The finalists, including Co-founder and CEO of Golden Rice Bowl winner NeonRunner, M. Kanashan (ninth from left) on stage

The finalists, including Co-founder and CEO of Golden Rice Bowl winner NeonRunner, M. Kanashan (ninth from left), on stage. (Image credit: Rice Bowl Awards)

With the array of flavours that Southeast Asia has to offer, it is a region that loves its food and loves it cheap (if not cheaper).

eatigo aims to feed this appetite through an online restaurant reservation app that offers discounts and promises merchants, of which eatigo already has 400 on its platform, the filling of their idle capacity.

“eatigo is the smartest way to eat out because we connect empty stomachs to empty tables. And we do this by time-based discounts,” said Co-founder and CEO Michael Cluzel, who adds that the discounts can be as large as 50 per cent. Discounts vary according to reservation time slots, and is generally applicable to all items on the menu.

Having started taking reservations in Thailand in June 2014, and expanding to Singapore in February this year, Cluzel and his Co-founder and COO Siddhanta Kothari claim eatigo has since seated over one million diners.

Of this number, 95 per cent booked time slots during non-peak hours at restaurants.

“We went to business in Southeast Asia because almost all the markets here are characterized by a strong eating out culture, an affinity for discounts, and a really good mobile internet penetration,” said Cluzel on the sidelines of the Rice Bowl Startup Awards held last evening in conjunction with the 1 ASEAN Entrepreneurship Summit in Kuala Lumpur (KL), Malaysia.

The Singapore-incorporated but Thailand-based startup had just won the award for Digital/Online Startup of the Year, one of 11 categories (excluding the Golden Rice Bowl Award for Startup of the Year), each of which three finalists were shortlisted for.

While explaining the effect eatigo has had on Thai culture, Cluzel offered one possible reason for the appeal that his company might have had to the judges.

The holder of French and Swiss dual passports said, “While Thai people will not normally make reservations, [but] if you give them a 50 per cent discount, they will. So we can change human behaviour, which is a great thing to be able to do.”

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Golden Rice Bowl winner

The biggest winner of the night was same-day on-demand delivery service, NeonRunner.

The Malaysian startup won both the Service Startup of the Year and the Golden Rice Bowl Award for Startup of the Year, which all 33 finalists were in the running for.

Explaining the difference of the service provided by his company to that of couriers, Co-founder and CEO M. Kanashan said, “They (traditional courier companies) collect a bunch of stuff, go back to the head office and sort out the packages to gain efficiency. But we only do direct door-to-door. I go to pick-up and delivery points immediately.”

With Singapore’s Ninja Van also vying for a slice of the pie in Malaysia, Kanashan says that the “space allows for many different firms” but admits nonetheless that they are “on our (NeonRunner’s) radar”.

“While Ninja Van focuses on [maximizing] idle capacity, I focus on the immediate need – to get a document (or package) somewhere in the shortest possible time,” said Kanashan.

With 200 people in his delivery fleet, and over 600 deliveries a day with a minimum 20 per cent month-on-month growth, according to Kanashan, NeonRunner is aiming to corner the KL market before all things.

“The most logical thing for us is to establish a beachhead in KL, to ensure future entrants think twice before coming to Malaysia. So the next time you come here and ask around, if we come up top of the mind, that will be the first win,” said Kanashan, who, away from the stage and the spotlight, was already plotting his next move.

The Rice Bowl Startup Awards is the first ASEAN awards to celebrate rising startups that harness technology to propel their business regionally, with the aim of building an ASEAN ecosystem for the startup community.

There were a total of 376 entries from nine countries across Southeast Asia. A panel of over 30 judges then evaluated the entries in four broad areas: business, traction, unique selling point, and investment potential.

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The winners of the inaugural Rice Bowl Startup Awards are:

Industry Award Category

1. Retail Startup of the Year: Poundit, e-commerce site for consumer electronics (Philippines)
2. Media Startup of the Year: FoodAdvisor.my, food review and recommendation site (Malaysia)
3. Digital/Online Startup of the Year: Eatigo, online restaurant reservations with time-based discounts (Thailand)
4. Tech Startup of the Year: Star Ticket, the first bus ticketing solution in Myanmar (Myanmar)

Cross-sector Award Category

5. Product Startup of the Year: QLIPP, lightweight sensor for tennis racquets (Singapore)
6. Service Startup of the Year: NeonRunner, on-demand same-day delivery service enabler (Malaysia)
7. Innovative Go-to-Market Startup of the Year: GetLinks, connects companies with the next generation of passionate digital talent and innovators (Thailand)

Special Award Category

8. FinTech Business Startup of the Year: Qwikwire, pay bills from anywhere in the world (Philippines)
9. University Startup of the Year: Flexilicate, custom-designed optical fibres for telecommunications applications, sensing and non-linear effects (Malaysia)

Star Award Category
10. Social Enterprise Startup of the Year: Kapital Boost, Islamic crowdfunding platform that helps small businesses pay for goods and capital purchases (Singapore)
11. Woman in Business Startup of the Year: Silvia Wetherall, MumRadar, helping mums find nursing rooms, baby-friendly cafes, playgrounds, and more on the go (Singapore)