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  • Writer's pictureTriet Nguyen

Venture Insight - Southeast Asia Startup Ecosystem: Correction or Transformation?

Photo of light at night in Southeast Asia, taken from outside the Earth

Welcome our esteemed readers to the latest edition of Venture Insight. Throughout this series, we aim to provide our readers a glance into the latest updates on the Fundraising landscape as well as Startup activities in the Southeast Asia region. In this issue, we will continue to explore some of the key findings from our recent Venture Capital trend report, conducted by our researchers at Wiziin Inc. The report includes valuable insights into the rising SEA Venture Capital landscape, the reasons behind the rise as well as future projections on the development direction of the market. Let's dive right in.

Key Takeaways

  1. SEA investment corrects: While region funding dropped 25% year-over-year, dry powder remains high. Early-stage startups see a 41% surge in deals, while "top-up" rounds climb 315%.

  2. Quality over quantity: Deal flow saw a drop as VCs tightened their belts. Investors are now prioritizing quality over quantity and demand for more quality startups.

  3. Landscape of potential: Despite short-term turbulence in market conditions, SEA Startup Ecosystem remains highly potential. Climate Tech, AI, and Fintech are emerging as hotbeds for investment, attracting smart money and seeking sustainable returns

Southeast Asia Startup Investment in the Correction Phase

Bar chart showing decline in startup funding amount
Source: Venture Capital trend report - Wiziin

Despite a 65% funding plunge from $12.4B in 2022 to $4.3B in 2023, SEA's startups weather the storm. Cautious investors reignite optimism through rising dry powder, hinting at long-term faith in the region's vibrant ecosystem.

Deal flow hit pre-COVID level but there is a shift of focus toward early-stage startups

Dry powder is still on the rise despite investors becoming increasingly cautious

Source: Venture Cap Insights, Tracxn, January Capital analysis.

According to the January Capital State of the ASEAN Technology Ecosystem Report, the decline in funding might seem alarming, but a closer look reveals a dynamic landscape. Early-stage startups are thriving, with seed and Series A deals experiencing a 41% surge, fueled by investor interest in nurturing future unicorns. This is further reinforced by the 315% increase in "top-up" rounds, showcasing continued support for promising ventures that have already demonstrated traction

A more cautious approach from the investors' side

During the last decade, the number of unicorns in the world has tenth-fold from 142 in 2015 to over 1200 last year. Fortune-grabbing success stories during the pandemic time led to a frenzy, where VC firms are jumping on opportunities faster in fear of losing out to competitors.

However, with a volatile 2022 fuelled by the collapses of FTX and SVB, a shift in investor sentiment is undeniable. Investors are now conducting stricter due diligence, prioritizing realistic returns over chasing fleeting hype. 

Line chart showing time between rounds of funding

This translates to longer funding gaps, demanding founders to demonstrate not just potential, but also a clear path to profitability and sustainable growth. Before COVID, this number ranged between 12-18 months. However, this range has extended to 18-24, with some cases requiring up to 34 months to go from one funding round to the next. 

The other side of the coin

With rising uncertainty, investors in the region are in high demand for more quality startups. Gone are the days of captivating VCs with mere ideas. Today, data-driven traction is king. This requires founders to sharpen their pitching game and be more persuasive through concrete traction, and a compelling profitability plan that speaks to long-term sustainability and value creation.

Moreover, if you are a founder these days, you need to equip yourself with a deep understanding of VC interests and tailor your pitch accordingly. This helps founders save their time during engagement with investors by focusing on showing aspects of their startups that truly resonate with VCs like proven market potentials, team expertise, and clearly defined exit strategies for investors.

Beyond the Correction: A Landscape Ripe with Potential

Despite the challenges, Southeast Asia's startup ecosystem remains brimming with potential. Jungle Ventures, a leading VC firm, predicts a valuation skyrocket for these businesses, from $340 billion to a staggering $1 trillion by 2025.

With the rising domination of the young populations (GenZ and millennials), characterized by a tech-savvy, novel-seeking mindset, the region was set as a fertile ground for innovation in sectors like e-commerce, healthcare, beauty, and the burgeoning Climate Tech space.

Technological Growth: Redefining the Game

While 5G's lightning-fast internet speeds and robust data transfer are revolutionizing online communication and transactions, the technological leap goes beyond mere connectivity. AI-powered chatbots are providing personalized customer service and solutions; automated logistics are optimizing delivery routes, and AR/VR experiences are blurring the lines between virtual and physical shopping. 

Source.AI - an AI-powered HR Tech startup based in SG help business match with their potential talent pool
Source.AI - an AI-powered HR Tech startup based in SG help business match with their potential talent pool

Digital payment platforms like e-wallets and QR codes are fueling financial inclusion, empowering even the unbanked to participate in the digital economy. Blockchain, once just a buzzword, with its recent Spot ETF approval, is now finding concrete applications in supply chain tracking, secure digital identities, and seamless cross-border transactions, bringing transparency and efficiency to diverse industries. 

E-commerce and Fintech continue to dominate the SEA funding landscape, but their evolution transcends mere online shopping and digital payments. Social commerce, where social media becomes the marketplace, and more financial services seamlessly integrate into our daily lives, is reshaping consumer behavior and driving exponential growth. Hyper-local delivery services, catering to specific neighborhoods and communities, are also further transforming the e-commerce landscape. 

The future of technology in SEA is not just about connecting, it's about redefining how we connect, transact, and experience the world around us.

Untapped Rural Market: Cultivating Opportunity

Beyond the glittering cityscapes, the vast rural markets of Southeast Asia present a hidden gem of potential. Countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand, where agriculture has been the lifeblood for generations, stand ripe for technological integration. Startups leveraging technology are inventing tools that optimize farming practices, from precision spraying to disease detection, while intelligent irrigation systems ensure optimal water usage. These innovations not only boost productivity but also conserve precious resources. 

eFishery - an Indonesian AgriTech Startup aiming to provide IoT-based automatic fish-feeding system
eFishery - an Indonesian AgriTech Startup aiming to provide IoT-based automatic fish-feeding system

But the opportunity extends beyond agriculture. Rural healthcare can be transformed through telemedicine consultations and AI-powered diagnostics, while education can be democratized through digital platforms and innovative learning tools. Financial services, long out of reach for many rural communities, can be made accessible through mobile banking and micro-insurance solutions. 

By harnessing technology's power, the vast potential of Southeast Asia's rural markets can be unlocked, creating a future where prosperity reaches every corner, not just the glittering skyscrapers.

Climate Focus and Sustainability: Seeding a Green Revolution

2023, one of the hottest years on record, served as a stark reminder of the urgency to tackle climate change. Southeast Asia, particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels and extreme weather events, is fertile ground for ClimateTech startups offering innovative solutions. 

Renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and hydro are witnessing unprecedented investment, as startups develop efficient and affordable technologies for energy generation and distribution. Carbon capture and storage technologies are no longer science fiction, as companies explore ways to sequester greenhouse gases and mitigate their impact. Climate-resilient agriculture, with its focus on drought-resistant crops and sustainable farming practices, is crucial for securing food security in the face of changing climate patterns. 

Beyond carbon reduction, the circular economy is also gaining traction, with startups promoting resource optimization and waste reduction initiatives. From repurposing plastic waste to creating sustainable packaging solutions, these innovations are closing the loop on resource consumption and building a more circular future. 

There have been players whose vision is set at the goal of a sustainable planet. Earth VC is a notable example. As the name speaks for itself, Earth VC invests globally in visionary startups tackling the world's most pressing environmental challenges. Their portfolio is filled with tangible solutions from renewable energy pioneers and revolutionary carbon capture innovators. Each investment carries the weight of a promise – a promise of cleaner air, greener landscapes, and a future where technology heals the planet, not harms it. Earth VC understands that profit alone isn't enough, and with every investment, they plant the seeds of a sustainable future for generations to come.

Main website of Earth VC
Earth Venture Capital - One of a few VC in the region with strong focus on Climate Tech

In conclusion

Southeast Asia's startup ecosystem stands at a crossroads. While navigating correction and investor caution, the region's inherent dynamism, technological advancements, and young talent hold the key to unlocking exponential growth. By embracing innovation and building robust businesses, Southeast Asian startups can become global game-changers, shaping the future of diverse industries.

Besides, increased scrutiny isn't all doom and gloom for Startups. It elevates the bar, pushing founders to build stronger businesses and develop deeper VC knowledge. This refocuses efforts on showcasing proven market potential, team expertise, and clear exit strategies.

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