When Zhongshan Soccer Stadium opened in 1989, Taipei officials may have imagined 20,000 fans rocking the stands cheering on a local professional football league. However, during the mid-90s, the venue found glory when it hosted two Michael Jackson concerts and a performance by Bon Jovi. But, with little interest in Taiwanese football and Kylie Minogue’s concert being the most significant performance for a decade, the stadium closed its doors on July 1, 2008.
Fast forward eight years and early next year, Zhongshan Soccer Stadium v2.0 will open its doors — this time as a large-scale startup cluster called Taiwan Startup Stadium. The initiative officially debuted in May 2015, operating out of a shared space.
While the completion of the stadium’s renovation is still months away, Captain Anita Huang has already begun her mission of internationalising Taiwan’s startup ecosystem.
Venturing into the world
On the startup’s mission, Huang said, “We work on projects, we kick them out of the door, out of the country. Go venture (into) the world … Go to Y Combinator, go to 500 Startups, go to JFDI in Southeast Asia. So that is one direction, encouraging and pushing more entrepreneurs out of Taiwan.” (Sic)
Startup Stadium grew out of the Taiwanese government’s effort to grow and develop the startup infrastructure in the country. The stadium receives funding from the government to cover operations costs. What is noteworthy is its connection to the ‘Headstart Taiwan’ project initiated by the National Development Council, which gives local and foreign venture capital firms access to five funds worth over US$100 million each. Although not on the receiving end of these major investments, its role is to connect companies inside the startup cluster with these funds.
“We would become the pipeline feeder for our investment partners. Some of them work with government funding, some of them don’t, but they are all look for promising startups that are aiming for bigger regional and international markets,” Huang told e27.
Government wants to make Taiwan startup-friendly
The government is also easing restrictions for foreign startups to get into the Taiwanese market. Last Friday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs opened a VISA for entrepreneurs scheme promoted to “turn Taiwan into a centre of innovation and entrepreneurship in the Asia Pacific region”. If a business is successful during its first year, it can apply for a two-year extension. Notably, applications from China are not included in the scheme.
Startup Stadium and the Taiwanese government want to promote the country as a go-to destination for regional entrepreneurs — citing high-quality software engineering talent and a developed hardware manufacturing base.
Furthermore, not all contributors are public. A quick poke around the website will reveal notable corporate influence, but according to Huang, “There is no cash sponsor component. However, we have talked to corporates and many of them are very supportive in terms of providing perks.”
She said offers include Google cloud credit and Amazon Web Services packages.
Linqapp: A Startup Stadium venture
One company taking advantage of the stadium is the self-funded Linqapp, a free language translation tool that connects students with live native speakers. Co-founder and engineer Sebastian Ang may be in Taiwan for his love of the country and its people, but he saw an opportunity with Startup Stadium.
“Before [Startup Stadium] there (was) no one place for international people who want to start up because everything is in Chinese. But everything here is in English,” he told e27.
He went on to explain, “[Huang] is so well connected with investors… so if high-profile mentors are in town like Lee Kai-Fu (Founding President of Google China), she would let us know they are in town and even arrange those meetings, which is, of course, fantastic.”
Linqapp fits the Startup Stadium mission statement perfectly — a company who wants to be centralised in Taiwan but has international aspirations.
“Our app is completely international, obviously, by design,” Ang said.
What is Startup Stadium?
Startup Stadium is not simply a glorified office space. The company runs two programmes. One is called Founders League Mentorship, which connects entrepreneurs new to Taiwan with veteran business people. It is built on an alumni relationship than a more traditional student-teacher dynamic.
The other is called Accelerator Bootcamp, an intensive two-week training aimed at helping startups get accepted into accelerator programmes. It requires participants to submit in-depth business plans, go through simulated interviews with professional investors and even brush up on social skills. From its first batch of 10 companies in June, Startup Stadium had two companies that got accepted into accelerators and another two are in the final interview stage.
If everything goes according to plan, Startup Stadium should be opening its doors to upwards of 400 people from the startup ecosystem in Q1 of 2016.