SE Asia’s Start-Up Scene Is Promising: Edgar Hardless, Singtel Innov8 CEO

“I believe that these are exciting times for entrepreneurs, investors and Southeast Asia,” says Mr. Edgar Hardless, CEO of Singtel Innov8, at the recent InnovFest2013.

AsianScientist (May 17, 2013) – “I believe that these are exciting times for entrepreneurs, investors and Southeast Asia,” says Mr. Edgar Hardless, CEO of Singtel Innov8, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the SingTel Group.

Singtel Innov8 is a corporate venture capital fund that invests in technologies and solutions leading to quantum changes in network capabilities, next generation devices, digital content services and enablers to enhance customer experience.

Hardless was speaking at InnovFest2013, a networking platform organized by the National University of Singapore Enterprise from May 14-16 this week. He spoke to an audience of innovators, entrepreneurs, government agencies, industry partners, technology transfer professionals, and academics about innovation in Southeast Asia.

The number of start-up companies achieving success across this region is increasing, Hardless says. For example, SingTel acquired Singapore’s leading food recommendation site HungryGoWhere.com for S$12 million in 2012, and the Asian e-commerce firm MOL acquired Indonesian start-up Ayopay, a payment service provider focused on online payment credits.

Hardless adds that there are an increasing number of Asia-focused funds being created, diversifying the sources of funds that start-ups have access to in this region. He gives the examples of Star Publications, a Malaysian media company that announced a RM$20 million fund to invest in local start-ups; and leading telecommunications company Globe Telecom, which has invested in Kickstart Ventures in the Philippines. Kickstart Ventures is an early-stage incubation program that provides funding, co-working space, mentoring programs and go-to-market resources for start-ups and entrepreneurs.

“These are very encouraging signs. It is clear that innovation across Southeast Asia is showing strong signs of growth… In the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand, I observed that the overall quality of start-ups and start-up pitches has improved tremendously,” says Hardless.

He cites the Philippines-based Kalibrr start-up as an example of how the quality of ideas had improved; the start-up provides skills-based online recruiting that helps Filipinos get jobs, and delivers pre-qualified candidates to employers. Hardless says that Kalibrr is the first Filipino company to win a place in Y combinator’s incubator program in the United States – widely known for its strict selection criteria and has an acceptance rate of two percent, obtaining seed money, advice and connections to increase their chances of success.

“This is a clear indication that entrepreneurial talent in Southeast Asia can be as good as their counterparts in the United States,” he says.

This improvement can be partly attributed to the large number of incubators and accelerators emerging across the region, he says, which assist first-time entrepreneurs and start-ups in gaining insight into new businesses. There is also an increase in number of start-ups and entrepreneurs who are invested in solving local business problems, as opposed to simply copying concepts that have been popularized in the western markets, he says. Hardless gives the example of Apptivate, a Philippine-based start-up that allows non-credit card holders to purchase premium apps from the iTunes App Store and Google Play Store using a credits- and coin-based system. Apptivate thus caters to emerging economies where credit cards are not as common as in developed countries, people are unable to purchase apps, he says.

“This is an issue that doesn’t really exist in the United States or the United Kingdom, but given the number of unbanked subscribers in the region, it is a very real problem for many. It is good to see companies looking to solve these local problems,” he says.

Hardless is optimistic about increasing innovation in the region.

“While problems like payments, illiteracy, and lack of a common language exist across Southeast Asia, there is little doubt in my mind that most of these challenges can and will be overcome with the use of technology and passionate entrepreneurs – entrepreneurs who understand that there is little difference between obstacles and opportunities, and are able to turn both to their advantage,” he says.

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Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: SingTel.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Sarah has a PhD degree in biomedical sciences. She hops on a plane or dive boat every chance she gets, and firmly believes that “one’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”

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