What you need to know
After some years of a stagnant growth in the tech sector, Taiwanese startups are on the rise again.
A casual observer would be forgiven for thinking that Taiwan’s tech startup sector is in a desperate state.
Over the past few years, Taiwan’s tech sector has been in In 2010, , rivaling Apple, but it has gone downhill as more competitors surfaced. Many argue that Taiwan’s has held the overall tech industry back. Some will even point to the fact that the big players in the sector tend to be run by elderly businessmen who are less inclined to innovate than the young hotshots of Silicon Valley.
Another well-worn argument is that Taiwanese companies are in marketing, design, and branding as they cannot guarantee tangible short term benefits in the form of increased sales. While the likes of Apple are now reaping the long-term rewards of their investment in these areas, the big Taiwanese companies have been left trailing in their wake.
There is merit to all of these arguments and this conservative mindset has clearly impacted Taiwanese startups, too. There have been of young people feeling pressured into safe roles in established companies in Taiwan or overseas rather than encouraged to take risks and start their own businesses.
However, Taiwan’s tech startup sector is heading to a better direction now than it was five years ago.
Government programs such as (台灣新創競技場) and have offered young local tech entrepreneurs access to both funding and expertise to help get their ideas off the ground while also seeking to attract foreign entrepreneurs to Taiwan.
Gogoro, an electric scooter manufacturer, is one of the high-profile success stories from these programs.
Gogoro’s founder Horace Luke, who tellingly is originally from Hong Kong rather than Taiwan, walked away from a senior role at HTC to start his own venture in 2011 and raised an impressive US$180 million (NT$5.5 billion) in total equity funding. Luke has spent heavily on marketing and branding for both his company and products and is now reaping the rewards of that investment. The company is now valued at more than US$1 billion (NT$31 billion) and is often described as the Tesla of scooters.
Plenty of other Taiwanese startups are looking to follow Gogoro’s footsteps. While Gogoro’s business is built primarily on hardware, many of these new ventures are built on software innovations.
You may have heard of some of these startups before, others will be new to you, but here is a rundown of the five noteworthy Taiwanese startups.
91App is a startup which helps other businesses to streamline the process of app development. It was founded by Stephen Ho, often called the Godfather of E-commerce in Taiwan, and run by a group of ex-Yahoo! staffers.
91App has raised funds from various sources, including Appworks, a Taiwanese start-up accelerator. The startup has attracted much of its funding due to its strong client list.
These clients are drawn by 91App’s ability to create functional and user-friendly apps in a cost-effective manner within a short time frame. At a time when apps are increasingly important for even small businesses, 91App has already found a valuable market position and the sky is the limit for this exciting Taiwanese venture.
Founded by former Acer employee Pokai Chen, AirSig has created a new way of electronic signature and authentication using a mobile device.
AirSig users simply have to do is wave their mobile device in the path of their own signature, and transactions are immediately – and paperlessly – authenticated. Another neat feature is the ability to open any app from the lock screen simply by writing an alphabet in the air.
AirSig has already attracted investment from Foxconn and other sources. Its technology has also won a number of awards including the top award at the 2014 APEC Accelerator Network Summit.
Developed by the startup company Gogolook (since bought out by Naver, the Korean company behind LINE), Whoscall is a caller ID system which helps users identify callers and filter out nuisance calls.
Its app also features the ability to blacklist callers and includes a user-generated database that helps to identify potentially malicious contacts.
Whoscall was named Google’s Best Apps in Asia back in 2013. With its parent company now in the hands of Naver, the future continues to look bright for Whoscall.
For a while, stylus was very much out of vogue. But as smartphones get larger and more functional and tablets begin to take market share from laptops, stylus is finding its place again.
In that revived market comes Adonit, a joint Taiwan-US venture which manufactures capacitive styluses and, more recently, device charging accessories primarily for Apple devices.
The company raised its initial capital on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter. But it has subsequently raised funding from other areas and also announced ambitious plans to move into software. The company has quickly become an established brand and sold over 2 million styluses.
While all the other startups on our list are mostly focused on software, Brain Navi is making rapid strides in the biotechnology world.
Founded in 2015 by a group of medical professionals, and headquartered in the Hsinchu Biomedical Science Park, Brain Navi offers a location system to help surgeons carry out complex brain surgery without causing inadvertent damage to other areas of the brain.
Brain Navi integrates cutting edge techniques such as computer vision, artificial intelligence, and surgical robots to enable neurosurgeons to improve accuracy during their operations. Patients with neurological disorders like brain tumors, Parkinson’s Disease, and epilepsy can greatly benefit from the system's precision.
While Brain Navi is still young, it has received global recognition for its pioneering approach. Its significant impact on the healthcare sector and the patients treated will likely turn the startup into an industry leader in the future.
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TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)