The global economic center is gradually shifting eastward and Asian tech hubs are vying to be the region’s top destination for global entrepreneurs. Taiwan—once Asia’s hardware manufacturing hub—is slowly recognizing that it is not only essential to cultivate the local startup ecosystem but also to bring in new ideas and voices.
A growing number of countries and regions are welcoming talented entrepreneurs from overseas, encouraging them to set up shop on their home turf. Entrepreneurs, for their part, see tremendous potential in Asia but lose their nerve once they realize how little they know of the market, the language, or cultural nuances, for example. Many get weak-kneed before even trying.
Taiwan’s startup ecosystem has been maturing and is growing to become more international. From the dot-com boom in the early 2000s to 2010, the startup landscape began to take shape in many developed markets, but not in Taiwan. Entrepreneurship dwindled in the idle startup scene—the regulatory and funding environment did not encourage new startups and many would-be entrepreneurs had gone to Silicon Valley and other locations that offered more resources and opportunities.
But the situation is changing. The government is moving to become more supportive of local and foreign startups to make up for a decade of missed opportunities (in Chinese).
The late bloomer
Several startup related programs, accelerators, co-working spaces have sprung up in the past few years, as well as an increasing number of entrepreneurial initiatives.
“It wasn’t until 2012, 2013 that we started to see more and more activities happening in the local ecosystem,” Elisa Chiu, founder and CEO of startup platformAnchor Taiwan told TechNode. Anchor Taiwan aims to promote collaboration between international entrepreneurs and local communities in Taiwan through a month-long program that focuses on cultural and market immersion as well as industry access.
Fostering entrepreneurship—inbound and out
Sending local entrepreneurs to global tech startup hubs like Silicon Valley is a great way to gain more international visibility, but bringing foreign entrepreneurs helps inject new ideas and stimulation into the local ecosystem. However, Chiu said more resources are devoted helping get startups out instead of getting more in.Garage+, Epoch Foundation’s incubation project, is one of the few organizations working on getting more foreign entrepreneurs into the Taiwan ecosystem.
Recognizing the importance of connecting foreign startups with local ecosystem, Anchor Taiwan works to strengthen the ties between foreign and local communities. Foreign entrepreneurs have the opportunity to build-up networks in Asia while bringing in new ideas to the local startup community, tit for tat.
“Taiwan doesn’t need to be or probably won’t be your final destination, but along your entrepreneurial journey, there’s probably a phase that Taiwan can offer the most you can get,” Chiu said, adding that startup entrepreneurs of our time need to have the global mindset instead of a single market strategy.
“China market is humongous, but the water is also deeper,” Chiu said. Without a trusted partner or someone to hold your hand, chances are you will be spending a lot of time and resources learning the ropes. Though compared to other markets, Taiwan is smaller—with a population of 23 million it is relatively easy to navigate.
Chiu said Taiwan is still more a mature market than China especially with its well-established IP protection and high-quality manufacturing. Chiu added that for early-stage startups, Taiwan can offer the right resources for prototyping and hardware-software integration. For software startups, Taiwan’s market openness and consumers habits, in general, provides a fitting environment for testing and piloting new services. On top of that, the island has an educated workforce abundant with tech talents.
Improving the ecosystem
Speaking of the most urgent challenges, Chiu said: “The first and foremost is to increase Taiwan’s visibility.” Indeed, Taiwan’s vibrant startup scene is at times overshadowed by its powerful neighbors. Many associate the Mandarin-speaking island only with its prowess in electronics and hardware manufacturing. Chiu’s organization has been working on increasing international visibility through hosting workshops and events abroad.
Lastly, there is a need for a shift in mindset—startups and corporates alike. A common explanation for Taiwan’s startup frustration lies in the reluctance of its tech sector and investors to support younger startups, making it difficult for them to raise funds.
But don’t get the wrong impression, Taiwan’s corporates and investors have the money to spare. However, they remain tied to the legacy in hardware and electronics manufacturing. Venture capitalists also tend to favor later-stage companies in hardware. Chiu’s organization has been working with tech companies, including Foxconn, HTC, and Winstron to promote collaboration between startups with well-established native tech enterprises.