Region is fast becoming Asian hub for startups based on advanced technologies
BANGKOK -- Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand and Vietnam are well-known tourist destinations. What is not so evident is how fast they are transforming into startup hubs, implementing a range of support measures and adopting advanced technologies like smartphones and artificial intelligence.
The likes of startup unicorns Grab and Gojek are prime examples of the exponential growth of the ecosystem in the region. Experts believe the world will witness more such ventures in the region in a wider range of fields, including fintech, food tech and more.
Adrian Tan, the head of Singapore-based WeWork Labs Southeast Asia, said nations in the region are full of creativity and diversity, offering great opportunities both for local players and for global startups and investors.
Adrian Tan, the head of Singapore-based WeWork Labs Southeast Asia. (WeWork)
Below are excerpts from the interview.
The Investor: Southeast Asia seems to be a popular destination for global startups and investors. What makes the region so special?
Tan: Its young population, growing middle class and rapid urbanization enable the region to quickly become a key driver of global growth. The region’s vitality and success cases offer great potential, especially in the areas of innovation and digital economy. Consisting of 10 diverse nations coupled with a melting pot of cultures and local innovation, Southeast Asia represents a large market opportunity for WeWork’s continued expansion.
TI: What is the role of WeWork Labs in supporting the Southeast Asian market?
Tan: Together with the recent WeWork Labs launch in Singapore and Bangkok, WeWork is entering its next phase of growth through diversification of its product lines that will help to strengthen greater support for startups, SMEs (strategic growth firms) and other enterprises, for them to better navigate Indonesia’s dynamic market.
At WeWork Labs, we welcome all kinds of startups from different fields as we believe that by exposing and networking with people and organizations with diverse backgrounds, startups can gain more insights from sharing and hearing experiences with each other.
TI: How would you describe the startup communities in Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City compared with those in China and the US?
Tan: As territories under my responsibility are in Southeast Asia, I will focus on Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh and the region.
For Thailand, we see that it has a strong base of creativity, and Thai people and businesses are innovative across many industries. With its growing Gen Y community, more and more of these millennials are choosing new work models and opting for shared workspaces. They search for collaborators, and it is this DNA that WeWork and WeWork Labs wish to support and cherish.
Vietnam, building on its strong economic growth transformation, is a growing hub of entrepreneurship and innovation -- as marked by growth of its tech startups, including food delivery apps, and its economy has become one of the fastest growing in Asia.
TI: What would be the key to successfully infiltrating the market?
Tan: With the Southeast Asia region experiencing unprecedented growth in terms of commercial innovation and investments, there are still key dynamics at play that remain a puzzle to outsiders due to the cultural differences, nuances in consumer behavior and rapid pace of change.
WeWork Labs can help to nurture and unlock the potential of early-stage startups by giving them key resources to take their businesses and ideas to a global scale.
With WeWork Labs present in two key markets (Singapore and Bangkok) in Southeast Asia, we look forward to better shaping the local ecosystem by connecting entrepreneurs to both the WeWork global community and enterprises that are seeking greater innovation within their industries.
TI: What are some of the latest startup trends in the region?
Tan: With the startup ecosystem progressing further, we are paying a great deal of attention to the alternative food sector. WeWork Food Labs is our first innovation space dedicated to powering the future of food and aims to support growing startups by bringing together entrepreneurs, industry experiences and investors to build an innovative community to address the biggest challenges facing food.
In Asia, we have chosen Thailand as the first country to run the WeWork Food Labs program. We believe partnering with state-run agencies and institutes, like the National Innovation Agency, Thai Union and Mahidol University, for the SPACE-F incubator and accelerator program in the Thai food industry will provide startups an unrivaled opportunity and give them the tools and resources they need to grow and succeed.
By Kim Young-won (firstname.lastname@example.org)
This article is the result of collaboration between The Investor and the Korea Press Foundation.