Our AsiaBerlin Ambassador Athena Lam took a driver’s seat during AsiaBerlin Summit 2021 and organized various LGBTQi and diversity panels focused on the Berlin startup ecosystem. Her talk “From Streets to Office: Unlocking LGBTQi Talent” was one of the highlights of Day 1 of AsiaBerlin Summit 2021. Athena is a Senior Content Manager at Berlin-based startup Pitch.
“When I first joined AsiaBerlin Conference in 2017, what struck me was the dynamic energy of the people in the city. It was academics, founders, investors,– who were not just interested in talking about their startups but also thinking about public policy, art and culture. It is because of these people who sit at intersections and enrich the culture. Berlin is a city that sits at intersections. It is a haven for difference and Diversity”, she says in her talk.
Athena works to support impact-driven companies, female-led companies, women in STEM, LGBTQ workplace inclusion, Asian founders in Europe, and people of color (POC) communities. Her projects have been presented at The Economist’s Pride and Prejudice LGBT conference and Unicorns in Tech. Since 2010, she has been working with startups and founders in the Asia Pacific and Europe.
We asked her a few questions about her association with AsiaBerlin:
Tell us about your relationship with AsiaBerlin Summit…
My experience with the AsiaBerlin summit began in 2017. I was invited to speak about the Hong Kong startup ecosystem. I enjoyed the community that I met here. As a result, I joined the Asia Berlin ambassadors program in their first year of invitation to the program.
As an Asia Berlin ambassador, what are your responsibilities, and how do you help get the ecosystems together?
As an Asia Berlin ambassador, I am responsible for keeping in touch with the community as best as possible, whether in Berlin or other parts of the Asia Pacific. For example, at AsiaBerlin Summit 2021, I was much more involved in organizing panels on focus topics. The team gave me a lot of freedom to source great community leaders and invited them to the conference so that more people could hear about their work, whether in Asia or in Berlin.
How do you think a platform like AsiaBerlin helps get the ecosystems of Asia and Berlin together because they’re so vastly different. How do you think that helps?
The AsiaBerlin Summit, as a platform, is very much a bridge-builder between different places in Asia and Berlin. And even within Berlin, though there are other communities that it connects – it could be German startups – but there can also be many people with Asian backgrounds here or who are attracted to AsiaBerlin because this connects them to their home countries.
At the same time, it connects founders who want to expand from Asia, whether it’s Hong Kong, or Indonesia, or Thailand, or other countries – to Berlin. It gives them a foot in the door because it’s reaching out to the communities. It’s giving everyone a warm start and a warm introduction.
You had a panel on LGBTQ inclusion in the Berlin startup ecosystem at AsiaBerlin Summit 2021. So do you think the startup ecosystem over here is actually walking the talk or there’s still scope to do a lot more on that front?
Regarding Berlin’s tech and LGBTQ ecosystems, I would say Berlin is a very queer-friendly city. Berlin is also very much a rising Tech City. I would say that the most encouraging thing is that because of the sheer numbers when I do walk into an event, be it at AsiaBerlin Summit or another tech event – I’m actually able to see people who are comfortable in their own skin. I think that is encouraging. I think we need to do a lot of work, though, not to be complacent about that. Just because we see these people at work does not mean that there are necessarily policies protecting them or making their workplace that much more friendly. So I think what Berlin needs to do as a next step to differentiate itself is to create a more structured approach to showcasing that it’s also protecting the rights of the people coming here.
What are some of the strengths of Asian startups that you know you think can be exploited or accelerated if they move to Berlin in this ecosystem?
Well, I love the energy that many Asian founders and professionals bring, the amount of grit, the amount of willingness to work or learn. I think this type of injection is an excellent complement to Berlin’s more organic style of living in general. At the same time, I believe that there’s a lot that Asian founders, of course, can be inspired by when they come to Berlin, it has more space to expand and become a complete person to have maybe a bit more of a structured nine to five and to have the freedom to explore whether it’s the greenery or the culture, or just different communities. So I think that will be inspirational to them when they come.
As an Asian, who comes from Hong Kong, you’ve been here for four years. How helpful is the local government in Berlin in helping Asian startups set foot to expand their base here?
I think the AsiaBerlin network is perfect for giving people the opportunity to meet people who come from the same background. So, for example, at AsiaBerlin Summit 2021, I was presenting right off the back of another presenter from Hong Kong. So just the fact that we come from the same city and have the same background, it already makes me feel like, this is the city where I can see myself because I see someone else who comes from the same background, who’s here, and who succeeded.
I feel more comfortable being able to ask questions. It could be something simple like, “ Is there a Hong Kong restaurant and not just Chinese food?” These are small details. If you can have a comfortable environment, you’re able to focus on your work, and your company will grow.