As soon as I entered the quaint little yoga space, on a Thursday evening in Melbourne, I was greeted with a burst of colours. Individuals were dressed in traditional South Asian wear and a tinge of nostalgia hit hard, especially since it marks a year since I made the move from India to Australia.
I brushed that aside to focus on the more important things at hand – the launch of the 101 South Asian Australian Founders List.
And this list is an important one. With over 1.3 million South Asians living in Australia, and the number only growing further, their faces remain largely absent from mainstream media. This is particularly interesting given the fact that of the 101 founders on the list, 78% have raised funding since 2013, totalling more than $1.12 billion in investment funding.
“It all started with a conversation over lunch,” reveal Sandeep Varma, founder of the SAARI Collective and Rahul Kumar, founder of the startup law firm Allied Legal, who put the list together.
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“Diverse founders outperform the market, and in our work with startups, we’ve seen a growing number of South Asian Australian founders who are doing game-changing work. They bring a sense of jugaad — a Hindi term meaning ‘creative problem solving and initiative’ or what we call a ‘hack’ in English,” says Kumar.
The list, published today, features startup founders like Alok Kulkarni of Cyara, which raised $495 million last year; Robin Khuda of AirTrunk; Jaap Kiran Singh of Secure Code Warrior; Manuri Gunawardena of HealthMatch and more.
“It’s great to see so many people who look like me in the same room. We don’t have enough of that. We’re doing so much with so little. Imagine what we could do if we had the system working for us,” says Paulwyn Devasundaram, one of the co-founders of Medoo, a tech platform that supports companies with coaching tools. Devasundaram has previously worked at Canva and Atlassian.
Her sentiment is echoed by Yesha Patel who is the founder of after., an enterprise that allows Australian customers and businesses to ethically dispose of their textiles and create a circular economy.
“We’re more comfortable with just working hard on the background, behind the scenes, maybe there’s fear, some lack of confidence, because of the colour of our skin, and that the majority out there looks different to us,” says Patel.
“For me personally, when I see the statistics of funding that goes to a woman of colour, and think about how we’re going to be going for our funding and raising capital, it’s very daunting. It’s even more so because I feel I tick two boxes of the disadvantages that come from being a woman founder and a person of colour.”
However, when compared internationally, South Asian startup founders pose a better rate of women participation at 22% compared to the global average of 15%.
Many startup founders in the room rued the fact that despite raising serious funding and generating recurring revenue in millions, they’re hardly talked about in the mainstream media. Vinay Samuel, founder and CEO of Zetaris, who recently raised $30 million, said he has been mentioned twice in the Australian Financial Review but never quoted.
Raaj Rayat, an investment manager at AirTree Ventures, says he was “pleasantly surprised” to see the numbers. He added that 27% of the companies funded by AirTree have at least one non-white founder, and 22% of such ventures have at least one woman co-founder.
Sandeep Varma of the SAARI Collective says he hoped this list serves as a starting point to celebrate the various amazing startup founders from the community.
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