By Caroline Bowler, Managing Director of Bowlah PR, Asia’s first Fintech specialist PR agency. Based in Singapore, Caroline enjoyed a previous career in financial services and has maintained her love for the industry ever since. Follow her on Twitter @carobowler or @BowlahCom.
Slush, the startup and tech event, originated in Helsinki in 2008, landing on Asian shores in 2015. September 19th saw the second year of their Singapore iteration and the organisers are proud of their success: 3000 attendees, 360 startups, 250 investors, 200 students and 90 speakers. Its self-described purpose is to “help the next generation of great, world-conquering companies.”
Slush is like no other conference on the technology or entrepreneurial circuit. It is a student-driven, volunteer-led, non-profit and the energy and atmosphere reflected that. However, it has been able to attract high-level speakers and entrepreneurs, each of whom generously shared from their experiences and knowledge.
This year, the Singapore theme was black, white and shades of grey. The launch was standing room only, as the packed hall was treated to an opening ceremony of lights, sound and action. Indeed, the soundtrack of booming techno music was to be our companion throughout the day. An international crowd also brought a cool Northern European edge to our balmy Asian location.
Based upon the content, it is an event for the more established entrepreneur, although a number of startups from the region were in attendance. I spoke with social enterprise BevEat, who incorporate in their food delivery platform a social eWallet which donates a percentage to charity. Also present were Thailand-based InvestorZ, a finance app for investors and traders. It focuses on social media recommendations to uncover trends, along with interactive research tools and financial market data.
Insights came from speakers such as Raja Hamzah Abidin, Managing Partner RHL Ventures. He described how Corporate Venture Capital (CVC) funds like to invest in brands or startups with a more fully-fleshed identity. In his opinion, other parts of the world are strong in this area, while Asian startup efforts lag.
Earlier in the day, Stripe Head of Southeast Asia & Hong Kong, Piruze Sabuncu, spoke of how innovation and improvements on mobile platforms will be driven by the businesses themselves. Their belief is that customers will remain loyal to existing business partners, and transition with them to new payment platforms. She stated that small businesses can take advantage of cashless transfers. Digital transactions will remove barriers to markets around the world, bringing with it fresh data and customer insights in this new “borderless economy.” The continued focus on digital spilled in to a session on healthcare. According to Sajid Rahman, CEO Telenor Health, smartphones can change the world as many in developing economies “have access to mobile networks but not healthcare.”
The day was not without controversial moments. Emmie Chang, CEO SuperBloom Capital urged attendees to invest in ICOs as they could hope to “get lucky.” Conference speakers criticised the lack of exit options in the Asian funding landscape. However, the emphasis of the day-long event remained on progressing the entrepreneurial landscape.
We can no longer talk about Southeast Asia without talking about the influence of China. Chinese government policy is such, with the One Belt One Road initiative, that it is actively encouraging structured investment outside its borders. With that push factor, there is also an element of pull. Valuations in China may be many multiples of those in the ASEAN region. Chinese Venture Capital (VC) funds are securing better opportunities in Southeast Asia. For Kay Mok Ku, Partner Gobi, this is a clear chance for the second wave of ASEAN unicorns. Markets such as Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam are ripening and Chinese VCs are poised to act.
Overall, the conference content and variety of speakers were engaging, providing value for money on the ticket price. Let’s see if the conference organisers can sustain this for their next edition.
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