It’s a known fact that Southeast Asia (SEA) is now a hotbed for big investments and budding unicorns. From a relatively unknown region in the tech space, SEA is now the birthplace of local powerhouses – from Grab to Bukalapak, Go-Jek to Lazada and Tokopedia. Now that SEA has set its reputation as the new Silicon Valley, we turn to our speaker’s presentations from Wild Digital SEA 2019 to peek into the region’s future and the challenges facing its entrepreneurs.

Following China’s Footsteps

Last year, Catcha Group released a two-year prediction on SEA’s tech scene (read it here). One of the key learnings from Catcha’s report is that while SEA is 10 years behind in innovation, we are closely following China’s growth curve. This gives us a rare insight into the future of our tech scene, which was the inspiration behind one of our panel discussions at Wild Digital SEA 2019.

The Next China – How SEA Tech Scene Mimics China’s Footsteps, featured Gang Lu (Founder & CEO, Tech Node), Terence Sim (Associate Director, Vickers Venture Partners) and Syahrunizam Samsudin (CEO, TnG Digital) as panelists. Moderated by Gopal Kiran (Associate Director, Fintech and Advisory of Ernst & Young), the panel compared SEA’s progress in tech to China’s incredible growth.

Gang Lu shared his observations on SEA startups that have been continuously copying successful products from China. He stressed that although the effort is commendable, SEA startups should focus more on localisation and grasp a deeper understanding of the market in order to achieve the same level of success as China’s startups have.

As consumers become increasingly sophisticated with vastly differing wants and needs, it can be difficult to pinpoint a segment that will contribute the most to SEA’s rapid growth. Terence predicted that Indonesia’s massive population will provide the biggest push to help catapult SEA to China’s level of success. This explains the ‘gold rush’ that is happening in the SEA country of over 200 million.

Scale is another critical issue facing SEA’s tech startups on the rise to becoming China 2.0. Nizam pointed out that despite a population of 1.5 billion, there are only 2 dominant e-wallet providers in China. In comparison, there are over 40 licensed players in the e-wallet space in Malaysia, with only a population of 32 million. SEA as a whole is becoming an increasingly competitive and crowded region, so tech entrepreneurs must resolve the challenge to scale.

China provides a good indicator of where SEA is heading towards in the next 10-15 years. But to move ahead, entrepreneurs must resolve various business challenges in the rapid growth stage, whether it’s lack of infrastructure or issues of scale.


Building the Next Disruptors

A strong pool of future talent who would disrupt even the most innovative ideas now would help ensure SEA’s progress in the tech industry. MDEC (Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation) has been focusing efforts on upgrading the skills of Malaysian youth. As part of their ongoing effort to prepare local youth for the fast-moving digital economy, a few students have been chosen as MDEC’s very own ‘Digital Ninjas’.

Speaking with one of them – a 14-year-old Arif, on the stage of Wild Digital, Dr. Sumitra Nair (Vice President of Tech Talent Development, MDEC) peeled through the hopes and aspirations of the young. Arif, together with his group of Digital Ninjas, has been a regular participant in prestigious IEEE competitions with his innovative creations, from a smart grass-cutter to an anti-bullying device. Picking out one-of-a-kind young talent may not sit high on the priority list for tech entrepreneurs busy chasing the unicorn status, but many would agree that people make the business. It’s high time for entrepreneurs to place a heavier emphasis on mentoring and passing on their skills and knowledge to the next generation.

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