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Follower or Leader? Expect These Start-Up Trends in Southeast Asia

Actions needed for the Southeast Asian start-up ecosystem to flourish

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BY Marishka M. Cabrera - 31 Jul 2017

startup trends southeast asia

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

On July 21, representatives from Malaysia’s start-up movement came to Philippines at an event held in ASPACE Greenbelt in Metro Manila to discuss opportunities for collaboration between the start-up ecosystems of the two countries.

The event featured a panel discussion organized by the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC) and ASPACE wherein key personalities of Malaysia’s start-up ecosystem shared their thoughts on what to expect from the region’s start-up scene in the coming years.

Southeast Asia Is A B2C Arena

Lilyana Abdul Latiff, CEO of New Entrepreneurs Foundation Malaysia, says they are seeing different trends emerge, changing almost every six months. For instance, in the first year of the Rice Bowl Startup Awards—which recognizes outstanding start-ups in the region—they saw many new companies appealing to the B2C market.

Today, however, Latiff says many of these start-ups are dying. B2C is deemed an “extremely expensive business model,” with advertising, marketing, and logistics costs too high for many to maintain. “Sometimes the cost of sending a T-shirt is more expensive than the T-shirt itself,” she shares.

Rather than allowing start-ups to suffer the same fate, Latiff surmises that what needs to happen is for governments to intervene, perhaps by creating a regional logistics standard that will allow the Southeast Asian marketplace to flourish faster.    

High-Impact Solutions

Another trend is that start-ups are now realizing the potential of tapping into the enterprise market, or going into the B2B model. One company Latiff is personally working with, for instance, offers a simple ordering system for bigger brands that have complex and antiquated processes.

“I think it’s better for start-ups, because you get more regular income, you get to work with bigger brands,” Latiff says.

She is also seeing more start-ups going into social enterprises as entrepreneurs discover a “whole market of social issues that need to be addressed and there are people willing to pay.”

A start-up in Malaysia, for example, is harnessing the resources of alumni to fund school projects that will see the upgrade of canteens, toilets, and projectors. What used to take months, even years, can now be done within days or weeks.

For Ashran Dato Ghazi, CEO of MaGIC, the trend moving forward is about coming up with more meaningful solutions that would impact, and eventually, transform sectors.

In the end, Dash Dhakshinamoorthy, president at Global Entrepreneurship Movement, encourages entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia, “Don’t follow a trend, break a trend.”

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