Chang Shu-mei：Empowering Female Entrepreneurs
At a charity sale held at an industrial park in New Taipei City, Chang Shu-mei walked up to a fashion stall, picked up one of the floral print silk scarfs on hand, and explained the brand’s retro style to the people beside her.
The brand was not only designed with a Taiwanese touch under the motto “Made in Taiwan with love,” it was also launched by young women whom Chang personally mentored through a startup program. Their office and storage space are hidden in the building where JPC is located, so that Chang is always close by should advice or support be needed.
The 54-year-old top executive counts among a handful of women in a vast field of male tech company founders. Founded 24 years ago, the JPC Group, a listed company, is one of only a few Taiwanese companies that have been able to make it into the high-frequency connector supply chain of the cloud data centers of large U.S. companies.
Eager to Help Others, Caring About Nature
Drawing on her own experience as a self-made businesswoman, Chang now wants to support others in launching their businesses.
Three years ago, using her personal savings, Chang founded “Very Mulan”-- the only venture capital firm in Taiwan that grants seed capital mainly to female entrepreneurs. It is named after the classical Chinese heroine Mulan, who disguised herself as a man to go to war in place of her elderly father. Chang offers startup consulting services, bringing professional female talent together and recruiting senior business managers and major figures from the creative industry as volunteer advisers for the businesses she is incubating. She also interviews women across Taiwan to make the stories of their struggles known to a wider public. The stories are published on the Very Mulan website and through community media to encourage women to put their innovative “women’s power” to work.
In a bid to better understand the cultural and creative industries as well as the thinking of micro startup founders, Chang created the fashion label L’amofirefly, which makes use of Taiwan-made fabrics and designs inspired by indigenous plants and animals. She hopes the clothing can awaken customers’ love for nature. Crossing over from the high tech industry into the fashion industry, where Chang was a complete novice, involved a steep learning curve. She began her exploration of the textile industry by learning about fabrics. Then she visited textile industry companies, including textile plants that had been closed down, trying to find out why the industry had relocated abroad.
Very Mulan has invested in three startups, all of which belong to the creative, eco-friendly sector. One of them, the “Goodeatss Peanuts” brand based in Fenglin in Hualien County, was founded by a husband-and-wife team. Chung Shun-lung and Liang Yu-lun originally worked respectively as a photographer and an exhibition planner in Taipei. As Chung’s mother, who sold peanuts she roasted herself, grew older and thought about retiring, the couple felt it would be a pity if her peanut-roasting skills died out. So they packed up and left their jobs in Taipei to learn to run the business and promote organic farming in the village.
Chang got to know the couple two years ago. She made a fact-finding tour to Fenglin and visited the peanut fields to understand their ideals. Following further assessment, Chang decided to invest in the company and support the construction of a factory building to establish a local supply chain for the peanut industry. The factory also aims to help solve the local labor shortage problem and boost efficiency over that of performing the work individually by hand.
Enlightening Advice, Warm Encouragement
At the present stage, Very Mulan is supporting female business founders mainly with startup consulting, advisory and brokerage services rather than investment.
During the founding stage of Very Mulan, Chang kept looking for projects everywhere, but many of those ideas remained stuck in the pipeline. After taking stock, Chang discovered that many women who had founded micro startups did not actually lack investment capital, but instead needed partners, market analysis, or interpersonal networks.
Sometimes all it takes to solve the problem is making a phone call to pull a few strings or finding an advisor who can show the female startup boss the ropes. Therefore, Chang often tells her entrepreneur friends, “I don’t need your money, but I do need you to donate your professional expertise and a little time to Very Mulan.”
Meanwhile, Very Mulan doesn’t just help women launch their own businesses; it also functions as a courage and morale booster. Chang says, “We must let other women know about these women’s courage. They need the empathy and support of other women.”Very Mulan shines a light on the stories of women who make great efforts in different spheres of society, from the family helper who attentively cares for the elderly to the artistic director in charge of an opera house.
When Chang, who hails from a poor family in Guken in Yunlin County, founded her first company at the age of 30, her father, who subscribed to the traditional societal attitude that men are more important than women, commented with a sense of doubt mixed with affection: “Founding a company is the job of a first-born son, it is a man’s job.” Since Chang experienced poverty and suffered from the gender stereotypes of traditional society, she feels empathy for other women who face such difficulties.
A colleague who has worked with Chang for more than a decade points out that Chang is a rare exception among the big bosses because her behavior towards other people did not change at all after JPC was listed on the stock exchange. “She continues to wear the same pair of jeans as before; she is very sincere, very warm, very willing to spend time sharing her experiences with others,” the colleague says.
Very Mulan stands for the modern woman who pursues diverse values and works courageously to accomplish her own dreams. Though she resembles the original Mulan in spirit, she differs from that ancient heroine in her actions. The ancient Mulan went into battle on behalf of her father, ready to put her life on the line for her country, while Chang the modern Mulan not only founded her own company but also encourages and empowers many other women with her bold example.
[By Pei-hua Yu / tr. by Susanne Ganz]
Source: Taiwan Today