In a move aimed at addressing the longstanding barriers that women face in advancing within the business landscape of the Asia-Pacific region, Google has initiated a fund dedicated to nurturing startups founded by women. Named the Google for Startups Women Founders Fund, this initiative is set to allocate $100,000 in equity-free capital to six female-founded startups over the course of this year. Initially, the fund will be directed towards startups in India, Japan, and South Korea, with plans to subsequently expand its reach into other Asia-Pacific markets.
Overseeing the Google for Startups Women Founders Fund is Mike Kim, who holds the position of Asia-Pacific head of Google for Startups, the arm of the tech giant that offers support to startups. In an exclusive conversation with Forbes Asia, Kim expressed the significance of this endeavor for founders. He emphasized that while the monetary contribution is certainly valuable, the true essence of the fund lies in its capacity to thrust founders onto a global stage, garnering recognition from venture capitalists worldwide for potential additional funding opportunities. Kim highlighted the successes of over 400 founders supported by Google for Startups’ various other funds, who collectively raised more than $400 million in subsequent venture funding.
This initiative forms part of the broader Google for Startups Founders Funds program, which was established in 2020. As Kim elucidates, the Founders Fund series is geared towards bolstering underrepresented founders and striving to level the entrepreneurial playing field. Notably, the current emphasis is on women founders in Asia. The program includes funds catering to Black founders in Africa, Brazil, Europe, and the U.S., as well as Latino founders in the U.S.
Currently, the primary focus of the Google for Startups Women Founders Fund centers around startups operating within the burgeoning field of artificial intelligence (AI). Kim contends that as AI technology rapidly evolves, it’s imperative to ensure that underrepresented minorities and women actively participate in its development, preventing them from being left behind. Algorithmic bias, wherein AI systems unfairly discriminate against underrepresented groups, has been observed in various contexts, such as the unjust denial of loans to creditworthy women. Kim underlines that AI is fundamentally shaped by the data input into algorithms. Hence, if the industry and the data are predominantly influenced by a specific mindset or demographic, the outcomes will reflect those biases. The current excitement around AI technology is coupled with a pressing need to foster an inclusive growth trajectory, one that features equal representation of both men and women.
The launch of this new fund serves as Google’s latest endeavor to support women-led AI startups across Asia. Google for Startups has previously extended support to AI For Pet, a Seoul-based startup that made the Forbes Asia 100 to Watch list. Founded by Euna Hur three years ago, AI For Pet has developed a smartphone application capable of detecting eye and skin diseases in cats and dogs using AI algorithms and the phone’s camera.
Another notable instance is Tokyo-based Latona, co-founded by CEO Kyoko Otawa. Latona specializes in AI-powered hardware and software solutions that streamline and digitize processes. Kyoko Otawa was one of seven female founders in Asia who participated in Google for Startups’ mentorship program for women founders in 2020. The program offered training on Google products like TensorFlow, mentorship from industry experts, and networking opportunities.
Beyond forging connections with promising startups, the Google for Startups Women Founders Fund, along with its $100,000 equity-free capital injection, also serves a strategic purpose. Kim’s vision revolves around propelling startups towards growth, thereby expanding the overall internet ecosystem. This growth, in turn, is anticipated to drive greater utilization of Google products such as TensorFlow and Google Cloud.
Kim reflects on the team’s mission, emphasizing the goal of cultivating robust regional startup ecosystems. While this would certainly lead to heightened adoption of Google products, he underscores the broader benefits, which encompass fostering a healthier economy that ultimately benefits all stakeholders.