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20 Countries and 4 Continents: How Travel led an Entrepreneur to Build a Platform to Connect the World’s Startups

Inspired by a year of traveling abroad in tech hubs, Jonathan Moed started Startup Universal, which now has 26 country guides, covering many of Southeast Asia’s key technology markets.

Disclaimer: This article was written by a community contributor. All content is written by and reflects the personal perspective of the writer himself. If you’d like to contribute, you can apply here

Jonathan Moed is the founder of Startup Universal and a contributing writer for Forbes covering global startups and entrepreneurs. Startup Universal is a content platform designed to showcase global tech startups around the world, and in partnership, has contributed startup guides to our readers.

Foreword by Author
My entrepreneurial journey is anything but typical, leading me across 20 countries and 4 continents. It all began when I quit my job at a large e-commerce startup in 2017, and left New York City to travel and work around the world for an entire year. I wish I could take credit for what in hindsight was the most enriching year of my life, but the credit goes to my wife Zoe, who planted the idea. When I kicked off my trip, I could have never imagined what and who I would come across, and how it would inspire a mission to showcase startups around the world, especially those in emerging markets like Southeast Asia. 

A Year-Long Course in Global Entrepreneurship

From the moment I left the U.S. and flew to Southeast Asia, I committed to learning what it means to start up in different environments and markets around the world. Selfishly, I wanted to understand the unique growth opportunities in each market, and to track the transfer of ideas, people, and businesses across the globe. Practically speaking, I wanted to meet with local startups and entrepreneurs in each of the countries I visited, but I didn’t know anybody in these countries.

Upon arriving in each country, I immediately set out to find local community events such as tech meetups or mixers. I reserved space in local co-working spaces, and regularly worked out of these spaces to develop local relationships. In particular, I sought out the community managers of the co-working spaces given their extensive networks and knowledge. I then scheduled meetings with select local startups and investors to interview them and learn more. Finally, as I was getting ready to venture to my next country, I made sure to ask my new network whether they had contacts they could connect me with in my next stop. I came to appreciate how truly small the international startup community is, and how generous its members are.

By year’s end, with a little luck, networking and hustle, I ended up diving into each startup community I traveled to across Asia, Africa, Europe, and South America. I met with leading venture capitalists, government officials, and founders to learn about the unique dynamics in each country: the achievements, differentiators, limitations, and most importantly, the growth potential. I also began covering my experiences and insights as a contributor for Forbes.

Exploring the world of African Equity Crowdfunding Platforms in Cape Town, South Africa. Photo courtesy of Startup Universal.

Creating a Stage for the Emerging World’s Startups

I left my time abroad inspired by the amazing people and ideas I encountered, but also bothered by the lack of coverage of emerging startup ecosystems. As I traveled, I was constantly looking for information and resources regarding each ecosystem, but what I found was scattered and outdated.

It became apparent I wasn’t the only one facing this issue. Whether it be aspiring entrepreneurs looking to get their start, expats moving to a new market and looking to build their network, or international investors searching for new opportunities, there was a real unaddressed need–an information gap. Moreover, in regions like Southeast Asia, Latin America, and Sub-Saharan Africa, where there’s less capital and less experienced talent relative to the world’s mature startup hubs, high quality information is even more crucial to the broader growth and success of startup ecosystems.

This realization served as the spark for Startup Universal, a content platform covering global startup ecosystems and democratizing startup content. After building a small internal team and spending a year working directly with local ecosystem leaders around the world to develop content, I launched the site in February 2020. Startup Universal provides an in-depth introduction to startup ecosystems, including country guides developed by leading local investors and entrepreneurs, and curated news covering the latest trends and developments.

Currently, the site has 26 country guides, including guides covering many of Southeast Asia’s key technology markets, and we are continuing to add more. As it says on the site itself, “by shining a light on what’s happening around the world—specifically in ecosystems that are growing, but don’t yet have a global presence—Startup Universal aims to facilitate increased communication across borders and more effectively realize international opportunities.”

Meeting Vietnamese startups at the TechFest Vietnam conference in Hanoi, Vietnam. Photo courtesy of Startup Universal.

Ecosystem Building in the time of COVID-19

Given the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact it has had on startups, it’s imperative now more than ever to spread the word about what’s happening on the ground in startup communities and the many ways technology is being used to address real-world issues. As a global community, we should not be focused solely on the negative impact of COVID-19, but we should also be celebrating the achievements of our startup ecosystems, and focusing on the next wave of innovation that will be generated in response to the current climate. Capital resources may be in shorter supply, but information resources are standing strong. Having access to the right information today will increase the chance of long-term ecosystem growth in the future.