International Women's Day Special: Celebrating Female Entrepreneurs

Dhwani Shah
March 17, 2024
7 min read

International Women's Day - a global celebration of women, their strength, their resilience and their lives. A commemoration of the strides made towards gender equality and an acknowledgment of the ongoing journey towards a more inclusive and equitable society. On this day, we honor the contributions of women past, present, and future, recognizing their invaluable role in shaping our world and inspiring generations to come.

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, we at Classcard are thrilled to shine a spotlight on the remarkable journeys of our women entrepreneurs who have conquered challenges and carved their own paths in the business world. 

What inspired you to start your own business?

Sarah Balan, director of Scolio-Centre Singapore, talks about how being a patient of scoliosis herself has helped her better understand the complexities of the condition. Sarah, a physiotherapist specializing in musculoskeletal and sports physiotherapy, says, “I felt like there was a lack of expertise in Singapore amongst healthcare professionals in treating scoliosis. That spurred me to open this clinic, Scolio-Centre Singapore, to help patients get better, prevent surgery, look better and have a good quality of life.”

A drama educator, speaker, podcaster and daughter, Malavika Varadan wears many hats. Her overflowing passion for what she does is evident as she tells us, “Drama keeps me up at night. I bought this business because I was in love with The Hive and simply could not imagine a life without this.”

Malavika Varadan, The Hive

Coach Sveta, founder of Rhymthic Gymnastics Club, used to be a professional gymnast. “After I stopped gymnastics, I wanted to study IT. I graduated from university and worked for a year in the IT industry. However, my passion to gymnastics never left me. By chance, I was invited to be a gymnastics coach and since then I have never gone back to IT. What made me start my business was actually my student gymnasts who followed me and inspired me to provide the best training conditions and build strong athletes.”

With a background in finance and a great passion for languages that led to her co-finding Immerse Languages, Leanna Chan tells us how growing up in a multilingual family instilled in her an appreciation for cultural diversity and a desire to directly communicate with people from different backgrounds. “In 2019, I took my passion for languages to the next level by co-founding Immerse Languages Institute with my partner. We shared a similar vision - to use languages as a tool for fostering global understanding and connection. Our goal was to create a platform where people could not only learn languages but also immerse themselves in diverse cultures, promoting empathy and tolerance.”

Leanna Chan, Immerse Languages

How do you balance your personal and professional life as a woman entrepreneur?

Kirsten Christiansen, owner of Physio Evolution, the first and only independently licensed animal physiotherapy company in the UAE, shares, “This is the most difficult part. I work in the mornings and evenings and then structure time with my kids and family.”

Sarah Balan too talks about the challenge of finding a balance between being an entrepreneur and a mother of two wonderful girls. “It is indeed difficult to find a balance as society demands a lot from women in many different aspects. As a mother, I prioritize my children and I help them understand the importance of my dedication to my work. I believe this empowers them, as it shows them that we are capable of everything.”

Elke Vinck of Aspire Gymnastics tells us how she and her co-founder, Heba, gracefully juggle the roles of parenting and operating her gymnastic centres. “We offer activities for children. So our own kids - Mrs. Heba has two, I myself have five and some of our staff members have their own young children now - are largely involved during the classes. As soon as they were old enough, they started to join our classes. Now, being teenagers, they know how the club and events are run and they are great assistants. Moreover, they sometimes do their homework and the like at our office, so although we are working, we can keep a close eye on them and assist them when needed. We are lucky we can spend time with our children and also focus on our work.”

Heba and Elke, Aspire Gymnastics

Luann C Parker, founder of Wordy Affairs, consciously maintains a healthy balance between the two. “Just as I calendarize my activities at work, I do the same for my personal life. Because I am an entrepreneur, I have the greatest flexibility in how and when I work, which helps me optimize my work and personal efficiency. I realized many years ago that I needed satisfaction in my personal life to enhance the satisfaction in my professional life. The two are equally important to me, so I devote the same energy to them both.”

Jewel Aurelia, founder of Little Victors Sports Academy, highlights the importance of having the right people by your side. “I have a great support system and I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without them. There are days where it gets tough, especially with the sports industry being male dominant, but I think of all the girls I teach; I want them to believe they can do all they set their mind to.”

Jewel Aurelia, Little Victors Sports Academy

Have you encountered any gender-specific biases/challenges while growing your business?

Malavika Varadan of The Hive shares, “I have been told - they thought I was a ‘nice girl, a friend’, and then I turned out to be ambitious and cut-throat. I have come to see that as a compliment.”

Sarah Balan tells us about how being considered ‘softer’ has played out in her favor. “As women tend to be less assertive than men, we are sometimes taken at face value and not taken seriously. However, in many cases, I have felt that my 'softer’ approach has made patients feel my genuine care for them.”

Sarah Balan, Scolio-Centre Singapore

Jewel Aurelia has faced gender-specific challenges on her business journey, but she perseveres relentlessly. “I try to set an example for the children I teach, especially the girls. That gives me the motivation to keep going.”

Luann Parker, with a background in commercial real estate and now founder of a boutique company teaching Business English communications, recalls, “Fortunately, I have not encountered such biases in the specific business industry of education as it tends to skew more female than male. Also, it is a "soft-skill" area of focus which both genders in the profession strongly advocate for in their roles. That said, I have experienced gender bias as a global real estate professional which is more male-dominant. It typically occurs when I enter a room full of older males who also assume I'm a younger cohort and therefore, less experienced. However, once I begin speaking about the subject, they quickly become interested to hear more or collaborate.”

Laurence Arca Bathe of Urban Swim Academy has never let her gender limit her. “In any job that I have had, I have never let the fact that I am a woman be an obstacle. However, when I was in hospitality, my male counterparts were certainly always on a better package than me. And the swimming world here is also rather masculine. But you can choose to get annoyed and let it stop you from doing your thing, or you can carry on and drive your business forward regardless. I have employed hundreds of employees in my thirty year long career, and my top leaders have, in majority, been female!”

Laurence Bathe, Urban Swim Academy

Lynda Ewalofeh, founder of Lyndishes Culinary School, humbly mentions that she has been fortunate not to encounter significant gender-specific biases while growing her business. “However, I'm aware that such issues persist in some industries. I remain committed to fostering an inclusive environment and supporting diversity within my team and business practices.”

What advice would you give your younger self, and what advice do you think your older self would have for you today?

Lynda shares, “To my younger self, I would emphasize the importance of patience, taking risks, and embracing learning opportunities. Looking ahead, I believe my older self would advise me to continue staying adaptable, nurturing meaningful relationships, and prioritizing both personal well-being and professional growth.”

Lynda Ewalefoh, Lyndishes Culinary School

Laurence would like to tell her younger self, “Travel more and discover the world before you settle down.”  And her older self would probably tell her what we all need to hear once in a while, “Don't sweat the small stuff.”

Jewel’s message to her younger self and to others is to keep going even when it gets hard. “It’s okay to pause and take a break but never ever stop.”

Kirsten Christiansen’s advice is simple but hits home. “It's all worth it, just keep going.”

How has your perspective on your business evolved over the past 12 months?

Luann Parker shares, “Whatever I think is simple, easy or obvious is not necessarily so. Often times, things that should take very little time to happen take longer, and rather than give up, I have to continue to pursue them until they unfold to fruition. This is professional patience at a level which really challenges you to stay inspired and enthusiastic.”

Luann Parker, Wordy Affairs

“A typical business model is not necessarily the best. I have adapted business ideas in a way that suits my business. Many people are quick to tell you otherwise but they don't know your business as well as you do”, says Sarah Balan while sharing the change in her perspective about her business.

Professional chef plus culinary school and online restaurant owner, Lynda, ‘dishes out’ her thoughts, “Over the past 12 months, my perspective on the business has evolved significantly. I've gained insights from challenges, learned to adapt quickly to market changes, and focused more on fostering a resilient and agile business model. Embracing innovation and staying customer-centric has become even more crucial as we navigate the dynamic landscape.”

Malavika Varadan dispenses short and simple, yet very real words, “I no more am interested in being popular. I now want to be honest.

What are your future goals for your business, and how do you envision the future of women in businesses/entrepreneurship?

Laurence Bathe shares, “We are in a phase of unprecedented growth and that is exciting. That said, with growth comes challenges in ensuring consistency, service standards and delivery. So my primary focus is ensuring that we maintain a healthy growth, whilst offering a career pathway to our staff and exceptional swim programs for our babies, kids and adults. I am looking to hire more women in leadership positions, because they get things done. It's a good time for women to shine!”

Leanna Chan, co-founder of Immerse Languages, tells us, “My future goals for my business are to continue to scale and expand its reach, while remaining committed to empowering women and promoting diversity and inclusion. I envision a future where women have equal opportunities and representation in business and entrepreneurship, and where diverse perspectives are valued and integrated into decision-making processes.” 

To achieve this, she plans to invest in mentorship programs, partner with organizations that support women's economic empowerment, and advocate for policy changes that promote gender equality. “By working together, we can create a more equitable and inclusive business landscape that benefits everyone.”

Malavika plans to own and run the largest arts business in the region and create a brand synonymous with unparalleled quality. “A space where children and women are always the central focus of our why and our how.”

Lynda, while talking about plans for her culinary school, aims to expand course offerings, enhance collaborations, and create a vibrant community of culinary enthusiasts. “I envision increased empowerment, diversity, and recognition for women in business. Supporting initiatives that promote gender equality and providing mentorship can play a pivotal role in fostering a thriving environment for women entrepreneurs.”

Coach Sveta tells us, “My goal is to continue growing and to have a healthy work environment and happy customers. I respect everyone who runs a business or has just started one, regardless of the gender. It is not easy!”

Coach Sveta, Rhythmic Gymnastics Club

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, the stories of these female entrepreneurs serve as a testament to the power of ambition, perseverance, and the limitless potential of women in the world of business.

So here’s to strong women. May we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.

Customer stories
Dhwani Shah

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