Exploring new business opportunities in Asia – where should German startups start?

By Claus Karthe, CEO of German Accelerator Southeast Asia

As a German founder and entrepreneur living in Asia for the past 26 years, I have seen not just how quickly Asia has transformed, but how it has risen to become the new frontier for startups looking to expand internationally. Seven cities from Asia are listed in the “Next 30” vibrant ecosystems that are experiencing rapid growth according to Startup Genome’s 2019 Ecosystem Report. The emergence of startup growth engines is no longer just located in Europe or America. Asia has become an important area for startups building a global strategy.

While there has been a growing number of German entrepreneurs looking to Asian markets for business opportunities and to reinvent themselves, the main challenge is that they often don’t know where or how to start.

Supporting a new breed of German startups to immerse in Asia

This is why we developed Next Step Asia, a 9-day market immersion program which supports German startups to explore initial opportunities in the region. Through the program, we provide startups with essential steps to kick-off their expansion into Asia.

I have outlined below the ABCs of how we do so:

A is the Awareness. Every market is a new opportunity and has unique rules. We help address misconceptions and clarify the opportunities that Asian markets hold for German startups. As part of the inaugural program in Singapore and Hong Kong, we had in-depth ecosystem briefings by government partners, including Enterprise Singapore and Invest Hong Kong. To help the startups explore the attractiveness of their value proposition and business opportunities, we set-up one to one meetings with potential customers and partners.

B is the Buzz. Southeast Asia is one of the fastest growing internet regions in the world, and its Internet economy is expected to exceed US$240 billion by 2025 according to a study by Google and Temasek.

There is no better way to experience the pace of innovation than to be physically here through a market immersion program. To compete in a fast-paced landscape like Asia, it is fundamental for a startup to understand the local challenges and what solutions are already in the market, and how to adapt their value proposition to uniquely address these challenges. By speaking to our network of on-ground industry experts and mentors, the startups will understand the real value that can be created, and separate hype from commercial viability.

C is the Context. Conquering a new market is often like building a new business. We help startups meet fellow entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to share what it really takes to be successful here. They will receive impartial advice, and our team and mentors serve as an unbiased sounding board for them.

Looking ahead: Go Asia, Go Global

Navigating a new business environment and establishing important connections in a timely manner can be challenging. But the opportunities are substantial. Having concluded our first edition in July, the positive takeaways from our participating startups show that our program fills a need to support German startups with the right starting point in their Asia expansion.

To end off, my key advice for German startups considering Asia in their global strategy is to be on the ground here, to immerse in the local ecosystems and get a snapshot into how Asia ticks.

Our next program edition will take place in Tokyo and Singapore from 25 October – 1 November, and we look forward to kickstarting the startups’ Asia journey through Next Step Asia.