Overview on Asia's startup world: a hub of opportunities

Overview on Asia’s startup world: a hub of opportunities

06 Sep 2014
| Last update: 30 Sep 2015

It seems that Asia is slowly, but steadily climbing its way to the top of the startup world. You probably already know how evolved their technology is, and how advanced is the machinery they manufacture. In this article, I’ll point out what makes Southeast Asia a great place for entrepreneurs and investors.

startup world

First, we’ll take a look at how startup are events integrated in Asia’s culture. 

2014 – a great year for startup events

The previous year has proven out to be an extremely good one for Asia’s startup world. There were a lot of meetups, and conferences, which are important for the startup companies that already exist in Asia. These type of events are so great, because they represent an opportunity for companies to attract investors, and get people to know them on the international market.

Let’s take a closer look at the biggest startup events happening in Asia, and see what they have to offer.

  • Global Entrepreneurship Summit. This event took place in India, in January. As it says on their website, “It is the largest student-level entrepreneurial summit in India“. I think it’s a great idea to connect students with investors, startups, and professionals. This event brings together a lot of awesome speakers right from the heart of the startup industry (Silicon Valley, that is). For the speakers and the workshops, they carefully choose entrepreneurs that work in the biggest companies out there, such as at Microsoft, Intel or Deloitte. Also, several international institutions (Boston University, Stanford University) offered their support to the development of the event.
  • Echelon. This is (or was, because it took place in June, in Singapore) the place to meet 50 of the best speakers in the world. This is one of Asia’s startup events that focuses on innovation in technology, and states that it is the biggest technology conference in Asia. Should we believe them? You should see it for yourself, next year. With venture capitalists, investors, and with the chance to share your business idea with influencers from your area, it’s an event not to be missed.
  • Startup Weekend Singapore. Startup Weekend doesn’t require an introduction, anymore. This is the place to kick off your startup idea, in neither more, nor less than 54 hours.
  • Startup Asia Singapore and Tokyo. When you have so many startup events on your mind as an organizer, you need to think about bringing something new, so that you attract people. Startup Asia takes place in Singapore and Tokyo, too. It is a two-day conference, and this year they arranged a Speed Dating section. But this was not speed dating as you know it. They created a booth that allowed participants to meet, and talk to potential investors. If you want to see more details, and statistics about how it was at Startup Asia Singapore, take a look at this awesome infographic. You still have time to book your tickets for Startup Asia Tokyo, since it’s happening in September.

Alright, I’m not going to bore you anymore with startup events. Let’s get into the interesting facts, and see how Asia’s startup ecosystem looks.

Singapore – Asia’s startup hub

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In 2013, Singapore was the third “most popular technology destination for professionals“. Singapore was already known for its innovation in technology, so the report made by Hydrogen Group only comes to emphasizes that fact. The workforce in Singapore is highly educated, and also motivated, something that most of us are lacking in.

What makes Singapore a great city-state for startups? The answer: “Relatively simple start-up procedures, a thriving incubator community and friendly governmental policies”. Singapore does not want to compare itself with Silicon Valley. Instead, it wants to be part of this global community and participate in the process of making a difference in the world.

Proximity is important when you’re doing business. Did you know that Singapore is a 6-hour plane ride away from half of the population of the world? The economy is not bad at all, either. Trading (thanks to the port), and manufacturing are important sectors in this part of Asia. Foreigners (approximately 40% of the population), wealthy and young people are incredibly attracted to this part of the world, since it’s so close to most countries in the world. Its diversity managed to turn Singapore in one of the leading markets in the startup world, making it a great meeting point for business people at startup events.  

Sometimes, tax incentives represent a big obstacle when it comes to attracting startups. Some states are not interested in helping people that want to start their own business. Singapore encourages this practice, making it “one of the world’s friendliest countries to start a business”. The government is extremely supportive with taxes in general, maintaining it at a low rate. This encourages entrepreneurs to come here, and make a start. Singapore is working on changing the culture of the country, and making it more willing to take risks. 

Anyone can begin its own startup in Singapore. It’s that simple. You don’t even have to be a resident to do that. The only condition is that you need to have a bank account in the country. Another thing that makes Singapore so great is that it provides a safe environment for your work, offering intellectual property rights. This is a key factor that makes so many tech companies come here, and also this is why the bio-medical field is so developed. Knowing that your work is and will be safe is crucial when you’re doing business.

Startup events are the perfect place to meet investors. The high interest in the tech industry, and also the fact that Singapore is a wealthy country, contributed to increasing the number of investments. The Joyful Frog Digital Incubator is one of the biggest accelerators, with a 60% success rate. Along with the money, they provide an intensive mentorship program that takes place for 100 days. Goh Hian, Advisor at Joyful Frog Digital Incubator, says that ” the place where most seed investing is coming from is the NRF incubator scheme. Also, other places where a lot of startups are being started are at NUS enterprise, SMU incubator, MIT Smart, and of course JFDI”.

If you consider moving to Singapore after what you’ve read so far, there are still a few things you should know. The weather remains at a constant temperature all year long, but it’s hot. If you don’t like heat, you probably won’t enjoy  your staying here. Nevertheless, the quality of the air is the best there is in Asia. The best thing in my opinion is that natural disasters never happen in Singapore, so you’re safe from tsunamis or earthquakes.

Entrepreneurs are encouraged to work together and begin a startup here. There are certain labs, designed to provide entrepreneurs the perfect working conditions. A lab has a few different floors, and each floor is specifically designed to develop different characteristics on the tech market.

The number of startup events happening in Asia will increase since Singapore has in plan to launch 500 tech startups in the next 5 years. Singapore’s industry is focused on bio-medical science and technology. We all know how important their development is for the future, so it’s only natural to say that they’re in for the win.

Southeast Asia – the place to launch or move your startup

Since Silicon Valley has become overcrowded, it’s become harder and harder to differentiate yourself, and attract investors. Thomas Clayton, the CEO of Bubbly, moved his startup  from Silicon Valley to Southeast Asia, and he wrote an article, where he listed his 5 top reasons on why entrepreneurs should do that, too.

As I was saying before, Asia, especially Singapore, has very friendly incentives for startups, established by the government. Thomas says that 5 years ago, there weren’t any investors here, but now, there might be over 100. Important names like Jungle Ventures have established themselves in the region, and is one of 15 NRF incubators. Series A investors are actually starting to proliferate, and that includes Joyful Frog Digital Incubator, Vertex Venture Holdings, Walden International, and Infocomm Investments. Among others, Japanese investors are active too here, such as Gree Ventures, TransCosmos, or Rakuten.

Even though Singapore is the most expensive country in Southeast Asia, thanks to the low personal income tax, it’s easier to run your startup here, than in Silicon Valley. Southeast Asia’s market is still in the beginning, so there is little competition, for now.

Not only VCs move to Southeast Asia, but talented engineers too. For example, Bubbly has employees from 22 different countries. Asia’s culture is different, too. Everywhere you go, you have access to WiFi, even on the beach. For young minds, this part of Asia is the perfect environment to work in. Even though a report claims that in Singapore people work for more hours than the rest of the world, that doesn’t mean they don’t have time for fun. The nightlife is incredibly lively, with plenty of activities to choose from.

Awesome coworking spaces in Asia

Coworking spaces are great for early stage startups, or for entrepreneurs that need a place to work on their startup idea. These kind of places offer internet connection, a quiet place, and the assurance that your things are safe while you’re out for a break. Coffee shops are great too, but sometimes they can get too noisy and crowded. Gerard Castaneda made a list with some awesome coworking spaces, all around Asia.

Women in the startup scene of Asia

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As most of you probably already know, the Middle East is not quite supportive of working women. Still, “35% of tech entrepreneurs from the region are in fact women”, says in an article Naomi Ruth Ganhinhin, whereas in the rest of the world, women represent only 3% of tech founders. The workforce in the Middle East is dominated by men, while women have the most university degrees. Women wish they worked, but their families often force them to stay at home, take care of their children, and do housework.

The Internet combined with the rise of technology made it possible for women that stood at home to start their own business. In Naomi’s article, she quotes Sarah Abu Alia, the founder of ArtMedium, who says “As a woman, you have to fight for everything here— which is a great preparation for being an entrepreneur”.

Women are being more and more encouraged to become entrepreneurs. Women 2.0, Chang the Ratio, and Girls in Tech are some of the organizations that support women entrepreneurs. Singapore took the lead and even organized a Startup Weekend, women’s edition.

Asia’s startup world is the bomb

Asia, especially the Southeast part of it, has a great potential for tech startups and entrepreneurs that want to open a business here. This part of the world has a friendly government, which makes it easy for anyone that wants to settle up a startup here.

Asia is a new startup world, filled with opportunities. Even though it’s only at the beginning, there are major changes each year, which can be seen in the numbers of investors and VCs that take interest in the startups that are already established here. This can only be a good thing.

Would you agree on the fact that Asia is becoming the hub of the startup world? Let me know what your thoughts on this topic are, in the comments.

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Ana Darstaru

Content Writer at Squirrly
Ana has a strong sense of pragmatism and realism. Aside from the articles she writes for our lovely clients, she also loves testing new beauty products, and is obsessed with Pulp Fiction.
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