While Silicon Valley is synonymous with innovation and entrepreneurship, it’s not the only part of the world delivering life-altering, industry-disrupting ideas, products and services. There is an equally thriving start-up and technology-focused ecosystem in the part of the world nestled between India and China – Southeast Asia. With easy access to nearly 60% of the world’s population and a smart, youthful and tech-savvy population, the countries of Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia are natural hotbeds for innovation. Here are the top 10 cities for innovation in Southeast Asia.
1. Singapore, Singapore
Singapore’s status as a financial hub has also helped it develop as a hub for tech in Asia. The market provides relatively easy access to capital and has regulations in place to protect investors and business ventures. The combination of a highly educated population and strong rule of law in the city state make it attractive for entrepreneurs and investors alike. The main drawback is a more expensive cost of living as compared to surrounding countries.
2. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Vietnam is one of Asia’s fastest growing economies. While the start-up environment in Ho Chi Minh City is not as developed as that in other markets, the government is starting to consider policies that would support entrepreneurship. It has set up a high-tech park in the city and is creating incentives to lure high tech businesses to the area.
3. Jakarta, Indonesia
Jakarta may seem like an unlikely place for corporate innovation given the chaos and red tape that plague the city. However, Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo has been backing initiatives to make the country the biggest digital economy in the region. With the world’s fourth largest population and deep mobile phone penetration, there is a lot of potential in this market.
4. Bangkok, Thailand
The Thai capital has become a leader in Asia innovation thanks to its affordable cost of living, highly educated population and solidly developed infrastructure. Potential future government policies could help make this environment even more favorable. For example, with these changes, the current limit on foreign ownership could be lifted which could bring more start-ups to the city.
5. Penang, Malaysia
This island off the northwest coast of Malaysia is home to a mix of local and foreign innovators and entrepreneurs. Most start-ups here benefit from some form of government support, usually through grants from the likes of The Cradle Fund. Although a fairly developed city, it is not as crowded or expensive as the country’s capital. It also benefits from its status as a Cyber City and Free Industrial Trade Zone.
6. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
While many of Malaysia’s start-ups are based in Penang, KL is another hub of innovation in the country. There are multiple agencies and programs in KL that support entrepreneurship – such as Malaysian Global Innovation Creativity Centre and Multimedia Super Corridor. The city’s diverse population also serves as a unique testing ground for products and services before they are expanded to the Indian or Chinese markets.
7. Hanoi, Vietnam
As with Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi is also home to a high-tech park and incentives to foster innovation. STEM classes have been made part of the country’s curriculum to try and build local talent. Many start-ups in Hanoi focus on tech and software development, with a particular focus on applications for blockchain, fintech, agritech, medical technology and Internet of Things.
8. Manila, Philippines
The large English-speaking population in the Philippines is a large draw for many entrepreneurs. The country also has a wide-spread use of smartphones, large unbanked population and a quickly growing population – all factors that create opportunities for companies to introduce new innovative tech solutions.
9. Phnom Penh, Cambodia
The start-up scene is just getting started in Cambodia. However, high internet and mobile penetration and affordable cost of living makes it a decent destination for entrepreneurs. There are few regulations in Cambodia which can be both a benefit and a hindrance to new business ventures in the country. Unlike other countries, there’s no limit on foreign ownership of companies but entrepreneurs may have a harder time securing capital.
10. Mandalay, Myanmar
Myanmar is likely not the first country that comes to mind for innovation, having been under strict international sanctions for many years. However, as the country continues to open up it presents a “high risk, high reward” opportunity for entrepreneurs.
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