There is a particular complication that comes with motherhood and being an entrepreneur, one which Elaine Kim knows well. “Many people don’t want to support female entrepreneurs. They think women won’t be able to give their 100 per cent once they become mothers,” says Kim, the co-founder and CEO of social enterprise Crib (Creating Responsible & Innovative Businesses).
It’s a mindset which the 34-year-old – a doctor, serial entrepreneur and mother of three – seems uniquely qualified to challenge. Case in point: After giving birth to her son – her third with venture capitalist John Kim – last October, she returned to work in just two weeks and started planning the inaugural Crib Summit, which takes place this month on March 11-12.
Addressing issues of the day facing women in the workplace, the summit features an impressive list of speakers: Chung Un Chan, the former prime minister of South Korea; HRH Dr Princess Nisreen El-Hashemite of Iraq; and Grace Fu, Singapore’s Minister for Culture, Community and Youth. There’s also a smorgasbord of workshops by industry experts to provide practical takeaways for attendees.
Crib was founded two years ago, and it has since rode on a huge undercurrent of support. With 300 members, it lists the who’s who of local businesswomen, with Claire Chiang, Elim Chew, Priscilla Shunmugam and Shermay Lee as its advisers, and it has over 50 high-net-worth investors keen to support women-led businesses.
It’s clear Kim relishes the autonomy that entrepreneurship gives her. She segues from her role as mother to entrepreneur by weaving work and family commitments through the day: visiting patients in the morning while her kids are at school, putting them in Trehaus’ Kids Atelier while having work meetings there, and perhaps taking a conference call during an outing. She shares: “Entrepreneurship is not for everyone but it really provides an opportunity for women to prioritise family, and have a career and financial stability.”
FILLING THE GAPS
Even while pursuing medicine in university, and now working as a doctor in palliative care, Kim’s always had an entrepreneurial spark. The daughter of Member of Parliament Lily Neo, she started her first venture, a children’s party planning business, at age 17. She went on to run a bridal business (Trinity Gallery Singapore and Trinity Bridal Hong Kong) and an event planning business (Milk and Honey Event Design) while working as a doctor, before starting Crib with three other co-founders.
At the time, she reached out to other women’s organisations in Singapore to identify the gaps Crib could fill. “I asked them: Where is the need? We should work together to grow the ecosystem.”
Those early conversations led her to focus on building angel investor network Crib Angels Club, in order to raise more capital for women-led businesses. “One of the great obstacles women entrepreneurs face is a lack of funding,” says Kim, citing gender bias, a largely male-dominated investor pool, and a lack of confidence among women as key factors.
Another unique proposition – Crib’s ABC Entrepreneur Profile – was developed to help members identify and focus on their strengths. Through Crib Match, members get paired with other women who have complementary strengths. Kim, who is identified as Angel (A), admits finding the right partners have helped her on the road to success. “I need detail-oriented people around me who are very strong Business Managers (B).”
She hopes that sharing the stories of inspiring female entrepreneurs at the summit may help shift perceptions on what women can achieve. “Women don’t talk about their successes. But we need to hear these stories.”
She adds: “All Crib’s programmes fill in gaps missed out by other women’s organisations. We bring everyone together to have that conversation, and then see the magic that can happen from collaboration.”
WALKING THE TALK
Perhaps no better proof of the social enterprise’s concept is its first pilot business, Trehaus, Singapore’s first co-working space for families, spearheaded by Kim herself. It’s located in Claymore Connect, off Orchard Road. “The best way to figure out how we can meet the needs of the entrepreneurs was to pilot something through Crib,” she says.
While Kim and Tjin Lee, a Crib co-founder, knew each other beforehand, they met two of Trehaus’ fellow co-founders through Crib. “The co-founders in Trehaus are very complementary. Elizabeth Wu has a very strong skill as an educator. That’s very useful for Trehaus’ Kids Atelier and enrichment programme. Rachel Teo has a strong operational background,” says Kim.
Trehaus was eventually pitched to a group of investors through Crib Pitch Perfect and received half a million dollars as seed funding to kick-start the business.
She sees possibilities for corporate companies to retain women in the workforce through Trehaus. “You want women to come back after their maternity leave and not quit. Companies can take a package at Trehaus, and they can send their employees there to flexi-work.”
While Trehaus has been launched, Kim admits that one of Crib’s biggest challenges is to bring in more promising businesses to successfully secure funding. So far, it has held four Pitch Perfect sessions, with two businesses raising about half a million in funding. “It’s always tough at the beginning. Angel investors want great businesses to invest in. We need to increase the deal flow.”
Kim recently became CEO at Crib, which will see her play a more active role in the coming year. “I feel that Crib has reached an inflection point, where there’s so much potential around the impact it can make.”
She’s also been busy preparing for a ball in May, which raises funds for Crib’s selected charity, EmancipAction, an international non-profit working towards preventing the re-trafficking of women in India. It’s an issue close to Kim’s heart. She is an ambassador for an UN initiative, Snow (Say ‘No’ to the Oppression of Women). “Eighty per cent of women rescued from trafficking end up getting re-trafficked. They just can’t get out of the mindset, that this is the only life they can have,” she explains.
“Equipping women in developing countries with entrepreneurship skills, (so that they’ll be) able to earn more money and support their families, will be greatly beneficial to the economy and society.”
She has also set her sights on expanding Crib beyond Singapore’s shores to other developed countries. “Many women do not work in Japan or find it really challenging to start a business and rise into leadership. It’ll be great to see a society like Crib changing that mindset and to offer role models for these women.” She’s particularly excited about bringing Crib to developing countries. “Equipping women with entrepreneurship skills, (so that they’ll be) able to earn more money and support their families, will be greatly beneficial to the economy and society,” she says. So far, Crib has received interest from Australia, Myanmar and Malaysia.
You’ll be hard-pressed to get Kim to call her social enterprise a feminist society. Instead, she gives credit to the man in her life.
“I couldn’t have done all this without the support of my husband. There are many men who are very cognisant of the contributions women can make in society. They work well with women in leadership, and they don’t feel intimidated.”
A BALANCING ACT
Elaine Kim shares her tips for women (and men) alike to balance career and family.
Be conscious: “I’m in a very unique position where I’m able to have control and flexibility over my time. I find myself needing to be very conscious about making an effort to prioritise my family and to set aside time for them.”
Recognise life’s seasons: “I choose seasons of my life where I prioritise one aspect or other. You can’t do everything all the time. I couldn’t do all my businesses, and Crib and my family. I choose seasons where I focus on certain things.”
Stay centred: “Having my faith has been very helpful to me. I don’t think I can do everything that I’m doing without the strength that comes from God. I spend quiet time, seeking peace and my priorities, and to reflect.”
Know what really matters: “Working as a doctor in palliative care allows me to learn a lot from my patients. It really helps me to keep a strong perspective on what’s important, what my values are and what really matters.”