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Teja Ventures: Empowering Female Founders in SE Asia

INTR



Becoming a female founder in a vastly male dominated field like venture capital is no easy task! With astonishing numbers such as women only accounting for 13-15% of partners in American and Canadian VC firms and surveys highlighting 65% of venture capital firms lacking female partners, you can imagine how daunting it must be to become a female founder. However, despite all odds, Virginia Tan established herself in the VC space having found the firm Teja Ventures, a proud LVCN partner!


Written by: Anush Jayakumaran

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CORE INVESTMENT PHILOSOPHY


Founded in 2018, Teja Ventures is a venture capital firm that focuses its investments on consumer technology start-ups in markets such as emerging Asia, targeting sectors that are integral to the future of retail, food, and wellness. Moreover, Teja exhibits a commitment to the “She Economy”, a term coined for the shift in women’s economic participation and purchasing power, which reached new heights in 2023.

 

The primary focus of Teja Venture’s investment philosophy is leveraging women as a significant demographic, whether as consumers, a source of online traffic, or part of the mobile workforce. Supporting technology-driven companies that centre around the lifecycle of a woman - their investments span a variety of industries, such as fintech, femtech, education, and more broadly, companies that impact women positively as users and consumers​. With their investment strategy executed by a team of industry experts led by Founder Virginia Tan, known for her work in gender and technology, co-founding She Loves Tech and founding Lean In China. Alongside her are General Partners Mei Tong, who has extensive experience in private equity, particularly in the China consumer market and Michael Cui, specialised in big data and machine learning investments across the US and China​.

 

In terms of the types of start-ups Teja Ventures invests in, their portfolio consists of early-stage companies – particularly those in stages from pre-seed to Series-A. This focus on early-stage investments reflects their strategy to unlock unique value for start-ups at crucial development phases. Through consistent and thorough engagement with their portfolio companies, Teja Ventures goes beyond providing just capital support but also through strategic guidance, team building, and leveraging their cross-border tech and business model expertise. Whilst the firm has their scopes set on emerging Asia, they also apply a cross-border approach that leverages deep expertise across China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). By identifying long-term value drivers for their portfolio companies, Teja Ventures helps selected portfolio companies to navigate and enter the market in China – ultimately allowing companies to utilise China's vast consumer market.


By devoting themselves as more than financial support to their investment portfolio, Teja Ventures pride themselves on being a partner to founders rather than just providers of capital. Aiming to unlock unique value for these companies through their ecosystem whilst aiding in long-term growth.





PORTFOLIO COMPANIES 


Boasting a portfolio of 21 investment companies spanning across a multitude of industries from the future of food, retail and wellness to circular economy, creator economy and financial inclusion. In this section we will introduce you to a few of the most interesting companies Teja Ventures have dedicated themselves to supporting.





 

Starting off in the future of food industry, we look at “Green Rebel’. Launched in 2020, Green Rebel is an Indonesian start-up focused on creating plant-based foods with Asian flavours. With a motto of ‘On a mission to nourish people, save animals and protect Mother Earth!’, their objective is to offer delicious, affordable, and accessible plant-based meat alternatives whilst reducing the environmental impact. Offering a range of plant-based meat alternatives, from products mimicking beef and chicken to wholefood proteins and dairy free replacements, their products are made from natural and non-GMO ingredients like shitake mushrooms and soy. These alternatives are designed to have up to 50% less saturated fat, 30% fewer calories, and zero cholesterol compared to their animal counterparts. Max Mandias and Helga Angelina, co-founders of Green Rebel, are at the forefront of the plant-based movement in Southeast Asia, with interest in creating plant-based alternatives that suit Asian communities. Max, the Chief Innovation Officer, developed this vision into reality, resulting in the expansion of Green Rebel’s product line to accommodate dairy-free options, addressing the high demand for plant-based foods in Asia due to lactose intolerance and health concerns. Promising meat alternatives that take less than 10 minutes to cook, Green Rebel align perfectly with Teja Ventures goals in developing the future of food through the She Economy ecosystem in Asia.

 


 

Next, we introduce ‘Frontier Markets’, founded in 2011 by Ajaita Shah. Frontier Markets is a social commerce platform focused on empowering rural women entrepreneurs to deliver high-quality, climate-friendly, and gender-inclusive products and services to rural households in India. With an objective of bridging the gap between rural consumers and quality products, and a vision to engage 1 million women entrepreneurs to serve 100 million rural consumers; Frontier Markets has already made steady progress in achieving both. By leveraging the rapidly growing community of female entrepreneurs, Frontier Markets have made huge progress in both their objectives and visions, having delivered over 50 million solutions to rural doorsteps and digitised 35,000 female entrepreneurs. Frontier Markets has made substantial leaps in revolutionising the retail industry in India. The company provides retail solutions by employing women to support services and products such as Assisted E-Commerce, Sahelis, Digital Marketing and Call Centre Teams. Services such as their Assisted E-Commerce are used by their rural women salesforce, facilitating online purchases for rural customers. Other services such as the Sahelis, skilled rural women influencers who showcase products and assist with e-commerce purchases, focus on empowering woman entrepreneurs.


The impressive changes Frontier Markets have made are thanks to Ajaita Shah, the founder and CEO of Frontier Markets. Through her 15+ years of experience in rural India, focusing on microfinance, rural distribution, marketing, and gender-inclusive business models, Ajaita has been an important factor in the changes her company has made. Recognized by Forbes 30 Under 30 and as Digital Women of the Year, Shah has spoken at the UN Summit about social entrepreneurship, digital inclusion, and gender-smart investing.

 



Finally, we shift our focus to ‘SHEROES, India’s largest women-only social network. Founded by Sairee Chahal in 2014, SHEROES is a community platform for women. With services for women such as offering support, resources, and opportunities through its website and app, it's designed as a safe space for discussions on various life aspects, including health, careers, and relationships. Additionally, SHEROES focuses on building a technology-driven platform to address gender disparity. With its main objective of empowering women by providing a platform for growth and expression, SHEROES aligns well with Teja Ventures investment philosophy. Alongside the platforms extensive services tailored to aid and uplift women, SHEROES also connect companies with women professionals and offers brand solutions, a sexual harassment prevention platform, and managed remote solutions among other services! Operating a platform-centric business model that connects companies with women professionals, the revenue is mainly generated from companies paying for setting up women-centric programs, premium platform products like ad spaces and microsites, and diversity program consultancy. The founder, Sairee Chahal, has a background in technology entrepreneurship having previously worked on ventures like Fleximoms. She's also recognised for her contributions to discussions on women at work and the future of work in India.





THE TEAM






Virginia Tan, founder and general partner of Teja Ventures is recognized for her significant contributions to the “She Economy” ecosystem, focusing on empowering women through technology and entrepreneurship. She has. A background in law and finance at two magic circle firms, Allen and Overy and Clifford Chance, Beyond this,  Virginia has been actively involved in leading initiatives like She Loves Tech and Lean In China, which support female entrepreneurs and professionals. Her work emphasises the importance of gender inclusivity in business and investment to drive social and economic growth​!






Mei Tong, a general partner, benefits the team though her vast experience as a senior private equity executive specialising in cross-border consumer investments, particularly in the China consumer market. With a background in leading roles at white-shoe private equity firms in China, focusing on personal care, consumer, and mother & baby sectors. Before joining Teja Ventures, Mei served as the VP of Strategy and M&A at Walmart China and has held significant positions at Kimberly Clark China.

 




Michael Cui, another general partner, specialises in cross-border VC investments in big data and machine learning sectors. With over 10 years of experience in venture investing across the US and China, he previously served as Vice President of Lebox Capital. Michael's expertise encompasses machine learning and artificial intelligence, and he has been involved in technology ecosystem building for Peking University's BIMBA business school​.






Birbal Singh Bajaj, a venture partner of Teja Ventures, serves as the Managing Director of Baksh Capital, a Singapore-based single-family office, and as a co-founder of Prima Asset Management, a real estate fund manager in Southeast Asia.






Lena Tan, a venture partner with Teja Ventures, holds positions as Chairman and Managing Director of New World Capital Advisors and holds director positions at Berjaya Retail and Berjaya Credit. Having previously been the Chairman of 7-11 Malaysia, she brings extensive experience in investment banking, hedge fund management, and board governance, which contributes significantly to her role in supporting and guiding Teja Ventures.

 




Underpinned by an excellent team of professionals, paired with a genuine desire to introduce change – we could not have asked for a better partner than Teja Ventures! We look forward to seeing the innovation and developments the firm and the impressively skilled founders they have chosen to invest in will bring to our future!



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