The annual prestigious 30 under 30 list from the global media magazine Forbes showcased two Kiwi female leaders making moves in the face of business and society.
The Forbes 30 under 30 list features 600 people under the age of 30 from across the globe, recognising them for their work as entrepreneurs, leaders, stars and more.
Previous alumni of the 30 under 30 list include founder and CEO of Bumble, Whitney Wolfe Herd, Lorde and Benee.
Among the 600 young innovators “making it big”, nine are from Aotearoa. This includes mental health activists Genevieve Mora and Jazz Thornton, founder of NexDo, Sakshin Niranjan and musical duo Broods.
Lauren Fong, an investment principal and Emily Au-Young, founder of Reemi, are among the young New Zealanders who made the 2022 list.
Au-Young is recognised for her work co-founding the social enterprise, Reemi, a company creating reusable period products while also highlighting and finding solutions to period poverty across the world.
Fong is recognised for her work closing to close the gap between the number of males and females in the investment world.
Emily Au-Young of Reemi
A deep and personal connection with women’s health and the realisation that it wasn’t being prioritised across the world motivated Au-Young and her best friend Ashleigh Lang to start their social enterprise Reemi.
Au-Young first became aware of the severity of period poverty when female refugees surrounded by ISIS were receiving food aid but were unable to receive menstrual products.
“That was the first time I kind of understood my privilege in terms of period poverty. I have never been without period products, I have always known what is happening in my body and just the realisation that in the humanitarian space it actually was unable to be prioritised,” she says.
Thus Au-Young and Lang created the not-for-profit, social enterprise Reemi which is “entirely designed to create as much impact as possible” and “shift the culture from how people view periods and the stigmas associated with it”.
“It’s a very small but very global operation.”
Read more: The Uber of home cleaning – NexDo.
In New Zealand alone, the issue of period poverty is being heavily addressed, with Au-Young saying it could potentially end in 10 years. However, for the rest of the world there is still a lot of work to do, especially in Bangladesh where Reemi is targeting its support.
With evidence and research, Reemi was able to create self-sterilising, leak proof period underwear which are sold across New Zealand and Asia. Every pair purchased allows Reemi to help provide health education and a full set of reusable period products for a garment worker in Bangladesh.
“Primarily one of the reasons we wanted to start in Asia is because the stigma is probably one of the strongest in this part of the world,” she says.
Au-Young says addressing the culture of periods is important to their company, ensuring women feel comfortable while also normalising the concept.
“I think it is really important to be doing what fits within the culture,” she adds.
“I think in terms of the Asian context, it’s finding ways to normalise it without being too loud about it. It’s a very different way to how we approach it then if we were to work only in New Zealand.”
Through the sales of their products and partnerships with organisations that fit the Reemi ethos, Au-Young and the team can address the period poverty issues and taboos across the world.
But the journey from starting a successful social enterprise to being recognised by global media giant Forbes wasn’t easy for Au-Young and Reemi. From the get-go, Au-Young found it difficult to be in the room talking about this feminine-oriented passion project to a male-dominated industry.
“I have had really interesting conversations with different companies and obviously they have not felt comfortable talking about this issue even if they’re in the garment industry where 80 percent of the workforce is women,” she says.
“On the other side we have come across amazing champions that are men in the space. I think the conversation needs to be able to be held between both men and women for the taboo to be broken.”
She admits that being a female in the industry has resulted in her working a lot harder just to prove her credibility, but over the years she is beginning to see a change.
“In this space, whether it’s fundraising or investment rounds, I do genuinely think you do have to work a lot harder to a) get in the room, b) get heard, and c) funded.”
“I’m less aware of it now because you just carry on and keep going,” she adds.
However, Au-Young also adds that she is in a “weird space” of carrying the experience of being half Chinese and half Kiwi. Especially within Hong Kong where she experienced the privilege of being half Kiwi, bagging important meetings and conversations with people that seemed hard to achieve for those who may be full Asian.
“If I can get myself into a room with these people, then I will make the most of it for good.”
Over recent years, Reemi has seen the impact of the work the team are doing to address period poverty, specifically in Bangladesh. Au-Young says this success ultimately lies in the fact that they are doing “humanitarian aid differently”.
“We wanted to create products that people really want, and is demand driven, while we continue to help people at best.”
Lauren Fong of Icehouse Ventures and ArcAngels
Not only in New Zealand, but also across the world, women-led companies are underrepresented when it comes to venture capital and the investment ecosystem. To address the large gaps for women-led start-ups, Lauren Fong made it a priority to ensure women succeed.
Recognised by Forbes for her work supporting women in a male-dominated industry, Fong is a principal at Auckland-based venture capital organisation, Icehouse Ventures. There she manages ArcAngels, the only network in the country of angel investors that exclusively invest and focus on women-led start-ups in New Zealand.
“Our mission is to help women overcome the challenges they face when raising capital. It’s not all about just investing for us. We also provide support beyond investment with events for our women founders and we actively connect them with members of our network for any help and further support,” she says.
But Fong didn’t originally plan on working in the investment space and studied marketing and management rather than finance.
“I was blessed to be given the role of ArcAngels Manager which meant I would be supporting women-led start-ups,” she adds. “Empowering women has and always will be an intrinsic passion of mine.”
Across the world in 2020 and 2021, less than three percent of all venture capital funding went to women-led start-ups. In New Zealand, one in three business owners are women, however, they receive less than 20 percent of the country’s angel investment.
Research states that women-led ventures generate 10 percent more cumulative revenue over a five-year period compared to male-only ventures. Similarly, tech companies led by women are said to be more capital efficient and can generate a 35 percent higher return on investment.
“There are various challenges that women entrepreneurs face on a daily basis and one of those worth highlighting is unconscious bias,” says Fong.
She says that women founders are often faced bias when they are asked prevention (potential losses) vs promotion (potential gains) questions compared to male founders.
Women are often asked prevention questions with negative connotations such as “how will you protect yourself from competitors”, while men are often asked promotion questions such as “what does growth look like in 10 years” that highlight positivity.
“Women founders aren’t given enough credit for their work and they face barriers that men do not. Women have to work 10 times harder to reach a similar level to their male counterparts,” says Fong.
“It’s important that we recognise the start-up landscape is imbalanced and needs to be equitable moving forward.”
Currently Fong and ArcAngels are raising for the second round of their fund, a $10-20 million seed fund that “specifically invests in women-led start-ups”. Fong says that the amount is a “significant injection of capital into the ecosystem for women-founded ventures”.
“The wider ArcAngels community also help increase awareness around prioritising our wāhine leaders and actively doing our part in trying to close the gender gap,” she adds.
“This is a positive move for Aotearoa, although we have a lot more work to do, I hope this inspires other countries to focus on women entrepreneurs too.”
When asked who some of her favourite women-led companies were across her time at ArcAngels, she says she is a huge fan of Emily Blythe from Pyper Vision, Brooke Roberts and Sonya Williams from Sharesies and Fia Jones from Astrix Astronautics.
“They are all incredibly ambitious and resilient. They are empathetic leaders paving the way for every budding entrepreneur out there.”
Fong not only supports other females in the space of start-ups, but she also supports herself through a successful part-time music career. Having been involved in DJ-ing for six years since she was 20, Fong also witnessed being a DJ in a male-dominated industry.
“I struggled to find my place and seek support, very similar to the way women in start-ups feel,” she adds.
She produces her own tunes and is often performing at festivals during the weekend, while on weekdays, Fong also guest appears on George FM. She adds that “every hour of her spare time” goes into making music of the trap and bass genre. “It’s like living a double life,” she says. “I’m really grateful I am able to do both – music and venture capital,” she says. “I truly can’t imagine my life without electronic music.”