Southeast Asia is home to over 655 million people and a rapidly growing economy.
The digital economy is central to this expeditious boom—with 300 million internet users currently in the region, spending an average of 3.6 hours on the internet every single day.
Walk the region’s hectic city streets and see how many smartphone users there are. In fact, the wider Asia region will reach 675 million 5G connections by 2025. The internet is central to the growth in the Asia-Pacific startup ecosystem, with 565 tech hubs helping facilitate this fast-moving trend.
From the start of 2016 through December 2017, more than $12 million USD had been raised by Southeast Asian startups. It’s clear that investors and venture capitalists (VCs) understand the region’s startups, whether they’re operating in PropTech, eCommerce or ride-sharing, have plenty of untapped potential. This is exactly why they’re swooping to find the next big thing in Singapore, Malaysia, The Philippines, and beyond.
In addition to VCs, accelerators are vital to the growth of startups. They offer fixed-term seed investment and mentorship to accelerate growth. They are essentially providing the infrastructure these companies need to take that next step towards operating on a wider scale.
Looking at the rise of the region’s startups from the outside, you’d be forgiven for overlooking the importance of startup accelerators. But as explained below, the likes of The Finlab, Supercharger, Impactech, Muru-D, and Entrepreneur First are supporting the startup ecosystem by helping Southeast Asian startups scale at a much faster rate.
THE FINLAB (FINTECH)
SELECTED INVESTMENTS: TRANSFICC, PAYKEY, STOCK2DAY.CO
The FinLab accelerates the growth of disruptive FinTech startups. Founded in 2015, it mobilises its expertise within the financial industry and the venture capital (VC) ecosystem by providing insights, analytics, and robust frameworks to take businesses to the next level.
The joint venture between Infocomm Investments Pte Ltd (IIPL) and United Overseas Bank Ltd (UOB) is led by Managing Director Felix Tan, who has overseen investments in nine separate startups. Like all accelerators, FinLab is well connected, with access to markets across ASEAN, Greater China, Europe, and the United States.
SUPERCHARGER FINTECH ACCELERATOR (FINTECH)
PARTNERS: MICROSOFT, VISA, BAKER & MCKENZIE
Founded in 2015 by Janos Barberis and Renu Bhatia, the SuperCharger Fintech Accelerator Programme is sponsored by Standard Chartered Bank, coworking space operator TusPark Global Network and Chinese online giant Baidu.
Based in Malaysia and Hong Kong, it is targeting the Asian FinTech growth market. In fact, it is the only FinTech accelerator targeting early-stage and growth-stage startups, with a unique model where it accepts applications from early startups and established scale-ups.
It is open to applications from innovative companies delivering solutions in the following areas:
- Payments and processing
- Security and fraud solutions
- Regulatory and compliance solutions
- Big data
- Asset and wealth management
SuperCharger has prominent partners, including Microsoft, Arbor Ventures, VISA, and Baker & McKenzie, with its 12-week accelerator program for FinTech companies offering top-level technological and mentorship opportunities.
NUMBER OF INVESTMENTS: 82
Singapore-based, Muru-D’s startup accelerator programme targets high-potential startups in Australia, where it originates, and Asia where it is now based. The programmes are advertised as having the capacity to “help founders go global faster” and are integral in helping ambitious startups grow quickly over a six-month period.
Founded in 2014, business founders working with Muru-D benefit from building connections with respected business leaders. The tailored accelerator program gives them the business confidence and organisational structure to grow within their industry and beyond.
Muru-D has 82 startups in its portfolio and has most recently taken onboard Open Learning, Kiddsbay, and Idem Hospitality. Each hopes for the same successes as eight startups that graduated from the programme in 2017. Each received $28,000 USD in seed funding, access to a network of experts, mentors, and office space in Singapore.
OPERATES IN: THAILAND, SINGAPORE, JAPAN, HONG KONG, ISRAEL
Singapore-based ImpacTech is a business consultancy and accelerator program for social technology companies and startups in the Southeast Asian region.
Founded in 2015 by serial entrepreneur Yoav Elgrichi, its offerings and reputation extend far beyond its accelerator programme. It also offers partners workshops, as well as consulting and mentoring, all under the umbrella of its key value proposition, to ‘Empower Impact Driven Technologies’.
Thailand, with its reputation as a growing tech hub, was the natural starting point, yet it has since moved into Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, and Israel. The operation received positive press from Forbes in October 2016. In the feature, Tech Can Still Do Good, Believes One Singapore Accelerator, Kineret Karin, ImpacTech co-founder, is quoted as saying:
“ImpacTech was founded…out of the belief that we live in a unique era in the human race where individuals, by using technologies in innovative ways, can create a meaningful impact on our lives in various ways.”
In a world where tech companies are under fire—Facebook and the Russian-U.S. election and Brexit meddling scandals spring to mind—it’s refreshing to see some positive coverage: “One tech accelerator [ImpacTech] still believes that the industry is not at odds with increasing human well-being,” journalist Casey Haynes adds.
It remains to be seen how ImpacTech and indeed the other accelerators listed here will make long-term positive impacts beyond their industries, or if they’ll fall into the same traps as Facebook and Google in Silicon Valley.