Editor’s note: Held on May 23, 2024, ORIGIN: Asia Tech Conference is a tech conference co-organized by TNGlobal and Macau Greater Bay Area Technology Exchange Association. This was also a BEYOND Week partner event at the recently concluded BEYOND Expo 2024 held at The Venetian Macao Cotai Expo, Macao.

“Cultivating Innovation: Strategies for Building a Conducive Environment for Tech Growth in Southeast Asia” was a panel that featured Bit Santos of Kickstart Ventures; Rachel Lau of RHL Ventures and Clarence Tan of Origgin Ventures, moderated by Pabpreng Liengsuk, Program Manager of Techsauce Media at the ORIGIN: Asia Tech Conference.

The panelists, from corporate venture capital, venture capital firm and venture builder, shared their views on the criteria and support needed to build a conducive tech ecosystem.

The text below has been edited for clarity and brevity:

Bit Santos, AVP for Portfolio Operations, Kickstart Ventures:

As a corporate venture capital (CVC), we firmly believe that there would be big advantages when startup are working with corporates.

A big part of what we do is helping the startups that we invest in, a lot of the startups that we work with, finding win-win opportunities.  Working with corporates, they are able to leverage their expertise as well as their reach so that they can reach a larger audience and gain a better and smoother path to success.

Missing piece – talent

It has been a challenging time to invest in startups recently the bar has been raised ever since the economic downturn.. like the minimum profitability., sustainability of the company has to be much better than it was before. I think there is a lot of dry powder but a lot of investment activity needs to pick up again.

One of the biggest missing pieces is talent right. I don’t think like it’s a piece that has been solved. It’s a recurring concern. My take on it is that I think especially what I see in the Philippines and in Vietnam, Indonesia. There’s a lot of raw talent available. It is just that it is not very developed talent.

I think there’s a lot of talents that hasn’t gotten the opportunity to get exposed to what good looks like right. There is not a lot of talent who has “been there and done that” that you would see in the more developed tech ecosystems that would be able to develop the rest of the talent pool. So you see what a lot of startups are doing now is they are trying to bring in these talents from these more developed countries. we need to give the rest of our talent pools the opportunity to get exposed to these guys so that we can then level up. A rising tide lifts all boats and so I hopefully we can see this.

Rachel Lau, Co-Founder and Chief Investment Officer, RHL Ventures:

We have diversified from venture equity to venture debt. We have been quite active in the markets in the last five years and we have seen a lot of the growth in Asia being captured in
Southeast Asia given where US-China trade relations have been. So it’s been quite interesting and encouraging for us to see the growth recently. We anticipate Southeast Asia to still be one of the biggest growth driver in the world.

I think a lot of it comes from harmonization of policies from regulations but also the will of all the

Southeast Asian wanting to work together and obviously a stable politics. In the next five years I think each country already has a change of government or a change of prime minister. It looks relatively stable for now so I think you know we’re encouraged by that

Industry in focus:

We have seen the revolutionizing of uber and grab on the transportation space. We have seen a lot of healthcare, insurance companies but again we have invested a lot in food and agriculture in the last couple of years because Covid-19 kind of broke the supply chains in between consumer and businesses. But I think what has been most interesting and very hot recently is semiconductors. Malaysia is the sixth largest semiconductor country in the world.

We have invested in quite a bit of semiconductor businesses as well and so we do see that Southeast Asia being a big beneficiary of trade and technological transfers into our region.

Clarence Tan, Founder and Managing Partner, Origgin Ventures:

We are in the deep tech space, early stage originated from the universities. We are present in quite a few countries except for the Philippines. We are in Malaysia,Thailand, China and Japan.

Over the past two to three years since Covid we realized that there are some shifts from the VCs’ interest. I realized that the shift from a lot of VCs, not only just in Southeast Asia, in China, in Singapore they are shifting more from general tech to deep tech space. In particular deep tech space they are looking at sector like agrifood tech especially in Singapore because we are a small country we need to be self-sufficient so we need to be very strong in growing our own

type of food in a limited space. So agrifood tech is one area that’s quite hot especially in Singapore and also in Thailand. The other area is anything to do with sustainability like advanced material, new energy or new types of batteries. Recently, because of the Chat GPT the [popularity of] AI coming back.

In Southeast Asia, a few countries are aging including Singapore and Thailand like aging population in Japan and China. So MedTech, biotech is also another area. A lot of VCs are now hunting for this this type of technology.

The trends are moving on to this direction so when we invest in deep Tech we are looking at these few areas: AgriTech, FoodTech, sustainability, new energy, AI, MedTech and biotech.

A few key criteria to cultivate a successful ecosystem: PAP

We need public support which is the government support, the grants and the infrastructure, the network provided by the government to link up the right ministry or industry.

The second piece is academic. We are in deep tech so we need IP from the universities, we
need a lot of talents, not only just in the scientists we need the management team.

Last “P” is a private sector. We need the venture builders, venture creators, accelerator, VCs and all these thing to make it successful.

ORIGIN: Asia Tech Conference: Southeast Asia – The Bright Spot For VC Investing Amidst Global Uncertainties?