“Diversity Is Not Just A Nice-To-Have, But A Need-To-Have.” — Amra Naidoo

The co-founder of Accelerating Asia and general partner of Accelerating Asia Ventures believes that

“Diversity Is Not Just A Nice-To-Have, But A Need-To-Have.” — Amra Naidoo

She spearheads the Singapore-headquartered start-up accelerator and early-stage venture capital fund, which has invested $2 million since June 2019 into 20 early-stage start-ups from across the region. Naidoo, who is half Indian and half Chinese, was born in Zimbabwe but has spent most of her career in Singapore. Launched in 2018, Accelerating Asia partners Enterprise Singapore’s Startup SG Accelerator programme to bolster growth of local start-ups and innovation ecosystem. Naidoo also hosts Doing Good, a podcast where she documents impact, start-ups, social entrepreneurship and business for good.

Accelerating Asia’s new cohort of 10 start-ups feature four led by female co-founders. Among them is Joni.AI, a homegrown AI-powered platform that maximises learning for students through personalised interactions and insights from teachers “Research has shown that diverse teams perform better, so diversity is not just a nice-to-have, but a need-to-have to de-risk investment. We need to eradicate the thinking of what women (versus men) bring to technology; it implies that the industry isn’t big enough to fit everyone and that it shouldn’t be for everyone. Instead, we should work with the perspective that there are more than enough opportunities, hence the challenge is to ensure equal opportunity for everyone to access these opportunities. When different people look at the same issue with different points of view, experiences and skillsets, we can create solutions that are unique or that reach out to an underserved segment.”

Tech is notoriously exclusive, and success hinges on one’s network and education “The industry is a very closed community and the ability to raise investment for your fund comes down to knowing the right people. This applies to both investors and founders. It can be filled with buzzwords and acronyms. When I started, I had no idea what people were talking about. I understood the concepts — they are logical — but all this jargon makes breaking into the industry challenging and a little intimidating to participate in.”

Supporting start-ups on their journey to growth and success allows her to marry her twin passions for business and social impact “Working with start-ups is challenging because things move at a breakneck pace, and we need to be able to adapt at the same speed or even anticipate potential barriers or difficulties. But I enjoy being in a position to contribute to enable a start-up to do what it does best and seeing people in their element. We receive more than 200 applications every cohort recruitment, which are filtered down to 50 that we interview via phone.

“We pick the top 10 percent, who then meet with investment advisors, partners and mentors, after which we choose the final 10 who are invited to join the programme and receive a $100,000-investment from our venture fund, Accelerating Asia Ventures. These start-ups are pre-Series A with a product already in the market and have usually raised some capital. I believe entrepreneurs are humanity’s greatest catalysts for positive change; according to where they are from, they seek to solve different issues — social, environmental, infrastructural or technological. Not all of it can be addressed, but we have a pretty optimistic view of what our world is going to look like in the future. And we’re excited to see how we can continue and get others to support these entrepreneurs and their work.”

This story is one part of a multi-person feature on the women changing the tech industry. For the other stories, click here.

This story first appeared in the March 2020 issue of A Magazine.

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