When you think startup ecosystem, it’s rather unlikely that you would think of Kazakhstan right away.

As the largest economy in Central Asia, the primary drivers of the country’s economy is its natural resources – apart from enormous oil reserves, they also have massive deposits of minerals and metals, as well as landscape that favours agriculture.

But while Kazakhstan is important to the global energy market as potentially the world’s largest oil producer, the country’s national strategic aspiration is to become a modernised, diverse economy that is well integrated with technology.

A national shift

A quick history lesson: During the Soviet period, Kazakhstan was largely agrarian and operating under the command economy of the former Soviet Union. Upon the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan has weathered through numerous economic, social, and environmental challenges as it established a democratic state with a market economy.

Today, Kazakhstan enjoys a ranking of 36th in the world for ease of doing business and 57th in global competitiveness.

And while still largely reliant on its oil sector, the recent announcement of President Nursultan Nazarbayev on the launch of the Digital Kazakhstan strategic programme is a huge step towards pushing for focus and growth in non-oil sectors.

Also read: A quick peek at Kazakhstan’s startup scene

Specifically, one of the key components of this programme is the development of the country’s startup ecosystem – a welcome support for the country’s fledgling startups as they begin to navigate not just the Kazakh market but opening up to the global business landscape.

Fanning the flames of global ambition

Landlocked and with a population of just over 17 million, Kazakhstan doesn’t seem like a favourable market for tech startups. Until you consider it’s geography and human capital.

Strategically located at the junction between Europe and Asia, Kazakh startups have the potential to access these two regions. The fact that foreign investment has been continually pouring into the country since it declared its independence in 1991 (albeit mainly for its oil and natural gas industries) means that the country is already in the radar of investors – they simply need to attract the right ones for their tech sector.

Easier said than done, especially since attracting investors is just one of the many challenges Kazakh startups are facing.

For the Kazakhstan startup ecosystem to grow, it has to address various issues like lack of entrepreneurial spirit that was a holdover from an era that discouraged entrepreneurship, poor infrastructure, and sparse talent.

Also read: Meet the Kazakhtan startups exhibiting at Echelon Asia Summit 2018

These challenges are difficult to tackle, but one that the Kazakh government is addressing head on. With digitalisation a core component of the county’s economic strategy, the government’s startups development programmes give startups access to tools, resources, and opportunities to innovate at a globally competitive level.

Through the N. Nazarbayev Foundation and Zerde National Infocommunication Holding, startups are being provided with the infrastructure and support that the need, empowering them to think beyond the local market and develop technologies with the potential to scale across borders.

Gaining a foothold

In recent years, more and more Kazakh startups are working on innovations that are globally competitive like artificial intelligence, blockchain, and VR. The country’s ecosystem has also steadily grown and are beginning to look into connecting with neighbouring regions. Southeast Asia became their gateway.

In 2014, five Kazakh startups showcased their products in Echelon, announcing to the world the presence of a burgeoning tech startup community open to connecting with Southeast Asia.

With a population of over 635 million across 10 countries as well as a rapidly growing digital economy and an active startup ecosystem, Southeast Asia offers a lot of opportunities for young and talented Kazakh startups to begin their global expansion. The region’s vibrant startups ecosystem and tech communities can help address the challenges that Kazakh startups are facing, all the while providing them with the resources and experience to go beyond local markets and adapt global-thinking.

This year, Echelon Asia Summit has once again become the platform for Kazakh startups to actively seek expansion into the region, showcasing their innovations for potential market, partnership, and funding opportunities.

So, you may not immediately think of Kazakhstan when you hear startup ecosystem right now. But given the focus that the country has given to the growth it’s startups, and said startups’ interest in accessing the Southeast Asia market, you soon will be.

N. Nazarbayev Foundation is the largest non-profit foundation in the country that carries out projects aimed at improving the competitiveness of human capital and creation of a new generation of Kazakhstanis.

Zerde National Infocommunication Holding is Kazakhstan’s largest state company created specifically for the development of infocommunication technologies.

Disclosure: This article is produced by e27 content marketing team, sponsored by Zerde.

Featured image credit: photo20ast / 123RF Stock Photo