Amra Naidoo is the co-founder, partner, and operations director at Accelerating Asia, an accelerator platform that connects startups with investors, partners, and clients. She’s also the general partner at Accelerating Asia Ventures, the firm’s early-stage venture capital (VC) fund, where she oversees operations and manages partnerships with corporates, government, education institutions, and other third-party entities.
Note to ally: Dear Mike, obviously, we don’t know what the future holds. There’s going to be a lot of ups and downs, and things like that. But I think I would say—thank you—because I know that it doesn’t matter what happens, we have each other ‘s support, and we will be able to work it out.
Amra Naidoo almost never spends her days the same way. However, she always tries her best to start the day with some exercises, normally yoga, or CrossFit. Our passion for exercises, in particular, aerial yoga, helped us to connect better during the interview.
After hearing my concerns about hurting myself when sometimes falling from the hammock, Amra told me how her CrossFit training has helped her with aerial yoga. “I found that, when falling, I can slow down my fall because I have more strength,” she told me.
I strongly agree. Body strength can protect us from injuries, just like how support and strength received from our allies can encourage us to stand up against uncertainties in life.
Amra and Mike Brown have been together for 14 years. “We practically grew up together,” she said. Mike has played a crucial role in helping Amra in her career, offering a different perspective of things, while pushing her when needed.
In fact, Mike has helped in almost all life-changing decisions Amra has made, she said. “He was the reason why I came to Singapore, started Accelerating Asia, all of those things.”
Previously, Amra was working in Australia, at a job she didn’t enjoy. “I was feeling a little bit stuck,” said the VC partner.
A friend introduced Singapore to her and she started to explore the possibility of moving there. Little after, she was offered an internship opportunity with United Nations (UN) Women in the city-state.
However, she still remembers how hard was to take the decision to move out and start fresh. She would have to quit her job to go to a completely new place, all by herself, earning pretty much nothing.
“I remember that Mike, who was my boyfriend at the time, said to me: ‘the worst scenario is that you go to Singapore, you do the three months internship, nothing happens, and you come back to Australia, back to a job that you already don’t like. You might be living with your parents after spending all your savings. If you’re comfortable with the worst-case scenario, then you should give it a try’.”
Amra ended up moving to Singapore for the UN Women internship, which then granted her a two-year contract with the UN entity. The job led to a new career and to the founding of Accelerating Asia in 2018, her current passion.
“My business partner, Craig Dixon and I were taking a massive risk, because there were really no independent accelerator programs in the region at that time. The major reason is that it is a very hard business model. A lot of accelerators rely on exits from the fund in order to sustain operations.”
Mike gave her another wise piece of advice at that time. “You only know what it’s going to be like to have a job, but you don’t know what it’s like to start your own business. If you look at the worst-case scenario again, if it doesn’t work out, then you can always get another job,” he said.
Mike’s “worst-case scenario” encouragement has really impacted every big decision Amra has made, she said. “Once you’re comfortable with the downsides, you can really do whatever you want.”
“I think Sheryl Sandberg says that the biggest impact on your career is the partner you choose. I would definitely say that my husband has been my biggest ally,” said Amra.
Now, as one of the very few female partners in venture capital firms in the region, Amra looks at allies or mentors as people with who you can share experiences and discuss about different perspectives. “It’s more like an individual advisory board you got yourself, rather than an ally that’s going to champion for you,” said Amra.
To really break through the investment space, women need to do their own funds, Amra says.
“It’s gonna take so long for women to work their way up from associated analyst level to a partner-level where they can make investment decisions. Only a small amount of people actually make it to the top.”
Amra is also a great ally for juniors who wish to gain advice for their career.
When she was 17, she was determined to pursue a career in microfinance: “I reached out to all of these microfinance organizations in Australia, asking them, how do you get a job? What’s like to work there? all these kinds of things, and nobody replied, except for one guy, who was like ‘I’m going to be in your city next week. We can meet for a 30-minute coffee and I can answer your questions’.”
That person sat with Amra for an hour, instead, and answered all of her questions. As a way to give back, Amra says she always makes time for students who reach out to her.
I finished the interview thinking how important is to have someone by our side who can help us when we need to make difficult decisions. Even more importantly, someone who can become our safety belt when we fall.
I also have a husband who understands me and pushes me on my career, and I echo Amra’s gratitude towards Mike. People always say that a partner is the only family we can choose out of our own will. At the end of the day, a partner can also be the biggest ally in our life.