Three Southeast Asian startups drew the attention of Japanese telco giant NTT
Ricky Willianto of Ravenry, Nurma Larasati of Halal Local, and Hai Ho of Triip
As Southeast Asia gears towards becoming the fourth-largest economy in the world by 2030, startups from the region’s tech ecosystem are granted the unique opportunity to expand globally. Fortunately for these startups, they are not only armed by brilliant ideas that could usher in a new age of innovation, but they are also supported by different government and non-government institutions operating in their respective countries.
But as all great things, the region must not remain complacent with the flourishing momentum that these startups are experiencing. It must, therefore, be acknowledged that good domestic performance does not always translate to international success.
Startups in Big Data, artificial intelligence, fintech, and economy are among the most vulnerable areas of business because of the risk factor enshrined in their models. It is no secret that businesses whose driving force is to make critical and meaningful impact are also at a higher risk because of the nature in which these startups are out to fundamentally revolutionise the very way we live.
It is also for these reasons that telco giant NTT Ltd. is drawn to startups cropping up from the region: for their strong sense of purpose and the propensity for their products and services to be adopted by a larger, global market.
NTT Ltd, which is a global technology services company, brings together the expertise of leaders in the field, including NTT Communications, Dimension Data, and NTT Security. They have partnered with organizations around the world to shape and achieve outcomes through intelligent technology solutions.
With the aid of NTT’s resources and its established platform, startups from the region can access a larger, global market and expand their business not only in Japan but all over the world.
Such is the case for PolicyPal who, in 2017, partnered up with global insurance giant, AXA, by launching the AXA Term Protector on the PolicyPal mobile application. PolicyPal—a digital insurance platform for consumers to organise all their insurance products in one interface—struck this partnership with the global giant to help consumers access AXA’s life insurance policies with a simple click of a button.
This partnership resulted in PolicyPal’s global expansion, proving that startups can use existing resources and the established platforms of large global enterprises to expand their businesses all over the world.
The startup is not alone on this path. Tookitaki, an enterprise software solutions provider that creates sustainable compliance programmes, partnered with the United Overseas Bank (UOB) back in 2018 to apply machine learning technology toward anti-money laundering efforts.
The initiative sought to enhance Tookitaki’s Anti-Money Laundering Suite (AMLS) with co-created machine-learning features that enable the product to initiate wider and more accurate analyses of any data. As a result, Tookitaki was granted the opportunity to collaborate with an established global giant that enabled the Singapore-based tech startup to effectively expand their operations on a global scale.
As we usher in a new era of startups taking on the global stage, which startups are global giants like NTT watching out for?
Ravenry — establishing strong connections, building credibility
Ricky Willianto is CEO and co-founder of Ravenry, a Singapore-based startup that provides highly customized research in as fast as 48 hours to help businesses make better decisions.
Globally, the research industry is dominated by a handful of big names focused on expensive and time-consuming consultative-type research. Many of these players do not have a strong presence and knowledge about emerging markets like Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, and Vietnam — whereas these are countries that are experiencing rapid growth and where research is sorely needed.
Ravenry saw this as an opportunity and built local capabilities to service companies that are interested in entering these markets. Nonetheless, a major challenge for a young startup like Ravenry is its lack of reputation and credibility, Willianto noted.
“Research is a trust business and trust takes a long time to build. The biggest research companies out there are not competing on capabilities alone. A lot of the purchasing decisions are based on the research company’s track record and brand strength. Ravenry is still a very young company, and it’s hard trying to convince people we can deliver on quality — and that we will be around (long enough) to actually deliver them,” he remarked.
In 2018, Willianto stumbled upon the NTT Startup Challenge and participated in the massive pitch event — and now 12 months later, NTT is a client and partner of Ravenry.
“NTT was very much committed to helping startups succeed. The top teams were flown into Tokyo for a conference that was held solely for the startups to pitch to a broader audience. We met with various internal stakeholders within NTT, as well as the largest companies and investors in Japan.
“Now, NTT actively connects us to relevant buyers from their client portfolio. This vote of confidence has been key in helping us grow our Japanese clientele,” Willianto said, noting that NTT’s status as Japan’s largest telco has lent Ravenry the credibility the startup was lacking.
NTT Ltd. also has a business entity worldwide and potential global users. Ravenry could expand its customer base and credibility globally in further collaboration with NTT Ltd. in the future.
Halal Local – eyes on Tokyo Olympics 2020
Meanwhile, Nurma Larasati, the founder and CEO of Bandung-based Halal Local — had set a lofty goal to participate in the Tokyo Olympics 2020. The startup found it hard to network to get started as the company did not have a physical presence in Japan.
“There are 140 million Muslim travellers worldwide, frequently facing the same problem of finding Halal food in Muslim-minority countries. Halal Local is the solution in the form of a mobile app comprehensively listing 50,000 validated Halal and Muslim-friendly restaurants in over 140 countries,” she said.
Currently, the halal travel market accounts for 10% of the entire travel industry globally, and the number of Muslim tourists is expected to exceed 200 million by 2020. Thus, Larasati sees the potential the Tokyo 2020 Olympics signifies with an expected one million inbound Muslim travellers over the course of the Games.
“This year we focused on partnering with local restaurants in Indonesia to be our official tenants, and so far more than 300 restaurants have signed up with us. Our plan is to participate in the halal travelling market of Tokyo Olympics 2020 and thus we are actively looking for partners and collaborations,” she added.
Halal Local received the Orange Fab Award at the NTT Startup Challenge, and a few months later were invited to the Orange Fab Demo Day 2019 event in Tokyo.
“We visited the NTT Communications office and also presented and exhibited Halal Local in the Orange Fab event. We networked with key players in the travel space, VCs, and other startups and businesses. This network would have been much harder to come by without the global stage the NTT Startup Challenge gave us,” she enthused.
NTT appointed as Fist Gold Partner for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and will provide “Telecommunications Services”. Further collaboration with NTT would be expected.
Triip – shaking up the global travel industry
Triip pitched this summer in the TV show “Shark Tank Vietnam.” The appearance yielded a $500,000 investment for the company.
Another travel startup — this time in the sustainable travel space — is Singapore-based Triip. The company provides first-to-market blockchain solutions for sustainable travel and aims to shake up the US$7.6 trillion global travel industry.
“Triip’s technology addresses the problem the current travel economy has of being dominated by inefficient, large middlemen while providing an incentive-driven and decentralised system. We are a decentralised travel data marketplace, and our platform helps local travel businesses to save 30-50% on user acquisition cost” and enables travelers to buy directly from local suppliers at a lower cost, Founder and CEO Hai Ho said.
Having just completed a pre-series A funding round of US$500,000, Triip has its eyes set on an international expansion with a focus on countries where blockchain adoption is high like Russia, Turkey, Indonesia, and Vietnam.
“The NTT Startup Challenge was our final test to see whether the public can accept the concept of travel data exchange. We won a regional award in Vietnam then we got a chance to present our product in Tokyo. Japanese are very particular about data privacy yet they fully understand our fair business model on travel data trading. We then won the best pitch award in Tokyo.
“The NTT programme challenged us to simplify our complicated tech platform to make it easier for the layman to understand. Winning the best pitch also strengthened our confidence that a tough market like Japan would welcome our business model. Moreover, we met with many Japan investors and startups interested in blockchain technology – a key win for us as Japan is the world’s number 2 market for blockchain and cryptocurrency,” Ho recounted.
NTT Startup Challenge
NTT Ltd., the organizer of NTT Startup Challenge expanded the global footprint with more than 40,000 employees worldwide and deliver services in over 200 countries and regions, after their reorganization. Startups could leverage the capability and resources of NTT Ltd. to expand its business.
The latest Indonesian edition of the challenge is now open for applications, with a focus on startups in Big Data, artificial intelligence, fintech, and economy. The NTT Startup Challenge will take place over two days (20-21 November), with the first day being the final stage pitch and the second day an invitation-only matching event.
The top 10 startups will be selected to participate in the final stage pitch event in front of distinguished speakers and judges such as KK Fund founder and general partner Kuan Hsu, Waseda Business School professor Akie Iriyama, Orange Japan partnership manager Hiroshi Nishikawa, Panasonic Game Changer Catapult Director Masa Fukata, and STRIVE Ventures partner Nikhil Kapur.
At the end of the first day, winners will be announced, with cash prizes of US$10,000, partner awards (such as Orange Fab) and an invitation to the next day’s matching event up for grabs. Southeast Asia startups that are keen to get a leg up into the global established ecosystem can apply here.
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