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.

“Outsiders’ Insights: Capturing the Southeast Asian Tech Wave ” was a panel at the ORIGIN: Asia Tech Conference that featured Minjun Liang, Founding Partner of ATM Capital, Jung-hee Ryu, Partner & CEO from FuturePlay and Adrian Hia, Partner at Kairous Capital. The panel was moderated by James Jung, Founder & CEO, BeSuccess Media Group.

The panelists shared their views on the most promising sectors in Southeast Asia, the future development of the tech ecosystem, among others. These investors also shared their opinions on several issues related to the tech ecosystem in Southeast Asia from a foreign investor’s and a regional investor’s point of view.

The text below has been edited for clarity and brevity:

Minjun Liang, Founding Partner of ATM Capital:

What are the top three most promising sectors to invest in Southeast Asia and why?

First, it is consumer related industries such as the fast-moving consumer goods, restaurant, retail. The second one is the e-commerce infrastructure sector such as logistics, warehousing and e-commerce operation. The third sector is renewable energy.
The reason behind that is the consumption industry in Southeast Asia is booming because the whole  microeconomy of this region is going to be very good. Not only now but for the next 10 to 20 years. This will see consumers getting more income so there will be more consumption. The supply side is not enough especially compared with China or even the other developed countries. This is the reason that we focus on the consumer sectors.

Why e-commerce? E-commerce has already brought a huge change to the daily life in this region but if we look at the penetration rate, it is only about 10 percent. If we look at China, it’s about 40 percet so I think e-commerce still have a huge potential to grow. And our background, my partner and I came from Alibaba Group, we worked for about 10 years in the group so we have the experience and we have a lot of resource so this why ecommerce infrastructure can be the second sector for us.

We also take look at the renewable energy because we know energy will be very important for economoc development and this region also faces the challenge of energy and now the renewable energy technologies is now already mature so I think this industry will be dramatically changed in the next 10 years. We have already seen what happened in China and this industry will also have a big development.

Jung-hee Ryu, Partner & CEO from FuturePlay:

How tech ecosystem in Southeast Asia evolve over the next five years and what role do you think foreign investors like Korean investors will play role in the growth?

I think that there was the big movement and also there will be big movements, big changes in the Southeast Asian ecosystem. Southeast Asian startups, they always try to change the infrastructure itself like Gojek or Grab they are 100 percent changing, the transformation of the transportation infrastructure.

The FinTech, the e-commerce players, they are changing the meaning of their markets there. One of the big bigger movements will be coming is the revolution based on technologies. There are plenty of opportunities in agriculture or energy in Southeast Asia but in terms of technologies the startups cannot enter these areas. But nowadays, especially in Korea there was some movements to make some AI or robotics to help the human labor, the physical labor. So maybe that type of the companies, that type of technologies, it can collaborate with the Southeast Asian startups. Then we can make another revolution, the foundational revolution on the major businesses.

Adrian Hia, Partner at Kairous Capital:

What are the biggest challenges faced by foreign investors when entering in Southeast Asian market and how they can be overcome?

We actually have offices in Shanghai, Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. So I think we have a more holistic view over the entire region including China and Southeast Asia and we ourself also see us as foreign investors sometimes.

The key questions we always think about is what is our valuable proposition as a foreign investor into the market. I think Southeast Asia is a very fragmented market and the key things about investing as a foreign investor throughout Southeast Asia, it is about local expertise.

So you have to be very aware of that if you come in as a foreign investor. I think one thing for sure you can bring is money that’s the first value proposition as a foreign investor coming into that region but I think most the biggest challenge that all the foreign investors face is what can you provide other than money?

I think that’s kind of like the key questions we always challenge ourself. As a regional investors we work closely with family officers across the region because the way we see is when you go to every single country you have to make friends, not enemies. And with us, as a fund that consolidate all the business network within each of the Southeast Asian countries when we invest in and trying to expand throughout Southeast Asia from China to Southeast Asia or vice versa. We always help them to put together a partnership with the local partners. So I think that would be the key challenge for all foreign investors trying to value-add on this.

If you don’t have anything to kind of like value add in this process, just make sure you bring some US dollars.

So I think for Malaysia and Singapore, it’s unique among Southeast Asia because it’s a melting pot with a lot of culture.  These two markets serve as a test bed for a lot of different business strategies.

I think one of the key sectors that we’re investing in is Software as a service (SaaS) enterprise solutions and these two are the highest online spending per capita countries throughout Southeast Asia. So they allow us to test out whether some of the strategies is viable or not before they expand to other regions or other countries within Southeast Asia.

Our experience investing in these two markets: Whenever we have a new idea or they want to test it out, especially when we invest in China companies and try to bring them to Southeast Asia, we always choose Singapore or I think more closely related would be Malaysia to test them out because Malaysia, although they are second highest, but they are very similar to number three, number four, number five…

If you can somehow make money or be profitable and scalable in Malaysia, most likely you’ll be able to do that in other countries within Southeast Asia with the local partners.

ORIGIN: Asia Tech Conference: “Cultivating Innovation: Strategies for Building a Conducive Environment for Tech Growth in Southeast Asia”