Despite a long history of technology manufacturing, Taiwan has been largely overshadowed by its regional peers when it comes to its startup scene. The island – and in particular Taipei, where the bulk of startups are located – is making up for lost time, however, with a raft of initiatives rolled out over the past three years that seek to boost an ecosystem in which innovative businesses can flourish.
Launched in 2014 by the National Development Council (NDC), HeadStart Taiwan is a government programme that aims to make Taiwan a more attractive location for startups by bringing regulations into line with international standards, attracting global venture capital and encouraging the establishment of incubators and accelerators. Since then, the island has seen an upsurge in organisations offering seed capital and mentorship to new businesses, including Taiwan Accelerator, Taiwan Startup Stadium and SparkLabs. Taipei is also home to AppWorks, the largest startup accelerator in Asia.
‘While still nascent compared with Western markets such as the US and Europe, where unicorns are relatively abundant, Taipei’s startup scene has advanced tremendously, particularly in the last seven years,’ says Joseph
Chan, a partner at AppWorks. ‘A vibrant, end-to-end ecosystem has evolved to incubate, educate, finance and overall support the growing influx of startups and entrepreneurs.’
The government has also smoothed the immigration process for budding CEOs considering Taiwan as their startup location via the Entrepreneur Visa. Meanwhile, the Asia Silicon Valley Development Plan is aimed at promoting innovation and R&D for internet-of-things (IoT) devices and applications, an area of focus for Taiwan.
In terms of infrastructure, Hsinchu Science Park, located about an hour’s drive southwest of Taipei, has been operating for almost 40 years and today hosts more than 400 major tech companies, including Acer and Philips.
With this support system added to Taipei’s well-educated talent pool, high standard of living and relative affordability, it’s easy to see why the city is attracting a growing stream of startups.
The Person: Horace Luke
Overhauling transport tech
As chairman and chief executive of electric smart-scooter company Gogoro – the so-called ‘Tesla of scooters’ – Hong Kong-born Horace Luke has been pushing the envelope in technological innovation for the past 20 years.
Having cut his teeth as a brand designer at Nike in the US during the mid-90s, Luke made his name as creative director at Microsoft, where he oversaw the development of Windows XP, Xbox and Windows Mobile, among others, between 1997 and 2006. He then joined Taiwanese electronics giant HTC as chief innovation officer, spearheading the company’s evolution into one of the world’s top smartphone brands and scooping a succession of industry awards before leaving to co-found Gogoro in 2011.
Launched in 2015, the Gogoro Smartscooter is powered by a swappable Panasonic lithium-ion 18650 battery, which can be exchanged at more than 400 ‘GoStations’ in Taiwan when required. Users who purchase a Smartscooter (prices start at US$1,295) pay a monthly subscription service to use the battery-swapping infrastructure. Indeed, Luke says that he views Gogoro as an energy company rather than a scooter-maker.
‘Gogoro’s vision is to foster a culture of electric transportation in megacities that eliminates fossil fuel consumption and delivers a healthier and more sustainable transportation and energy infrastructure that is accessible to all,’ says Luke.
To date, the company has sold more than 34,000 scooters, saving an estimated 4.1 million litres in petrol use. Having raised US$300 million in additional funding in September, Gogoro announced that it would be bringing its Smartscooter concept to Japan in 2018, with further Asian expansion in the pipeline.
The Product: Aixon
The cutting edge in customer data
Founded in 2012, Taipei-based startup Appier is focused on creating platforms that use artificial intelligence (AI) to provide companies with marketing insights and predict customer behaviour.
Mainly serving consumer brands and e-commerce companies, Aixon collects, integrates and stores various types of user data, then generates predictions of future behaviour and outcomes. It also recommends actions by applying AI templates to that data. This allows companies to identify, grow and retain their target audience, and to drive subscriptions, online sales and other types of conversions.
‘Building in-house AI capabilities is time-consuming and expensive, but without those capabilities, businesses struggle to extract insights out of fragmented data,’ says Magic Tu, vice president of product management at Appier. ‘Aixon solves this problem, allowing businesses to harness the power of AI without investing in their own in-house AI systems or data science teams.’
Appier’s Taiwan-born founder and chief executive Yu Chih-han, who previously established Plaxie, a maker of intelligent mobile and social media games, is one of Taiwan’s most outspoken advocates of AI, even going so far as to claim that ‘AI will be as important as oxygen’ in the future.
Primed for expansion with offices in San Francisco, Singapore, Tokyo and Sydney, Appier made headlines in August 2017 when it announced that it had raised US$33 million in additional funding, taking its total funding to US$82 million.
What to watch
Get your seats
Online restaurant reservation and review platform EZTable lists almost 8,000 eateries in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand and Indonesia. The company has Japan in its sights next via a partnership with travel booking site Ikyu.com.
Predating Spotify by four years, Taiwan-based KKBox is a music-streaming service aimed at Chinese speakers. Also available in Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and Malaysia, it has more than 10 million users.
No junk please
Created by Taipei-based company Gogolook, Whoscall is a call-filtering app that identifies spam and other unknown callers by searching a database of close to a billion numbers. Gogolook was acquired by South Korean tech giant Naver in 2013.