There’s never been a more exciting time to be building a startup in Asia Pacific. Across the region, a diverse, talented and energetic group of founders is on the rise. And these entrepreneurs have an unprecedented opportunity to find the support they need to grow, with record venture funding flowing into the region.
For Google, supporting startups of all sizes is part of our commitment to help digital economies grow. Today, at a virtual Google for Startups event, we shared some of the key insights from our partnerships with founders throughout Asia Pacific: how they’re targeting global growth, moving technology forward, and seeking out support to help realize their potential.
Building for the world
In April 2021, there were almost 200 unicorns (startups valued at $1 billion or more) in Asia Pacific, second only to the United States (290) and ahead of Europe (69). 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 challenges — like CogSmart in Japan, which is working to help prevent dementia at an early age.
At the same time, the impact of COVID-19 has created greater demand for new digital services that startups are ideally-placed to build. In Southeast Asia, for example, 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. 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, 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 $1 billion 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 e-commerce in Asia is booming. Many founders working in the fintech sector are driven by the goal of making finance more inclusive and e-commerce an even better experience. The Philippines’ Advance 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, we know that the region’s founders need a much wider range of support beyond investment. Common challenges faced by startups in the region 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.
Our aim is to work with everyone in the startup community — including founders, venture capital firms and governments — to help move the entire ecosystem forward. This year, we’re running Google for Startups Accelerator programs in India, Korea, Japan and Southeast Asia, providing support and mentorship for growth-stage startups. Our new Startup Academy program — launched in Indonesia — will coach early-stage startups. We’re working to help a more diverse range of startups through the Women Founders Academy. And we continue to build close links with private and public sector partners who share our commitment, with initiatives like Project Hatcher in Taiwan and our Startups & FinTechs Program with Cyberport in Hong Kong.