PETALING JAYA – An executive from venture capital firm 500 Startups has expressed his dismay over the sexual harassment the former head of a Malaysian government agency allegedly faced at the hands of one of his colleagues.
500 Startups managing partner Khailee Ng told The Star Online that he was sad and angry at what Cheryl Yeoh (pic), the founding chief executive officer (CEO) of the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC), went through three years ago.
“I’m angry and sad about what happened to Cheryl (Yeoh), even more so as she’s a close friend,” Ng said.
“At the same time, her choice to join 500’s initiatives to strengthen industry practices for women reinforces the shared belief in 500 as an organisation,” he added.
In a blog post on July 3, Yeoh had alleged that 500 Startups co-founder Dave McClure had tried to force himself on her after a brainstorming session with technology industry investors and entrepreneurs at her apartment in June, 2014.
According to her, Ng was one of those present at the brainstorming session, which was to discuss what would later become the Distro Dojo accelerator programme.
However, after everyone else had left, McClure stayed on and later sexually assaulted her, she claimed.
Yeoh said she had not come forward earlier because she was afraid nobody would take her story seriously, and also because the Distro Dojo deal was at stake.
MaGIC and 500 Startups would finally launch the Distro Dojo programme for Asean-focused startups in August, 2015.
Yeoh headed MaGIC, an agency under Malaysia’s Ministry of Finance that aims to boost entrepreneurship and the startup ecosystem here, from its establishment in April 2014 until her resignation in January 2016.
The Malaysian was also a successful entrepreneur in the United States before coming back to helm the agency.
500 Startups is a prominent Silicon Valley-based early-stage venture fund and seed accelerator.
After a New York Times article on the sexual harassment allegations against McClure, he apologised and stepped down as chief executive officer, to be replaced by his co-founder Christine Tsai.
Responding to Yeoh’s allegations against McClure, a 500 Startups spokesperson told US publication TechCrunch, “We appreciate Cheryl (Yeoh) speaking up and realise how upsetting and painful it is for her to have gone through that experience and have the courage to speak up.
“We can only hope our efforts in changing 500 can help create a safe and effective platform for female founders around the world,” the spokesperson added.
Speaking to The Star Online, Ng – also a Malaysian – reiterated that stand.
“500’s mission is larger than any one person,” he said, adding that the company has 150 staff, of which 45% are women, in 20 countries.
It also has 1,800 portfolio companies in 60 countries, and 25% of these startup founders are women.
“With 500 co-founder Christine Tsai … leading 500 Startups as CEO, we will further build on our work.
“We will continue to be a platform for investing in and developing the full range of entrepreneurial talent including women and minorities, in Silicon Valley and beyond,” Ng said.