Lucy Chow is the Founder of The Elements Group, an events services company in Dubai that serves prestigious clients in the finance, web portals, luxury brands and nonprofit industries. Prior to moving to Dubai in 2007, Lucy was Senior Vice President, Market Development, Asia Pacific with HSBC in Hong Kong. She is currently the Co-Chair of Ellevate, sits on the Events Committee of The Capital Club, and founded the Dubai Chapter of Room to Read. She previously sat on the UAE committee for Acumen and actively fundraises. Lucy is currently a Director and one of the original founders of WAIN (Women Angel Investment Network). She has also been nominated to sit on the Members Committee of The Hideaways Club and is also a Non Executive Director for Educate Girls Globally. Lucy holds an EMBA from Kellogg Graduate School of Management Northwestern University and HK University of Science &Technology. She earned her BA in International Relations from the University of British Columbia.
How did you come to be a founding member of Women’s Angel Investor’s Network (WAIN), the first women’s angel investor group in the Middle East?
Lucy Chow: I consciously carved out time in the past 15 years to be part of organizations that have had a women and business agenda. I Co-Lead the UAE Chapter of Ellevate (formerly 85 Broads) for 9 years and was the Lead for the OnBoarding Working Group for the 30% Club GCC. The former is a global network of female movers and shakers and the latter is focused on increasing the percentage of women who sit on Boards. A close friend, Heather Henyon, asked if I would want to be part of starting an angel network in Dubai. Being an original founding member of WAIN was part of my evolution after being on the coalface when it came to the advancement of women for so many years.
We founded WAIN, the Women’s Angel Investor Network, in 2014 to fill a gap in funding for women entrepreneurs in the Middle East. Led by women and financed by women angels, WAIN has screened over 100 women-led companies and made seven investments in six companies in the Middle East. Aside from finance, WAIN also provides training in due diligence and investment strategy as part of its goal of building a strong network of knowledgeable women investors. Importantly, we invest only in women led firms. This is what differentiates us from many other angel groups. Investing in Women Led Businesses makes commercial sense, as well as returns.
Can you share your experiences as Owner of The Elements Group and how you came to found it?
Lucy Chow: My focus developed as my time in Dubai lengthened. Meaning the UAE provides an environment for anyone to carve out their own niche with a bit of luck and perseverance. I gravitate towards wanting to connect people and ideas. Creating bespoke events is what we do.
I represented three different companies before I decided to take the plunge and set up The Elements Group. At the time, when I wrote my business plan, I felt there were ‘events’ that were lacking. I was keen to bring in speakers, experts, and thought leaders who could share their stories with a wider business community. Over time I also weaved in the ability to help brands promote their philanthropy, or charitable programmes. I get an immense sense of satisfaction in being able to work with firms in this particular area.
Can you tell us about Little Thinking Minds and your leadership here?
Lucy Chow: As a Director of WAIN (Women’s Angel Investor Network), we decided to invest in the top Arabic literacy brand for children in 2014. We believe this decision is one reason that Little Thinking Minds (LTM) are now helping hundreds of thousands of children across the Arab world and beyond. They have come a long way since 2013, from a company that produced videos, DVDs and Apps for edutainment purposes, to today becoming the number one Arabic subscription program in schools across the MENA region. LTM is in over 70 schools, serving over 70,000 children and over 1,500 teachers and the numbers are growing at a staggering rate. I have had the pleasure of sitting on the Board since 2014, when we made our initial investment.
When WAIN invests in a company, we like to take an active role where possible. Being on the Board has allowed me to help the company as they started to expand their staff and when they decided to consciously pivot from their previous business model. Working through their pricing models and interviewing candidates alongside the team are some examples of my deeper involvement. I am extremely proud of the 2 Co-Founders, Rama kayyali Jardaneh and Lamia Tabbaa Bibi and have been pleased to work with them through the years. Talk about ‘inspirational women!’
To share some more recent accolades. LTM was selected as as one of the top 100 startups in the Middle East and were invited to attend the WEF this past May at the Dead Sea. They have also been selected (one of only three of the 49 All Children Reading Grantees) to attend the Grand Challenges Annual Meeting funded by the Gates Foundation and USAID held in Washington D.C., a very high profile event connecting companies, projects, investors and partners in one place.
Moreover you have served on numerous boards that seek to empower women like 85 Broads, 30% Club GCC, and Educate Girls Globally. What were your biggest insights and personal takeaways from serving on these boards?
Lucy Chow: Honestly, I really like to hear people’s stories. I have had the privilege to meet so many interesting women and girls from all over the world. I believe we can all learn from each other, so I actively find opportunities to allow women to share their journeys and experiences. For example, with 85Broads, I started an annual forum where women in philanthropy, or ‘non traditional’ careers would talk about their work. It is still the most anticipated member event. Curating ‘aha’ moments is fulfilling!
I remember a time when my work was all consuming and I felt that I had no time to ‘give back.’ Since I made a concerted effort to carve out time for causes and institutions I believe in, I feel I have more energy now. I was always advocating for women to sit on Boards and to take the big leaps of faith. One day I realized, I had to push myself to do the same. I never felt like I was ready, or qualified enough. If I can provide one piece of advice, it is to go out there and put your hand up. Step out of your comfort zone and see how opportunities naturally follow.
What motivates you to continue advocating for women entrepreneurs / women in business every day?
Lucy Chow: We have all seen the abysmal statistics regarding how much VC funding goes to women entrepreneurs. It is all good and well to say that women need to advocate for each other. But we need to do it with our wallets too! And if you are not in a financial position to do so, then open your network and/or volunteer your time and expertise to help a woman entrepreneur. This just makes common business sense.
Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?
Lucy Chow: I have been fortunate to be surrounded by many strong women. My mother, my sister, my mother-in-law and my sister-in-law, just to name a few in my immediate family. But let me profile someone from my work life.
Sheila Little was my first employer out of university. I don’t know where she is now and will endeavor to find her if I can. Sheila was such a graceful and accomplished woman. She was tasked to hire and train a sales force. The position was to sell computer training materials and train-the-trainer curriculum to large institutions. Whilst I was initially lukewarm about the position, it was really Sheila that I wanted to work for. I know now, that as we progress in our career, we should always cultivate a coach, a mentor and a sponsor. Definitions for each? A coach is someone who talks to you. A Mentor is someone who talks with you. And a Sponsor is someone that talks about you. Ultimately we need ‘Sponsors’ within organizations if we hope to get noticed.
Sheila was all three to me. We had to sell via telemarketing. Anyone who has ever been a telemarketer will tell you it is tough. But she knew exactly when to give advice, when to praise and when to push. When I decided I wanted to move to the Headquarters in Toronto to broaden my career options, she made it happen.
What are your favorite books, websites, films and resources?
Lucy Chow: I just finished reading Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. It’s been on the NY Times Bestsellers list for a while. It is such a compelling read, as it is about his life, but more importantly, it sheds light on the plight of white working class Americans…a ‘cultural criticism’.
Recommended by a friend. Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. So powerful. It is required reading for all of us. Because of modern medicine, we can all live longer, but at what cost? Should we choose to extend our life (quantity), over dying with dignity and in the manner we choose? (Quality). This is not about euthanasia at all… just read it.
In Dubai we are very fortunate to have access to frequent business forums and seminars. I try to attend these selectively because I enjoy the ‘in person learning’ aspect. Staying current and inquisitive is important to me.
When I get time, I scroll through LinkedIn as there are often interesting articles which have already been curated by someone.