arm of India’s biggest newspaper The Economic Times and Entrepreneur India as the Digital Head. 

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