BIG CITIES in Southeast Asia such as Bangkok, Singapore, Ho Chi Minh City and Kuala Lumpur have staked their claims as startup hubs. But with the rise of digital nomads, smaller cities in the region are emerging as thriving centres for innovation, with companies operating in co-working spaces or in their own offices, according to JLL.
While a slower pace of life, lower cost of living and opportunities to connect with a growing network of like-minded individuals have contributed to the attractiveness of these emerging hubs for startups, some places are steadily building a reputation among entrepreneurs with big ideas.
The international property consultancy says Malaysia’s Penang, Thailand’s Chiang Mai, Vietnam’s Danang and Indonesia’s Bandung, along with Bali, have put themselves firmly on Southeast Asia’s startup map.
This heritage city has charmed its way into the hearts of startup founders and entrepreneurs, hosting award-winning companies such as infographic design app developer Piktochart.
There is also strong state government support. An accelerator called @CAT for Creative, Analytics & Technology was launched to boost the scene and is housed in a historical building.
The northern city has been dubbed “the capital of digital monads” thanks to its affordability and high quality of life.
Chiang Mai has also steadily grown in clout worldwide with brands such as BBC and Amazon holding events at home-grown popular co-working space PunSpace.
Oon IT Valley, an innovation centre to promote social enterprises and information technology know-how projects, is in the works.
DanNang is quietly building its startup scene with major investment from companies such as Viettel to turn the city into an “Innovation Hub by the Sea”.
Last year, the Danang Startup Network Coordinating Council and the Danang Business Incubator held the first Startup Fair to build the city’s technological capabilities, and a US$1.3 million (Bt44.9 million) incubator was set up to empower startups.
Bandung has been considered as one of Indonesia’s most creative cities.
Its young population and friendly ecosystem make it a fertile ground for incubating startups.
Under the leadership of mayor Ridwan Kamil, Bandung is piloting education reforms with a local app, Edubox, and constructing Teknopolis to be a mini version of Silicon Valley.
The island has been nicknamed “Silicon Bali” for producing several significant startup successes such as virtual reality laboratory simulation app Labster, email client Mailbird and cafe management software Smart Launch.
Bali’s popularity with digital monads has led to startups like Roam and Wifly Monads creating products and services catering to this growing market.