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Helen Wong of AC Ventures on how Indonesia’s women fuel a US$1.54 trillion economy

Published on March 8, 2024

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Indonesia has more than 64 million MSMEs representing 98% of all businesses in the country. These ventures will contribute more than 61% to the market’s US$1.54 trillion economy in 2024. More than half of them are women-owned. This means that female-led businesses in Indonesia represent an aggregate opportunity of at least US$470 billion.

In Southeast Asia’s digital economy, female inclusion plays a key role. Late last year, Helen Wong, Managing Partner at Indonesia’s marquee venture capital firm AC Ventures (ACV), addressed regional policymakers and prominent business leaders at the Women’s CEO Forum in downtown Jakarta, an official side event of the ASEAN Business & Investment Summit. 

As an organization, ASEAN aims to establish the region as a fast-growing, inclusive, and sustainable economic powerhouse. As the bloc’s single largest market, Indonesia represents around 40% of the regional economy. As Southeast Asia’s most senior and experienced female VC, Helen emphasized the compelling economic rationale behind backing women entrepreneurs and female investors in Indonesia.

“In a market as vibrant as Indonesia’s, women entrepreneurs are not just fulfilling a social role; they are key economic drivers. Our research indicates that investing in women-led businesses is not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do,” explained Helen. 

“Given that these businesses contribute significantly to the local economy – and keep it resilient during times of crisis such as the pandemic – we’re looking at an untapped yearly opportunity worth hundreds of billions of dollars. As such, we need more female investors who understand this and are willing to take concerted action to back more female founders.”

Investing in women is an economic imperative

Consistently named by Forbes as one of Asia’s top female VCs, Helen’s leadership at ACV since 2022 showcases her commitment to elevating women in tech and MSMEs. Her strategic investments over two decades, from Silicon Valley to Asia Pacific, have influenced the tech landscape as we know it today, promoting diversity and innovation.

ACV has developed a thesis-driven investment approach, prioritizing the support of female tech entrepreneurs and bolstering women-owned MSMEs via its portfolio. Within the firm, 50% of ACV’s senior leadership roles are occupied by women. Across its portfolio, this figure comes in at 41%. ACV is also a signatory of the UN’s Principles for Responsible Investment, the Women’s Empowerment Principles, and the IFC’s Invest2Equal program. 

So in no particular order, here are a few highlights from ACV’s female community in recent months.

Helen Wong inducted into the Forbes 50 Over 50 Asia list 

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Helen Wong, Managing Partner at ACV, was included on the Forbes 50 Over 50 Asia list. The women of the third annual list hail from 14 countries and territories and more than two dozen industries. They’re influencing fashion, pharma, finance, and beyond. Named alongside some of the world’s most prominent corporate leaders and politicians in Asia, Forbes put the spotlight on Helen for her exemplary work in the global venture capital industry.

Melina Anlin unpacks Indonesia’s insurgent brands for global investors

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Each year, Bain & Company releases a comprehensive list of “insurgent brands,” defined as high-growth independent, local consumer brands not owned by a multinational corporation. They compete head-on with the market’s largest incumbents or create new categories altogether. 

Indonesia is predicted to be the world’s fourth-largest economy by 2045. Estimates suggest its GDP per capita could reach a tipping point of US$7,500 by 2030. When combining all the market’s key ingredients, we end up with an environment where disposable incomes are set to explode and fuel the growth of consumer sectors like wellness, luxury goods, cosmetics, beauty clinics, and more.

On an episode of the Indonesia Digital Deconstructed podcast, Melina Anlin, VP of Investment at AC Ventures, dove deep into the consumer market nuances for global investors and shed light on the rise of Indonesia’s insurgent brands.

Accacia decarbonizes real estate with AI

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The real estate and infrastructure sectors are responsible for about 40% of global carbon emissions, and addressing the climate crisis requires reforming these industries. Annu Talreja, founder and CEO of ⁠Accacia⁠, joined an episode of the Indonesia Digital Deconstructed podcast to discuss the topic in-depth with ACV’s Helen Wong. Accacia enables large property owners to monitor their carbon footprint in real-time by integrating with ERPs and property management systems. The startup’s tech has already been implemented across more than 20 million square feet of real estate in Asia. It is now expanding across Southeast Asia, the Middle East, the United States, and Canada.

SWC Global leads US$5.4M financing for Rosé All Day Cosmetics

After witnessing strong growth and reaching profitability, Indonesian beauty brand Rosé All Day Cosmetics, renowned for its high-quality, clean-beauty, and cruelty-free makeup and skincare solutions successfully closed a series A funding round of US$5.41 million led by SWC Global, with participation from DSG Consumer Partners and the brand’s initial seed investor ACV.

ACV hosts gender lens investing summit with private sector powerhouses

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A sideline event of the ASEAN Business & Investment Summit, the gathering was held at ACV’s headquarters in downtown Jakarta, and included a variety of insightful keynote presentations and panel discussions. Titled “Profit & Purpose: A New Era of ESG and Gender Lens Investing,” the gathering featured an exclusive roster of speakers and attendees from major investors like the International Finance Corporation, Sarona Asset Management, and MAVCAP, as well as private sector powerhouses like Boston Consulting Group and rising impact startups like electric vehicle motorbike company MAKA Motors, quick commerce pioneer Astro, and integrated fisheries supply chain platform Aruna.

How Rosé All Day turned a warehouse fire into profitability

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Not many are aware that Rosé All Day Cosmetics (RADC) experienced an extreme setback after a fire burned down its warehouse in late 2022, destroying inventory and leaving the team doubting how they could manage the company’s cash flow after the incident. Tiffany Danielle, co-founder of RADC, revealed details of the event and how the company rose to the occasion in a MindShare episode of the Indonesia Digital Deconstructed podcast.

Harumi Supit shares key advice for elevator pitches

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Comms practitioners will tell you that one of the challenges associated with storytelling is keeping it simple. Particularly, in the tech industry, companies tend to focus on how their product works rather than what it does. While founders are often passionate about technical details, investors and customers seek the bigger picture – understanding how the product addresses their everyday challenges. This is where a communication gap often arises. Harumi Supit⁠, Principal at ⁠Alur Communications and an ACV portfolio advisor, joined an episode of Indonesia Digital Deconstructed to advise the startup community on how to polish their elevator pitches.

Lauren Blasco recruited by ASEAN for Carbon Center of Excellence

Lauren Blasco, Head of ESG, AC Ventures

The ASEAN Business Advisory Council Green & Sustainable Working Group inducted ACV’s Principal and Head of ESG Lauren Blasco into its Carbon Center of Excellence. The organization aims to promote an understanding of carbon markets for business leaders, market participants, and regulators in the region. It builds from B20 Indonesia legacy initiatives and has launched a new ASEAN Alliance on Scaling Carbon Markets, which will champion scaling up voluntary carbon markets and compliance markets in the Southeast Asia.

Female-led Durianpay eyes expansion following 5x growth spike

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Durianpay announced its plans for further expansion following a remarkable financial performance in the first half of 2023. The company, headquartered in Singapore and Indonesia, has innovated in the Southeast Asian B2B payments landscape by providing businesses and developers with a broader range of payment options and a no-code interface to create workflows that put the merchant’s payment infrastructure on autopilot.

Samira Shihab opines on make-or-break factors for local startups

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In an opinion piece on DealStreetAsia, Samira emphasized the significance of strategic planning for portfolio companies. Despite the bear market, Samira sees a multitude of opportunities in the Indonesian startup scene. But founders must recognize that they’re not just racing for funding or market penetration but for long-term survival and viability.

Natasha Nababan talks legal strategies for startups

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Natasha Nababan, the founder of local law firm NABS & Partners in Jakarta and an ACV portfolio advisor, established her company to bridge this gap by providing affordable and high-quality legal advice for companies of all shapes and sizes. On a recent episode of Indonesia Digital Deconstructed Natasha discussed the dynamics of Indonesia’s legal landscape and the primary challenges that startups face.

Samira Shihab joins Fortune Indonesia’s 40 Under 40 list

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Fortune Indonesia named Samira Shihab of ACV on its 40 Under 40 list. Returning to Indonesia in 2014 after kickstarting her career overseas, Samira has focused on driving innovation and fostering growth in Southeast Asia’s tech and digital ecosystem for the last decade. From building solutions in the hospitality sector to getting involved in the private equity space, Samira’s career has been as diverse as it has been rewarding.

ACV backs female-led Southeast Asian parenting network Supermom

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Supermom, one of Southeast Asia’s largest parenting networks, closed an oversubscribed US$5.9 million series A fundraising round with participation from ACV. Supermom was established by Joan Ong, Luke Lim, Lynn Yeoh, and Rebecca Koh, recognizing the need for parents to seek guidance and advice from other parents who have gone through similar experiences. The company’s mission is to allow parents to discover valuable crowdsourced parenting tips, best practices, and reliable product reviews for their children. This is facilitated by Supermom’s own communities, which help parents connect with each other.

Xendit’s Tessa Wijaya on economic inclusion in emerging markets

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Tessa Wijaya, co-founder and COO of Xendit, joined an episode of Indonesia Digital Deconstructed to discuss how her company is driving economic empowerment in Indonesia and beyond. Backed by ACV, Xendit is one of Indonesia’s latest unicorns and sometimes referred to as the ‘Stripe of Southeast Asia.’

Supermom fuels Indonesian job growth, helps moms earn extra income

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Supermom, now one of Southeast Asia’s largest parenting networks, launched a new initiative committed to helping small businesses develop in Indonesia. The company has begun facilitating market entry to Indonesia for 25 Singapore-based family-centric brands. The initiative is not only geared toward market penetration but also focuses on community and capacity building by generating employment in Indonesia and providing an avenue for local moms to earn through Supermom’s innovative platform.

KoinWorks’ Angelique Timmer on creating jobs for women in Indonesia

KoinWorks has been pioneering financial inclusion for Indonesia’s more than 64 million MSMEs since its 2017 inception. Angelique Timmer, the company’s SVP of Impact and ESG joined an episode of Indonesia Digital Deconstructed with Lauren Blasco of ACV to discuss the journey. Beyond offering essential loans and credit, the startup enriches the economic landscape by nurturing an online community. This not only accelerates MSME growth but also promises broader economic prosperity across the archipelago, showcasing KoinWorks’ pivotal role in Indonesia’s thriving US$1.54 trillion economy.

Helen looks back on the roller coaster ride that was 2023 in VC

Helen Wong, Managing Partner, AC Ventures

Looking back on 2023, a year marked by unpredictability and valuable lessons, the VC landscape unfolded with surprising and concerning, but also encouraging moments. In an op-ed on DealStreetAsia, Helen Wong of ACV, examined the pivotal events that influenced both the firm and the industry at large. The story’s focus is on Southeast Asia, distilling valuable lessons to guide us through 2024.

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