Tech startups in Southeast Asia have felt the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some sectors were harder hit than others when the viral outbreak occurred, causing widespread shutdowns. Those who required the ways of the pre-COVID world to succeed had to adjust to the new world order swiftly.

As economies focus on recovery, some 2021 tech startup trends have already begun to emerge. Many companies found themselves forced to roll with the punches and pivot to ensure that their ideas weren’t dead in the water before they ever got off the ground. Some startups shifted into more customer support-based operations using AI technology for personalisation, increasing remote work capabilities, and enhanced dedication to both social impact and the wellness of employees.

Startups have to be resilient during these trying times, and in the face of adversity, are launching new products or services and staying afloat by embracing the challenges of an altered world.

The worst-hit industries

The travel and hospitality industries in Southeast Asia have suffered extraordinary losses in the last year. Reports found that the job loss alone was phenomenal,  and in the Asia Pacific region, over 63 million people became unemployed when the industry came to a standstill.

How startups in Southeast Asia changed their business models due to COVID-19

A report by shows that the industry will have to be highly innovative to bounce back from the damage of COVID-19. One big trend that the industry may benefit from is the increasingly popular “Workcation”, a fad being born out of enhanced remote work capabilities. Before the pandemic, many people in 9 to 5 jobs were stuck in offices, but companies soon started to realise that working from home is a feasible option for various types of employment.

With the new out of office working trends, tech startups are also having to take into account an untapped industry; remote security. The problems faced by security need to be solved before many venture capitalists will put their money into remote work systems and platforms. 

The industry is also seeing a boom in domestic and solo travel. and startups have begun to hone in on the opportunities presented. The travel agency has utilised data-driven research to make it easier for people to safely get up and go by creating a COVID-19 International Traveler’s Guide. 

Domestic travel will also be a focus for startups, giving them an opportunity to increase revenue. One such company, Vntrip, just received funding to help drive tourism locally in Vietnam. Another startup, SanMaoYou, also received funding to back their map and voice-powered tour guide app to make travelling solo that much more accessible in areas where social distancing is required.

Survival of the adaptable

Considering these trends, startups will need to practice an inventive approach. Companies such as the cloud-based tool company Figma have taken on the online collaboration issue that many startups experience during remote work. It is tweaking its platform to provide a seamless teamwork environment for design collaboration. This type of tool could help reinvent the travel industry, giving people a way to keep their employment while experiencing the world at large. 

Established startups such as Grab are capitalising on travellers’ desires to explore and stay at discounted rates by launching Grabcation in conjunction with The discounts give tourists incentives to spread their wings while putting money back into the industry.

Burgeoning industries

Some industries that have hit the ground running during the pandemic include virtual health, fintech, and eCommerce, with startups in these sectors seeing monumental growth. Online grocery has driven eCommerce over the course of the health crisis, with more people staying indoors. A recent report found that consumers have more confidence in online shopping than they did before the COVID crisis began. Companies that have fully embraced the eCommerce boom include Lazada’s Redmart, FairPrice, Tesco,  Villa Market, and HappyFresh.

Fintech is also riding the crest of the wave, with a current valuation of over $1 billion USD. One startup Fincy, has combined social and financial aspects to create an app that allows users to transfer and send money seamlessly. Other startups to watch out for include Volopay, a currency conversion management platform and BondEvalue,  an app where users can manage their investments.

Big data and AI are also on the watchlist for 2021 and include companies like Sertis,, Crayon Data, and FraudLabs Pro.

The key industries making it through the pandemic are not just those that stayed open during the course of the last year, but those that embraced change. Tech startups in Southeast Asia taking a challenging year and turning it into a breeding ground for success will most likely continue to adapt and thrive in 2021 and beyond.