E-DISC Hosts ASEAN Startup Roundtable: Navigating Challenges and Charting the Future of Tech Startup Ecosystem

In fostering multistakeholder dialogue and collaboration to tackle crucial challenges within the tech startup ecosystem in ASEAN, the ERIA Digital Innovation and Sustainable Economy Centre (E-DISC) hosted the inaugural ASEAN Startup Roundtable, bringing together members of the ASEAN Committee on Science, Technology, and Innovation (COSTI), key experts and representatives from industry, academia, international organisations, as well as the ASEAN Secretariat to address critical issues impacting the tech startup ecosystem in ASEAN. Technology-based enterprises have emerged as a crucial business model for the grouping of Southeast Asian countries, driven by the region’s flourishing digital economy. The roundtable aims to explore challenges and opportunities, with a focus on regulatory frameworks, digital infrastructure, finance, and human capital.

The Roundtable focused its deliberations on three fundamental aspects of digital infrastructure, access to finance, and talent development. In his opening remarks delivered on behalf of the President of ERIA, ERIA’s Chief Operating Officer Koji Hachiyama emphasised the three key pillars for fostering innovation and economic growth in ASEAN. ‘By prioritising these, we can nurture a thousand more startup success stories and empower local entrepreneurs to drive inclusive economic growth in ASEAN and East Asia,’ he added.

Addressing the necessity for a level playing field, the roundtable talked about the importance of robust digital infrastructure for tech startups. Calls for greater efforts in sector-specific research & development support were made, pinpointing a notable gap in university-level research facilities in ASEAN. Key policy recommendations for advancing digital infrastructure and nurturing tech startups include fostering effective public-private collaborations, encouraging market-creating solutions to drive innovation, addressing challenges, and fostering a dynamic ecosystem for sustainable growth in the region.

The roundtable examined challenges in access to finance for startups, particularly early-stage funding gaps, and explored a variety of current funding support and incentives, including venture capital and patient capital investment that is emerging. Key stakeholders share insights, case studies, and best practices to foster a supportive financial ecosystem. Several deep-tech case studies also showed alternative partnership models extending beyond traditional schemes. This diversification in collaboration methods reinforces the commitment from ecosystem players to comprehensive efforts for entrepreneurial growth. The role in accelerating the growth of technology and innovation entrepreneurs through collaborations involving government-private funding highlights an impactful approach to supporting innovation and entrepreneurship, underscoring significant contributions to the development and success of early-stage startups. Participants recognised that matching the right type of funding with the right type of startups and innovation is critical.

Recognising the shortage of tech talent, the Roundtable also focused on strategies for nurturing tech talent and developing and retaining a skilled workforce. Efforts in fostering tech startup human capital are evident through readily available tools and resources provided by ecosystem partners to nurture and build tech skills, while recognising the need to make them accessible in local languages in ASEAN. These comprehensive support systems, including consultation programs and pitching events, underscore a commitment to cultivating a thriving environment for startup success and bridging development in the startup ecosystem.

‘The startup ecosystem consists of a diverse set of players – and it is agreed that we all have important roles to play in providing effective support for tech startups in driving innovation-led growth,’ says COO Hachiyama, emphasising the importance of collaboration.

The ASEAN Startup Roundtable is envisioned as a starting point for future policy conversations, bringing together industry expertise, policy practitioners and on-the-ground insights to contribute to a deeper understanding of the challenges, opportunities, and sustainability of the regional tech startup ecosystem in ASEAN and East Asia.

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