Recognising Women Trailblazers in Business

Get up-close and personal with our women business leaders honoured at the 2022 Asean Women Entrepreneurs Network Awards.

More women are taking up the mantle in industries traditionally dominated by men. Five of them from Singapore were recently acknowledged for their work in their respective fields and for helping to make a significant difference in the advancement of women in economic activities.

Ms Sharon Wong, Founder and CEO, MothersWork Pte Ltd; Ms Samsiah Suliman, CEO, Jumain Sataysfaction Pte Ltd; Ms Ninalyn Arciaga Sulit-Cacananta, Founder and CEO HFSE Global Education Group; Ms Jessie Chen, Managing Director, Advance Chemical Treatment Pte Ltd and Rexadvance Technology Pte Ltd; and Ms Jamie Tan, Director of Flying Cape Pte Ltd were honoured at the ASEAN Women Entrepreneurs Network (AWEN) Awards held in Jakarta, Indonesia on 30 September 2022.

AWEN is a network of businesswomen with the aim of providing a platform to exchange knowledge and experience, network, and promote initiatives to support women-led enterprises in ASEAN. The Singapore Women Entrepreneurs Network (SG-WEN) was established by the Singapore Business Federation (SBF) in September 2021 and is the country’s official representative at AWEN. The delegation to the recent award presentation was led by Ms Irene Boey, EXCO member of SG-WEN, AWEN Singapore Chairperson, and the Singapore Focal Point in AWEN.

Diverse industries, shared experiences

While the five female entrepreneurs come from different sectors such as technology, engineering, education, food and beverage, and retail, they share the same goal of overcoming the gender barrier while propelling their companies forward.

“As a woman with a tech background, I’m used to being a minority in a male dominated industry,” says Ms Tan. Her younger days in the workforce were spent adapting to the way the business were conducted while managing social and cultural expectations. However, she notes that things are changing and there are now more inclusive workplace initiatives. Under her leadership, her educational technology company Flying Cape has grown from strength to strength and is currently serving customers from 39 countries with offices in Singapore, Indonesia, India and China. She also serves as a Councillor on SGTech, and founded as well as co-chairs SGTech’s EdTech committee.

“Managing a business is already an uphill task, and it is even more challenging for a woman to run a precision engineering firm,” shares Ms Chen. She explains that it is important for women entrepreneurs to master effective command and control to overcome gender discrimination and prejudice. With her at the helm, her company, Advance Chemical Treatment, now has six subsidiaries and associated companies. She is also the current Vice Chairperson of the Singapore Surface Engineering Association (SSEA) and continues to participate in trade associations in promoting and supporting the precision industry and surface engineering sector.

Ms Samsiah had a similar experience when starting her business in 1994 as a female founder of a Satay company. “Many business owners were men and in business-related events, they preferred to talk to my husband even though I was ultimately the decision maker,” she recounts. Driven by her go-getter attitude and business capabilities, she managed to build Jumain Sataysfaction into the award-winning global brand it is today. She was a pioneer in the field, automating Satay manufacturing and development. The company was also the first Satay and sauce supplier to be Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) certified and awarded the Healthier Choice Symbol (HCS) and the first to sell traditional Satay in frozen packs in supermarkets.

Embracing and drawing strength from motherhood

For some of the awardees, being a mother played a crucial role in their entrepreneurship journeys. “Motherswork is my life’s work. It has given me purpose and has impacted many mothers. I found my passion as a mother of three and I made this passion my work. The mother in me has this propelling need to empower mothers beyond just Singapore and China,” says Ms Wong.

To her, it was never a question of choosing between having a family and running a business as it was always an “and”, not “either-or”. She does not let being a woman get in her way, in fact, she embraced it. “Being a mum has allowed me to be the best version of myself. And my desire to deliver the best products for my babies created the entrepreneur in me and allowed me to rise to the challenge,” she says.

Ms Sulit-Cacananta, who is originally from the Philippines, started her entrepreneurial journey in 2014 when she established HFSE International School to keep her family together when her son was unable to enrol in a local school. Since then, HFSE has operated with a goal of providing for the educational needs of expat children, and Ms Sulit-Cacananta has been advocating a fusion of international and Asian culture to give students a piece of their home country’s heritage while integrating with Singapore’s way of life.

Putting Singapore on the world map

The journey continues for these five female powerhouses as they each set their sights on bringing their companies global, inspiring and supporting more woman entrepreneurs from various industries and backgrounds.

Besides feeling honoured and thankful, the awards have also empowered these women to continue working towards creating impactful change to the society. Ms Sulit-Cacananta sums it up well, “My nanay Nora (mother) told me that life is hard. This belief prepared me to tackle prejudices against women, race, or profession as well as challenges from various communities that I serve and I am determined to prove them wrong. In all that I do, my goal has always been to make a positive difference wherever I am, and I’d like to believe that I have and will continue to do so throughout my entrepreneurial journey.”