7 things we can learn from Southeast Asia’s fast-paced startup ecosystem
Australia’s experience married with Asia’s energy. The early investor experience of the former with the capital opportunities of the latter. The big ideas from here transplanted to the big consumer market of our neighbours. The relationship between the startup ecosystems in Australia and Southeast Asia is one of synergy and symbiosis.
Yet the window of opportunity to learn from each other, forge connections, sharpen skills and hone business strengths is fleeting, warns QUT Creative Enterprise Australia (CEA) CEO Mark Gustowski.
CEA’s second delegation of founders from its Collider Accelerator Program travel to Thailand from 17–21 June to immerse themselves in the region’s ecosystem, pitch potential investors and customers and represent Australia at the TechSauce Global Summit.
Bracing for another frenetic experience, Mr Gustowski reflects on the key learnings from 2018’s initiative and outlines the ambitions and returns expected in 2019.
1. Timing is everything
Australia’s startup ecosystem was in its infancy when the US really took off so we missed the opportunity to grow with and learn from them. Likewise, Europe happened without us — due in large part to its geographic distance — and we’ve more or less missed the boat on China and India. The next big opportunity for us is Southeast Asia but we only have a few years to take advantage of it otherwise it will quickly surpass what we do here in Australia.
2. Play to your strengths
The Australian startup ecosystem is the best part of 20–25 years old now so what we have is an embedded understanding about how to support entrepreneurs; second and third generation venture capitalists and angel investors backing founders; and programs like accelerators, pre-accelerators and incubators to help startups grow.
What we lack is market size and capital. On the other hand, Southeast Asia is home to huge markets and enormous capital opportunities. However, its startup ecosystem is still quite young — only four-to-seven years old — and while the region has a lot of corporate engagement, it is yet to build a density of sophisticated programs to support entrepreneurs.
So, when you line up what we do well — program delivery, investor management, early stage investment and entrepreneurial development — with what they’ve got — capital, market size and an early growing entrepreneurial market — the resulting collision point is one of incredible importance and potential for Australia.
3. Pace yourself
The biggest takeaway for 2018’s Collider Accelerator participants was this: you need to move fast. Southeast Asia’s startup ecosystem is at an explosive stage. There’s a huge amount of activity and a sense of busyness and urgency that doesn’t necessarily exist here.
The primary purpose of introducing an Asia Immersion week was to demonstrate the incredibly fast pace Australian companies need to operate at to be globally competitive. We want participants to adjust their mindsets, to take the hustle they were introduced to in Southeast Asia and continue operating at that velocity in Australia.
4. Good neighbours
Southeast Asia is our largest and closest neighbour with the region representing between 750–800 million people. It also has the fastest growing middle class on the planet, one that will supersede all other regions by 2025. This represents a rapidly growing market with an enormous amount of money, high disposable incomes and a customer base around three times the size of the US.
Our participants will take part in a Demo Day in Bangkok where they will pitch their business to up to 150 investors, customers, stakeholders and government officials.
5. Creating connections
Scheduling our second Asia Immersion was a much easier process than our inaugural venture. About half of the CEA team is from Southeast Asia — myself included — so we have a good understanding of the region and well-connected networks. By returning for a second year, we can continue to add value to these networks and draw from them to provide valuable exposure sand experiences for participants. Likewise, leveraging our networks and connections has made it easier to engage with local stakeholders, co-working spaces, investment funds and Thai accelerator programs.
This year, CEA’s Collider Accelerator participants will be joined by nine businesses sponsored by the Queensland Government’s Advance Queensland innovation initiative, effectively doubling our presence during the week.
6. Targeting and tailoring
A hallmark of CEA’s 2019 Asia Immersion is a more customised experience for participants. We have a deeper understanding of the ecosystem so can offer a more tailored approach by partnering founders with stakeholders of relevance and value to their particular startup. A targeted experience will better meet the individual needs of each founder in terms of meeting with investors, channel partners, customers, distributors and financiers.
7. Advance Australia at the Fair
Participants will not only attend 2019 TechSauce Global Summit — the largest tech conference in the region — but represent the country at the Australian Startup Pavilion. It is fitting recognition that more than half the Collider Accelerator cohort hails from interstate and relocated to Brisbane for the opportunity to grow their business through the program. TechSauce welcomes in excess of 15,000 visitors and provides a platform for more than 500 investors, 400 speaker and 1900 startups from across the globe.
Collider Accelerator’s Asia Immersion takes place from 17 to 21 June.
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