Last year, she helped raise almost $43,000 for Beyond Social Services and Willing Hearts Soup Kitchen through mentoring sessions for start-ups affected by the Covid-19 crisis.

This year, through a similar campaign, Makan for Hope’s Elise Tan hopes to reach her goal of $125,000 to help the elderly and special-needs children from low-income families, beneficiaries of Fei Yue Community Services.

And, tribute to our current Covid times, she plans to do it fully online.

From June 24 to July 31, start-up entrepreneurs and tech industry leaders will come together for 30 virtual roundtable sessions as part of the Makan For Hope Festival 2021, organised by the Asia Startup Network.

Tech leaders will share their experiences and best practices with start-ups, as well as match donations that will go towards raising funds for Fei Yue’s 30th anniversary, which will go to caring for the elderly and paying for therapy services for special needs children from low-income families.

Makan For Hope
Elise Tan, founder of Asia Startup Network. Image source: Facebook/Mentor For Hope 

Elise, 35, tells The Pride: “We are bringing together intellectually curious and like-minded folks to learn from one another. That’s why we’re not calling it a conference. Our theme for this year is ‘Seeding Hope for Future Generations’. We hope that through these conversations, we can plant the seeds of meaningful relationships.”

Makan For Hope is the second initiative set up by Elise’s company, Asia Startup Network, which aims to connect Asia-based tech startups to grow and expand overseas.

Last year, she started with Mentor For Hope when she was made redundant after returning from maternity leave at the height of the pandemic.

The platform brought together 250 venture capital firms, accelerators and incubators from the tech community in Southeast Asia to raise money for 50,000 meals for those in need through mentoring sessions for start-up founders affected by Covid-19.

Elise says: “I might have lost my job but I thought that with the time I had on hand, I can help others keep theirs.”

This year’s Makan for Hope Festival 2021 is a development on that idea.

Makan For Hope
Image source: Makan For Hope

Entrepreneurs can purchase tickets to connect with a tech thought leader and nine other participants from all over Asia in a 90-minute virtual session with topics like “Is Your Start-up Idea Fundable by Venture Capitalists?” and “Will Climate Action, Sustainability and ESG Focus Open Up a Trillion Dollar Greentech Opportunity?”.

Some of the hosts include Siu Rui Quek, co-founder and CEO of Carousell, Jeffrey Paine, managing partner of Golden Gate Ventures, Henry Chan, co-founder of Shopback and Zann Kwan, co-founder & CEO of Bitcoin Exchange.

Those interested in donating can also contribute at the Makan For Hope’s Giving.Sg page.

Helping others

Although Elise has since returned to the venture capitalist world, she decided to take a sabbatical after facing some personal challenges in 2021 that led her to look for ways to help others and overcome adversity with positivity.

In fact, it was through organising Makan For Hope that led to her breakthroughs, says Elise. During talks with Fei Yue, she remembered how relatives and friends came forward to help her family during her own difficult childhood.

“It made me realise that I can help people facing difficulties as well, from where I am in the tech industry,” Elise says, “and this experience has been a journey of self-discovery and learning what is important to me.”

Makan For Hope
Andrew Tan, country manager of Wantedly. Image source: Makan For Hope

This year, she is joined by Andrew Tan, who was a participant at last year’s Mentor For Hope, in growing the initiative.

“I was so inspired by Elise’s work, and I’ve always been looking for ways to give back both as an individual and as a representative for my company’s CSR efforts,” said Andrew, who is country manager for Wantedly Singapore, a hiring platform for tech firms.

So why “Makan For Hope” when there doesn’t seem to be any food involved?

Laughs Elise: “The idea came from Andrew who convinced me that nothing brings people together better than good food!”

It was Andrew’s idea to add another pillar to the initiative — gathering people over a good meal — hence the name.

“With Covid-19 becoming endemic in our lives, we wanted to continue the good that Mentor for Hope had achieved but create more intimate interactions that the pandemic had robbed us of,” Andrew, 35, tells The Pride.

Makan For Hope
One of the face-to-face sessions in April. Image source: Makan For Hope

The first iteration of Makan for Hope took place in April when Singaporeans were allowed to have up to eight people in social gatherings. In fact, the original idea for the Makan For Hope Festival was to have an in-person series of events.

However, when the government announced Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) last month, plans had to be overhauled — meetings had to go virtual as dining together was no longer possible.

“Thankfully, most of our organising team come from the start-up environment and are used to being nimble and flexible!” laughs Andrew. The organisers comprise 14 volunteers from university interns to full-time start-up working adults.

That said, participants at the Festival will still get to makan together — virtually this time — as a meal (included in the ticket price for Singapore-based attendees) will be delivered before the start of each session.

In line with its charitable slant, food is catered from Singapore-based social enterprises such as Soul Food Enabling Village or Pope Jai Thai, which train differently-abled individuals to work in F&B establishments or production kitchens.

In addition to helping struggling start-ups, this year’s goal is to make the tech industry more accessible for workers.

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Says Elise: “We want to lower the barriers for aspiring entrepreneurs and workers, who might be coming in from sunset industries and find the tech industry daunting and foreign.”

“We want to address some of the fears and mindset changes necessary for workers who want to work in tech. We’re collaborating with tech blogs like E27 on thought leadership pieces on trends like having a small core team and bootstrapping the business through remote working.”

The team hopes that more start-up founders will benefit from the networking and mentoring opportunities that will arise from these roundtable sessions.

Past mentorship pays dividends

Makan For Hope
Benjamin Gabriel. Image source: Makan For Hope

Last year, start-up founder Benjamin Gabriel received some timely advice at Mentor for Hope. “My events start-up, Orgeva, was facing headwinds due to the pandemic and circuit breaker that happened just when we launched. Sharing with other start-up founders and speaking with mentors got me through a dark period.”

After shutting down Orgeva, he went on to start a brand marketing agency, The Brandless Co.

“I would probably not have done so without some inspiration to pick myself up! My new agency has grown in less than half a year and now employs 2 full-timers!” Benjamin tells The Pride.

Makan For Hope
Caitlyn Lim, founder of Twistrek. Image source: Makan For Hope

Another participant is Caitlyn Lim, founder of Twistrek, a company that makes fun and futuristic sunglasses, was mentored by a CEO of a social enterprise, whose values were aligned with her own.

“At Mentor for Hope, I met Aparna Saxena, CEO of social enterprise Torajamelo, which provides jobs for women in Indonesia who are living below the poverty line. She has been advising me for more than half a year now. I am about to start my fundraising process and she has been guiding me on the intricate details of the fundraising and the preparation needed,” Caitlyn says.

“Her advice has been extremely beneficial especially on a social impact level. I’ve learnt a lot from her about how to build a sustainable social enterprise, including joining (social responsibility community) B Corps!

Caitlyn has benefitted at a personal level too.

“Aparna has also been helping me cope with stress, prioritising and organising. Mentor for Hope was a great programme that allowed me to have that opportunity to meet my mentor!” Caitlyn says.

Mentor-hosts also benefitted from last year’s sessions and several are returning for this year’s festival.

Thibaut Briere, CEO and founder of Growth Marketing Studio, led 18 sessions during last year’s Mentor for Hope.

He tells the Pride: “Being in the trenches with the start-up founders and other mentors was a great experience. The diversity of ideas and businesses was very exciting. It’s important to realise that mentoring is a two-way avenue and I learned a lot too. I am still in touch with most of the founders today and we catch-up regularly.”

Sign up here for the Makan for Hope Festival 2021.

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