This article was originally published in The Low Down by Momentum Works.
From halal fashion to food, there is a mushrooming number of Islamic startups in Southeast Asia. Specifically, these Islamic-related startups in Southeast Asia are coming from Brunei, Singapore, and Malaysia, pandering to the demands of Muslim consumers across the region. In this special edition, we will be examining the role of the internet in aiding Islamic-related startups and how it created opportunities for emerging technopreneurs. Specifically, how governments have supported these emerging entrepreneurs to enter the Muslim market.
It is an indisputable fact that due to globalization, there is an ever-increasing number of people gaining access to the internet. While some are using the internet for keeping updated with the news, others are using it to stay connected with their family, friends, and acquaintances from abroad. According to Hootsuite, in Southeast Asia alone, 53% of the entire population has access to the internet. Of the 53% who has access to the internet, 90.2% of them are active Social Media users (e.g. Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter). From 2016 to 2017, the sheer number of Social Media users in the region has grown by 31%. According to the percentage of users by country, the top three countries with the most internet penetration (Brunei, Singapore, and Malaysia) are some of the countries in the region that has a sizable Muslim population.
The large percentage of internet penetration meant that there is a widening opportunity for emerging businesses to target the internet users within the region. With Brunei emerging as the largest percentage of internet users in the region, it provides ample opportunity for local startups to emerge. Interestingly, Brunei is also one of the Muslim majoritarian states in the region. Seeing that the internet provides ample opportunities for business making, many young entrepreneurs have marketed products from their startups on internet-based platforms such as Instagram and Facebook. One such brand is Soulkonekshen. While Soulkonekshen does not have a brick-and-mortar shop, business transactions are exclusively conducted online with clients from the region on Instagram. Soulkonekshen offers a wide variety of design for Muslim male and female consumers. With its pool of consumers in the region, Soulkonekshen has announced that it will be expanding its business into the Indonesian market as well.
Supporting Islamic Startups
While the internet has proven to be a viable platform for aspiring entrepreneurs to enter the Muslim market, government boards in these countries have played helpful roles in facilitating these businesses. In order to help emerging entrepreneurs to venture into the Muslim market, the Bruneian government has well-established funding bodies such as Rice Bowl Startup Awards to assist the financial needs of a startup across the region. That said, the Rice Bowl Startup Awards is not restricted to solely Islamic startups, it aims to support a broad range of startups in the region such as Agri Startup and E-Commerce Startup.
Apart from supporting Islamic startups with funds, Malaysia endeavors to create an Islamic silicon valley to promote Islamic startups across the region. By revamping parts of Kuala Lumpur into an Islamic silicon valley, Malaysia aims to create an incubator for Islamic business partnership, mentoring for new startups, and increased interaction between Islamic businesses. This is known as “Multaqa Hikmah” (ملتقى حكمة) which is translated as Wise/Wisdom Forum, launched in May 2017. Currently, the progress to develop Kuala Lumpur into an Islamic Silicon Valley is underway as funds and applications to register startups are being poured in.
With the generous support from local and regional organizations, many Islamic startups managed to gain a foothold in the region. Many of these Islamic startups aim to cater to both Muslim and non-Muslim clientele in the region, offering halal products to the halal advisory for its consumers. One of such is HalalTrip, which mirrors TripAdvisor, providing Halal directory and trip advice for Muslim consumers. It was started in Singapore and now it has branches across the world. Similarly, Islamic startups like Hijup aims to cater stylish and modest outfit to Muslim women and men. Like many startups based in Asia, these startups do not usually have a brick-and-mortar store and are based online. In most cases, orders are shipped from the main headquarters to the consumers.
Hipster Trend in Startups
Riding on the trend of venturing into the Muslim market, entrepreneurs are becoming creative in the recent years. Not only do they try to venture into fintech, these Islamic startups are also trying to be hipster in order to appeal to the younger consumers. In Singapore, Islamic startups tend to pander to the needs of the hipsters. One such “Hipster” startup is Have Halal will Travel (HHWT) – a similar concept to HalalTrips, which writes blog articles about Halal travelling recommendations and advices for the Muslim community. Similarly, HHWT mirrors TripAdvisor by coming up with HHWT mobile applications to give advice to Muslim travellers.
As HHWT aims to appeal to a diverse age group of consumers, it has produced videos about halal food places across Asia and other parts of Europe. These videos would then be uploaded onto social media platforms such as Facebook and they will be shared globally. This is to ensure that they will be able to get able to a wider coverage of audience. Such tactics have been similarly employed by other emerging startups as well like HungryGoWhere. With the availability of social media and the internet, it has inspired many Islamic startups to grow at a fast speed.
With the growing number of people gaining access to the internet across the region, it is little wonder why many Islamic startups could develop at a fast speed. As we become more integrated in the years to come, Islamic startup will certainly become a salient field.