Gender bias and constant struggles to raise funding are among the challenges faced by female-led start-ups here in trying to develop their businesses - but now, help is here.
Law firm Rajah & Tann has entered into a partnership with social enterprise Crib (Creating Responsible & Innovative Businesses) to provide female entrepreneurs with business and legal know-how, as well as access to its Asia network of clients and cross-border expertise.
The venture, which was formed in August, is the first of its kind here that enables female entrepreneurs to scale their businesses through Crib's networking, matchmaking and business incubation programmes with legal know-how provided free by the law firm.
A series of talks, legal clinics and workshops will be held where these women can learn about intellectual property protection and funding, among other things.
Crib co-founder Elaine Kim, who is also co-founder of Trehaus, a co-working space where parents can bring their kids to work, said entrepreneurs can tap Rajah & Tann's legal insights for free on how to structure a fund-raising round.
"Legal advice can be very expensive. Having a platform to explore preliminary questions on how to structure a fund-raising round, so that you have a broader understanding of what your options are, is very useful," she said.
Mr Benjamin Cheong, a partner at Rajah & Tann, noted that many law firms "tend to avoid start-up work because of billing pressure, and start-ups don't pay very well".
"But we are excited about the fresh ideas and energy that start-ups bring to the local business community, and seeing ideas come to fruition, get commercialised and go to market here and globally."
The law firm already partners Bash (Build Amazing Start-ups Here), a tech incubator that also rents working space to start-ups and holds legal clinics.
"Every quarter, we give free talks at the Singapore Management University to start-ups and SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises). They have a few minutes to talk to our lawyers about any legal issues they may have. We also partnered Google on their Go Global initiative to share legal knowledge with start-ups," said Mr Cheong.
"Our workshops and conferences teach these start-ups how to set up corporate investment vehicles, how to regulate relationships with investors through shareholder agreements, and legitimate ways to get funding. We can teach them how to grow their business and be in compliance with the law."
Rajah & Tann also acts for venture capitalists, listed companies and multinationals. "We can match entrepreneurs with our clients and help them understand the business environment in the region," he said.
Globally, female entrepreneurs get only about 40 per cent of the amount of angel funding their male counterparts receive and less than 10 per cent of the venture capital funding males get, Ms Kim said.
"That's because women tend to not have access to business networks, and many male-led profit-driven venture capitalists sometimes don't see the potential of some of the businesses or social enterprises started by women. We are now seeing more successful women entrepreneurs, and female venture capitalists and angel investors. Hopefully, we can bring in more role models so more women will have the confidence to be entrepreneurs."
Crib has more than 300 members in its database. "We hope the partnership will help take Crib to other countries where Rajah & Tann has a presence so we can find partners to work with us," Ms Kim added.