Countries across Asia are vying to boost their homegrown service economies, as a drop off in resources demand and a slowing Chinese economy are taking their toll. China has pumped over a billion into kickstarting their local innovation economy, while countries including Australia and India have launched their own costly campaigns.

“What I don’t think is good is when governments organize a very expensive [and] large one-time just to deliver a message,” said Martin Talvari, the CSO of startup conference organized SLUSH. “I think it was the Prime Minister [of Finland] who said, ‘Yup, we do a lot by not doing much.’ There’s a certain truth in there.”

Governments like the Chinese government have had a more heavy-handed approach. The Chinese government has offered generous support to both startups and investors in China, including the construction of high-tech parks, startup funds, tax benefits, and even “risk compensation” for venture capital firms. This year in Premier Li’s annual work report, “innovation-driven development” was reemphasized again and again as a priority for the Chinese government. However, China is not alone in its top-down push for tech and innovation. Almost every country in Asia has jumped on the bandwagon, each touting itself as a “startup hub.”

“Somehow every city has their own ranking system that puts them in first place,” Mr. Talvari told TechNode in an interview after the panel. “For example, I just came from Australia and learned that they spent $28 million AUD [about $21.3 million USD] for campaign advertising. They put all these advertisements on platforms just to show that Australia is all about ideas [and] about technology.

Mr. Talvari ran a panel at this year’s Asia Beat conference, where representatives from different cities, including Seoul, Fukuoka, Hong Kong, and Taipei, compared and discussed the merits and flaws of their respective ecosystems. The panel was inspired by Mr. Talvari’s side project, where 120 countries around the world, 80 of which he has visited, are ranked in Excel by a number of metrics including: internet speed, government access, opportunities, and more. For “startup hubs” around the world, attracting the best and brightest entrepreneurs will depend on not just hard capital, but healthcare, access to airports, relative cost of living, and even things like good coffee, according to Mr. Talvari.

“Once you are not depending anymore on the location – your business is online, everything you do is online –  you start caring a lot about lifestyle. We see [this] from [digital] nomadism, [which is] increasing in popularity. So it’s all about finding a balance,” he said.

In addition to organizing SLUSH events, Mr. Talvari has started a new project called Leaders, a marketplace for conference keynote speakers. He is partnering with Loïc Le Meur, the founder of LeWeb, a well-known tech conference in Europe. The two started Leaders a few months ago, according to Mr. Talvari, and have already raised an undisclosed amount of funding.

This article is part of Technode’s coverage of Asia Beat, where Technode was a media and organizational partner. 

Eva Xiao

Eva Xiao is a tech reporter based in Shanghai. Contact her at eva.xiao@technode.com or evawxiao (wechat & twitter).

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