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Why Australian startups should forget Silicon Valley and leverage new opportunities in Asia

It’s a startling experience to arrive at work, only to realise that my entire team had suddenly taken two weeks of undeclared leave.

I was working in Cambodia, and had I been more aware of the culture, I would have known that my team was celebrating their New Year. It’s not an official holiday, hence why I wasn’t aware of it, but it’s customary for staff to take around two weeks off from work to spend time with their family.

It’s anecdotes like this that often scare Australian founders away from Asian markets. But this needs to change. Beijing has now surpassed Silicon Valley as the top technology hub in the world, yet Asian markets are still overlooked by Australian companies and startups.

Aussie businesses still look to their cultural counterparts in countries like the United Kingdom or the USA for overseas expansion. This is understandable, given the language and marketplace similarities as the barriers to entry are much lower. However, long-term, these regions can be much harder to break into given the level of competition and oversaturation that already exists.

Opportunity exists across Asia for Australian startups, we just need to understand how to best leverage it.

For the better part of a decade I was based in Southeast Asia, building entrepreneurial ecosystems, and mentoring startups in creative tech. It was during this time that I developed a strong understanding of these markets and spotted the opportunities that existed within them.

First of all, it’s crucial to understand that each country within Asia has a different level of development and as a result, different business opportunities. In this context, some business models that are thriving in Australia may function well in parts of the continent, but not in others.

It is important when looking into any international market, the benefit of outsourcing vs insourcing. There are a number of activities the lend themselves well to to the outsource model, such as sales support services, however more sensitive activities which include the development of key key intellectual property are sometimes best managed in house.

That said, one key commonality is that some of the key infrastructure requirements for startups – often high mobile device penetration and high speed internet access – are a staple of most countries in Asia. With regards to high speed internet access, a lot of the infrastructure is new and world class.

And, in some regards, the talent for startups across Asia can be better than Australia. New education institutions have sprung up across the continent, teaching courses tailored towards emerging industries and current jobs rather than legacy qualifications.

Another benefit, if lifestyle is a concern, is that the lack of a major time zone difference also make Asia an ideal landing pad for a founder who is keen to live in Australia yet have at least one major operation overseas. The typical trend is that when a company expands overseas, the founder often has to live for a period there in order for the business to work.

Part of the reason for Australian founders avoiding Asia in lieu of other markets is simply because they haven’t experienced its business culture or simply don’t understand it.

Our startup scene has long neglected the economic powerhouse that is Asia, which boasts world’s fastest growing middle class. Through educating and driving more experiences for startups in Asia, we’re hoping we will change this.

About the author

Philippe Ceulen is the Programs and Engagement Manager for QUT Creative Enterprise Australia. Applications for the Collider Accelerator with the Asia Immersion week, closes at midnight on 25th February.

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Philippe Ceulen

Philippe Ceulen

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