VIENTIANE - Tech-based startups are now amongst the fastest growing businesses in South-East Asia.
Recently, I read a news article that an Indonesian on-demand laundry start-up is set to represent Southeast Asia in a global competition in Silicon Valley, US. Ahlijasa is the name of the winning startup, which also offers mobile home cleaning and air-conditioning repair services, has won the right to compete with 15 other start-ups from around the world at the 2017 Startup World Cup championships in Silicon Valley, the world’s major start-up and technology centre.
Ahlijasa, which in a regional championship beat nine other Southeast Asian start-ups from Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines, will have the chance to win US$1 million at the event, which is organised by Silicon Valley-based Fenox Venture Capital.
Ahlijasa, which serves as a connector between dozens of independent laundry services and customers through its website and mobile application, is just one of the many emerging tech-based start-ups to have achieved success from offering to ease Indonesians’ daily lives. According to the Ministry of Communication and Informatics, Indonesia now is the home of nearly 1,000 tech-based start-ups worth 1 percent of GDP which is around US$9 billion.
Startups can really reflect how creative young people are in bringing almost unlimited kinds of solutions to ease daily living. In Indonesia, many mobile application based businesses and other emerging tech-based startups, which are not necessarily e-commerce, have managed to provide many benefit to people’s daily lives.
They can provide solutions for bad traffic conditions through mobile applications for motorbike taxis, help people travel, mobile home-cleaning services, an online library, mobile-laundry services, mobile air-conditioning and vehicle repairmen, easily help people to send goods or even fresh-food, long-distance learning, e-commerce, party organisers etc. All of that by just using your smart-phone and the best thing is the cost is usually cheaper than a conventional service provider.
A startup is also the kind of business that can easily cross national borders and attract foreign investment as well.
In Laos, startups have already been introduced and while some local-people are able to find items or any other needs online, overall e-commerce is still not that popular here in Laos.
I remember receiving an invitation to attend a discussion on startups held in Vientiane back in April 2016. The discussion featured several speakers from Thailand, Laos and other countries.
It was an interesting discussion but unfortunately the level of participation was still low.
At Lao ICT Expo in December 2016, I saw one or two tech-based startups trying to attract visitors at the Expo but they were less successful than booths of international brands like Samsung, Huawei, LG and others.
One of them came from Indonesia which provides mobile English learning courses. Some Lao students who visited the company booth were happy and excited that they can learn English only through their gadget. The dompany is based in Jakarta but already succeeded to expand its business to Vietnam.
The internet had been acknowledged by the UN as one of the most important factors in global development and a way to support achievement of SDGs. Even in Indonesia there is internet based food stocking and food distribution management which designed to support SDG 2 attainment (which is probably applicable as well here in Laos).
Since Laos’ national development planning is now in-line with the UN SDGs and the first thing for Asean to be integrated will most-likely be the digital-economy, therefore this is probably the right time to begin optimising what the internet can offer for the betterment of the Lao national interest.
One lecturer at the National University of Laos expressed concerns that young people in Laos can only take part as consumers on the internet but are not able to use it in a more productive manner.
The digital economy is projected to play a bigger role in Asean with the region’s combined economy currently valued at US$2.5 trillion and projected to grow at 6 percent per annum over the next decade.
Especially for users aged 30 years and below the future is likely to see their income levels rise, giving them more disposable cash. The continued developments in technology will open up even more avenues for them to spend this extra money.
In Asean around 270 million people under 30 years of age have access to the internet.
This under 30 group is technologically savvy and most likely to contribute to the growth of the digital economy by using the internet for anything from shopping and banking to hailing a taxi and booking a hotel, or even finding a partner with the fast-growing number of dating apps.
Startups are usually very attractive to young people. They have the energy and enough creativity to make a startup. Just like in other countries I am confident that Lao young people have the material to become regional players and can contribute to Laos’ development including in the digital economy.
The article was written by Wishnu Krisnamurthi, the First Secretary of the Indonesian Embassy in Vientiane.