Asia cranks up startup engine

If there was any doubt that the billions of dollars that has been pouring into the Asian technology sector was in danger of drying up in the face of the increasing economic stress of the region – China confirmed on Monday that 2015 saw its lowest GDP growth for 25 years – then Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi put paid to the idea at the weekend.

On Friday Modi announced the StartUp India Action Plan, coming only five months after the initial announcement of the StartUp India Initiative. And it makes Malcolm Turnbull’s innovation strategy look a little, well, modest (although on a per capita basis it’s arguably not.)

Prime Minister Modi’s latest announcement puts more meat on the bones of a strategy that is now being clearly mapped out, and backed with a cool US$1.5 billion in funding.

The comprehensive plan includes patent protection and guarantees, ecosystem funding, access to credit and a raft of tax exemptions. Australia should at least take note at the industry-friendly laundry-list of initiatives here.

Mr Modi’s plan must surely position India as a candidate for one of those other ‘landing pads’ that the Australian startup sector is still anxiously waiting to hear about from the PM and his innovation ministers, a position that would be bolstered by the English-language friendly environment, particularly in its well-educated tech sector.

Its not just India that is on the move, 2015 was something of a landmark year for startup funding in Asia, with in excess of US$100 million successfully closed in funding rounds in at least two cases.

The biggest funding round in the region a last year was the US$350 million picked up by the Malaysia-based Grab Taxi, which has fast emerged as Southeast Asia’s answer to Uber according to TechInAsia. The group scored funding from both China’s premier taxi-type app Didi Kuadidi and the country’s sovereign wealth fund China Investment Corporation (CIC).

Taxi apps have gone ballistic in many Southeast Asian cities despite the fact that most places – even expensive Singapore – have relatively inexpensive taxi services, especially compared to the usurious rates charged by Australia’s taxi cartel.

In Singapore, for instance, it is now all but impossible to hail a taxi on the street, they are all booked but if you have an app handy – and Grab Taxi is the most popular right now – one doesn’t need to leave the office, restaurant or bar until they show up.

Uber’s key selling point, amongst expats foreign business people and tourists is that it at least offers the promise of English speaking drivers. We will be testing these apps out at around Southeast Asia in coming months and will let you know.

Nunber Two for startup fundung in 2015 was Singapore property portal PropertyGuru with $129.3 million and the top non-Singapore/Malaysian funding round was US$23.3 million for Indonesian ecommerce site Elevenia.

You can see the top 15 here.

There’s plenty of money in Asia that is also looking abroad for startups to bring home the latest news is that China backed Cocoon Networks will invest up to GBP500 in UK Based start ups. The group has the backing of China Equity Group, one of the first investors to invest in China’s leading search engine Baidu.

In short, Australian startups frustrated with a lack of interest or competition at home have no excuses: there is a big and increasingly well-funded region out there where they can try their luck.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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