Women in business and the search for funding

Ma Su Whin Wha reckoned she needed a mentor if her business was ever going to get off the ground.

She’s a budding entrepreneur, looking to open a coffee shop with a literary bent. She’s worked through the business plan and received training on the nuances of being a small business owner, but that’s not enough – the project needs funding, or it will only ever be a dream.

There’s a burgeoning coffee-sipping scene in Yangon, and Ma Su Whin Wha said she thinks her shop will be set apart by containing a wide array of books for patrons to read while at the shop. Still, without attracting financing, she will never succeed.

To find that mentor that can help her develop her ideas into a pitch-worthy concept, she is participating in a local project designed to foster woman-run businesses.

Ma Su Whin Wha is one of about 20 women participating in Project W, a Yangon startup incubator run created Partnership for Change, the Kavli Fondet and Project Hub Yangon. The project aims to put the women entrepreneurs with an idea through business training, at the end producing viable business plans that are ready for funding.

“I’m about 60 percent on the way to implementing my ideas,” she said. “The training has given me self-confidence and good new ideas.”

Through mentorship provided by the project, she has found gaps in her knowledge of the food and beverage industry, and will be working with a foreign-owned coffee shop to learn more about what it takes to be successful.

Still, that is no guarantee her coffee shop will get off the ground.

Ma Su Whin Wha will have to make her pitch to potential investors at the project’s end. Some of the entrepreneurs could receive financing from investors connected through the program, while others will need to explore outside funding and other projects may not need much capital initially.

It’s this phase that Ma Su Whin Wha said she is most worried about. However, Project W has already helped her find a potential partner.

While she is still discussing the terms of an agreement, she said she is hopeful about the idea’s future prospects.

Another entrepreneur is 21-year-old Ma Su Wai Yee. She studied in the United States, before she came back to Yangon. She is now the chief executive of Cici and HiQ International Trading Company. She’s keen to get into fashion design, targeting women between 20 and 35 years old.

With a family background in management in the garment sector, she has some knowledge of clothing manufacture. What she said she was missing was business knowledge – how to transform her dream into a profitable entity.

Ma Su Wai Yee has been working on a daily plan of what she needs to do to launch her business, skills she wouldn’t have had unless she’d participated.

“There is a chance for women to start a business, even if they have the ability and talent but don’t know how to start,” she said.

Allison Morris, co-founder of Project Hub, which is one of Project W’s organisers, said its goal to build strong women entrepreneurs and encourage their interest in the field.

It can be difficult in Myanmar to promote women entrepreneurs, as they face specific challenges like social pressures to be home at a certain point in the evening. But on the whole, women have plenty of potential to be strong entrepreneurs.

“We will make stronger and more confident women,” said Ms Morris.


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