Women entrepreneurs reach out to world with startup

Updated: 2014-11-17 13:02

By Zhang Yuwei(China Daily USA)

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When Stella Ma and Amy Norman worked at eBay in San Francisco in 2004, the two quickly formed a friendship that eventually led to a startup company that they established five years later.

Ma, 43, and Norman, 40, are mothers of two children each. The friends' daily experiences of raising the children inspired them to do something tailored to the children's needs while having a positive impact on the next generation.

Their company, Little Passports, helps children learn about the world through a combination of online games and mailed letters.

Ma's parents emigrated from China to California, where they raised her and her two siblings. Ma said part of the inspiration of starting Little Passports came from her parents' immigrant experience.

"They are both very hard-working, so I feel myself very fortunate to have them as my role models to see how that hard-working dedication really pays off," said Ma.

Norman said she is fortunate to have Ma as a partner who can bring in a different cultural perspective, which helps the business grow globally.

"She (Ma) is the most efficient, hard-working person I have ever met, and our company's mission is to inspire children to learn about the world to appreciate the differences," Norman said.

The two were among 13 female entrepreneurs who were honored at global accounting firm Ernst & Young 's (EY) North American EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women Program in Palm Springs, California, over the weekend. For the first time since the program's inception in 2008, EY honored two winners of Chinese heritage, Ma and Kathy Cheng, a Chinese Canadian from Toronto.

"It's not just gender, but it's diversity of all kinds," said Steve Howe, EY Americas managing partner.

"No matter how small the company, they are dealing with a global economy and customers all around the world, so the diverse thinking of different cultures and perspectives is helping all businesses now," Howe said.

Each year the program celebrates women's entrepreneurship and helps them to attract capital and grow, noted Howe.

Women entrepreneurs reach out to world with startup

"We are not only celebrating them as successful entrepreneurs, but also we are setting up a program to help; we want to help them be successful in their businesses," said Howe.

"Women bring a lot to the table," said Kate Barton, EY Americas vice-chairwoman. "Cultural differences are terrific, and we need to celebrate them," she said, adding that EY is among many global companies that promote women for leadership roles.

Shau Zhang, a tax partner in EY, said she is among the beneficiaries of EY's initiative.

"It's important to give women the platform to show they can deliver," said Zhang, who joined the firm 18 years ago. "But at the end of the day, we all need to work hard to get their recognition - it's all through hard work."

The program has helped participants grow their companies, averaging about 20 percent revenue growth annually. EY helps the women entrepreneurs with business advice and through its annual strategic growth forum - a gathering of EY's 2,000-plus clients - where they are introduced to potential investors.

"This award is representative of the fact that being a wife and mother and a successful businessperson are not mutually exclusive," said Cheng, president of Redwood Classics Apparel, a Toronto-based manufacturer.

Cheng and her family represent the typical Chinese immigrant story. They moved to Canada from China 36 years ago and faced the challenges that immigrants do. Cheng's father first had to work three jobs to support the family before he started a sewing-contracting firm with five seamstresses and 10 sewing machines. It later became Redwood - employing close to 500 people in peak operations - led by Cheng.

"The values I have learned and am bringing to my business are respect, integrity and humility," said Cheng. "Our goal is to continue giving back to our country and the community that has made it possible to sustain two generations of manufacturing on Canadian soil."

The program now has about 70 women entrepreneurs and has extended to 25 more countries in the last two years.

"We are going global on this to celebrate women entrepreneurship," Howe said.

Chip Bergh, president and CEO of Levi Strauss & Co, who attended the EY forum, said diversity in the winners is a key to helping their businesses go global.

"If you are running a global business, I am a big believer that you've got to have the diversity that matches your consumers," Bergh said.

Contact the writer at yuweizhang@chinadailyusa.com

(China Daily USA 11/17/2014 page2)