Many say that the Asia Pacific region is full of diverse, talented, and energetic startup founders with unprecedented opportunities to find the support they need to grow.
For Google, supporting early-stage startups of all sizes as part of their commitment to helping digital economies grow. During a virtual Google for Startups press briefing this week, the tech giant shared some of the key insights from their partnerships with founders across the Asia Pacific. These include how they’re targeting global growth, moving technology forward, and seeking out support to help realize their potential.
Building for the World
There were almost 200 unicorns (startups valued at US$1B or more) in the Asia Pacific region, second only to the United States (with 290) and ahead of Europe (with 69) as of April 2021. Many of Asia’s leading startups are making a global impact, whether by influencing new business models — like Grab and other Southeast Asian “super apps” — or by tackling universal — like CogSmart in Japan, which is working to help prevent dementia at an early age.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has created greater demand for new digital services that startups are ideally placed to build. For example, in Southeast Asia, 60 million people have become “digital consumers” — using at least one online service — since the pandemic began.
Exploring Emerging Technologies
To meet the changing needs of the region’s online population, Asian startups are exploring what’s possible with the next wave of advances in technology. Many want to help solve entrenched social, financial, and environmental challenges and often they’re focused on areas where technology hasn’t made the same progress it has in more established sectors of the digital economy:
In Artificial Intelligence (AI), the region’s founders are working on a wide range of powerful applications. Indonesia’s Kata.ai is a leader in conversational AI, helping businesses provide better experiences for their customers, while India’s BrainSightAI is building new tools to help researchers and clinicians better understand the human brain.
Decentralized Finance (DeFi) is another growth area. Southeast Asian DeFi startups raised US$1B in equity funding in 2021, six times the amount in 2020. With an eye on the shift away from traditional finance and trading, entrepreneurs behind startups like Korea’s DA:Ground are making it easier for people in the region to invest and access other financial services.
Financial Technology (FinTech) and eCommerce in Asia are booming. Many founders working in the fintech sector are driven by the goal of making finance more inclusive and eCommerce an even better experience. Advance, a startup from the Philippines, is making it easier for Filipino workers to access zero-interest credit through responsible partnerships with their employers. In Singapore, Shopinks helps retailers better engage their customers through chatbots and personalized emails.
In the wake of the pandemic, there is great momentum behind health technology startups such as India’s Zyla, which provides 24/7, personalized care through a mobile app, and Caredoc, a Korean platform that shares information on elderly care facilities.
Other founders are increasingly focused on sustainability, given Asia’s vulnerability to the climate crisis. Startups contributing to the response include Indonesia’s Duitin, which is managing 2,000 waste management sites across Indonesia, and Taiwan’s Lockists, a shared transportation platform that helps improve air quality by reducing car use.
Laying Foundations for Growth
While there’s ample funding available for Asian startups, Google knows that founders in the region need a much wider range of support beyond investment. Common challenges faced by startups in APAC include keeping up with regulations (which differ at country, state, and provincial levels), getting access to infrastructure or technologies, and increasing the current low rate of women’s entrepreneurship.
Google aims to work with everyone in the startup community — including founders, venture capital firms, and — to help move the entire ecosystem forward. This 2022, the tech company is running Google for Startups Accelerator programs in India, Korea, Japan, and Southeast Asia to provide support and mentorship for growth-stage startups. Google’s Startup Academy was launched in Indonesia to coach early-stage startups. The company is also working to help a more diverse range of startups with the Women Founders Academy, as well as continuing to build close links with private and public sector partners who share the same commitment, through initiatives like Project Hatcher in Taiwan or the Startups & FinTechs program with Cyberport in Hong Kong.