NTT Startup Challenge

In Indonesia’s bustling capital, the local startup ecosystem has been making strides to challenge dominant global startup hubs like Silicon Valley and Beijing. Not only that, but according to e27’s annual report that studied the funding pattern of 847 Indonesian startups in 2018, these startups have procured an average deal size of US$88 million for each one—comprising 38 different verticals including healthtech, fintech, and e-commerce in what can only be described as a microcosm of the larger Asia Pacific’s flourishing startup ecosystem.

Indonesia isn’t alone in this recent boom. Neighboring country Malaysia now also finds itself in an optimistic position, having seen the emergence of thousands of new startups across different tech verticals according to the same annual report. More importantly, notable government-led efforts through Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) have been documented to provide new schemes for young ventures, including their partnership with 9 Digital Transformation Labs to empower more Malaysian businesses to go digital.

Countries like Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines have also propelled leaps and bounds in their own respective ecosystems, ultimately impacting the region’s overall performance. These strides cover tech ventures in multiple areas such as AI, fintech, e-commerce, Big Data, and many others.

What does this say about the region? It means much can be expected from such momentum, especially when aided by multifaceted support enabled across all fronts.

Challenges in Asia’s startup scene

It’s no secret that Asia has become an increasingly attractive space to explore and scale various tech solutions. However, this doesn’t render the region immune to certain challenges.

The primary obstacle holding back Asia is understanding local behaviour. Being comprised of multiple countries with different sociopolitical frameworks, different cultural backgrounds, and different consumer behaviours, startups emerging from the region best equip themselves with a solid support system in order to truly flourish.

One important thing that has to be considered is that with the context and geography of Asia, it is important for startups to scale beyond their home countries. In doing so, factors like different languages and different currencies become imperative variables to consider. When a startup isn’t equipped with ample capital, advanced tech, or the right connections, companies are held back from taking those necessary steps.

To combat such obstacles, startups primarily need three key forms of support: funding opportunities, access to networks, and quality technological infrastructures. These three ingredients, when peppered with proper business insights and guidance from reputable industry thought leaders, make for a formidable recipe for success.

Last July, Indonesian ride-hailing company Go-Jek announced new investments from three large companies under Japan’s Mitsubishi group, giving them stronger leverage in the competitive ride-hailing scene in the Southeast Asian Market.

Meanwhile, only last year, Singapore-based ride-hailing company Grab entered into US$1 billion partnership with Japanese carmaker Toyota opening up excellent opportunities for Grab driver-partners particularly in countries like the Philippines.

Singapore-based marketplace, Carousell, also launched its mobile payment service, Caroupay, through an integrated payment system developed in partnership with three key finance players: DBS, Stripe, and Visa. These are only a few examples of Asian startups successfully collaborating with global enterprises to solve certain obstacles.

How NTT Startup Challenge solves obstacles in a unique way

With the goal of supporting startup ecosystems in Asia and scale or leverage startup businesses through forming an alliance with NTT Ltd., the NTT Startup Challenge is a platform that provides opportunities for funding, access to NTT and partners’ investor network, and access to quality technological infrastructure.

NTT Ltd. is a leading global technology services company under NTT Incorporated (NTT Inc). They partner with organizations around the world to shape and achieve outcomes through intelligent technology solutions.

NTT Startup Challenge programme founder Yasunori Kinebuchi said, “NTT Ltd. welcomes a wide variety of applicants from seed and early-stage startups to series A concentrating on Big Data, AI, Fintech, Sharing Economy, and others.”

Startups that apply for the programme get to participate in a series of activities that include pitching sessions, matching events, and networking.

When asked what makes this startup challenge special, Kinebuchi quipped “As NTT Ltd. doesn’t seek an opportunity for investment at this program, the ecosystem can be formed without conflict of interest with various investors. For example, the judges and partners include local venture capital investors (VC), business accelerators, and Southeast Asian mega-VCs like KK fund and Gree Ventures, among others. We provide investors with immediate access to Asian startups in their early stages.”

He further said, “It has therefore received strong support from governments. Since startups tend to be highly susceptible to government regulations, collaboration with government agencies in host countries is essential. NTT Ltd. already has a strong relationship with government bodies in several countries within Asia such as in Indonesia (Ministry of Industry & Creative Economy Agency), in Malaysia (MDEC, MaGIC, and Cyberview) and in Vietnam (Saigon Innovation Hub).”

Perks of joining the NTT Startup Challenge

As with most programmes, the NTT Startup Challenge comes with a plethora of perks that startups across Asia could really benefit from. Of all these perks, the three overarching ones are as follows:

1.) Providing competition rewards such as IT infrastructure, support and management, access to NTT Group’s customer base, and access to Southeast Asian mega-VCs like KK fund, Gree Ventures as well as local VCs for startups.

2.) Encouraging enterprises to enter markets in Asia smoothly and to access and collaborate with other Asian startups’ innovative ideas and unique technologies.

3.) Providing investors with immediate access to Asian startups in their early stages.
Kinebuchi stressed the mutually beneficial nature of establishing networks and partnerships in the NTT Startup Challenge. Other than prizes that are valued at a total of US$10,000, finalists are invited at a matching event in which they will be introduced to potential business partners for innovation.

The event puts premium on the fact that a startup needs not only funding, but also IT infrastructure, organizational and technical knowledge, and a global customer base. On the other hand, global enterprises require innovative solutions tailored to local needs in terms of culture, government regulation, and local market. At the end of the day, engaging with global enterprises is essential for startups to grow rapidly.

Cultivating Asia’s startup ecosystem

During the startup challenge’s earlier edition, each country’s top-three startups of 2018 were invited to Japan in March 2019 for a showcase event aiming to connect Japanese enterprises, investors, and startups with Asian startups. This was done in order to promote Asian startups’ entry into the Japanese market as well as Japanese companies’ entry to Asia.

There are multiple success stories shaped by the NTT Startup Challenge in the past, with some startups procuring funding worth US$500,000 due to media exposure garnered after the competition, while others enjoy engagements with private investors in Japan, as well as startup planning to establish joint ventures with Japanese global company introduced by NTT.

With all the possibilities listed above, we can expect Asian startups to further cultivate their ideas and render them into reality with the help of NTT Startup Challenge. By bridging the gaps and overturning the hurdles that keep startups from flourishing, we only further enrich the booming momentum that Asia now experiences.

If you’re a startup based in Asia looking to explore these possibilities, the NTT Startup Challenge is accepting applications here. For more information about the event, you may visit their official website.

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