The continent of the 21st century: Venture Voices

Two investors from Europe share their thoughts on the startup climate in ASEAN.

Photo by Chen Hu on Unsplash Photo by Chen Hu on Unsplash

For the previous entries of our “Venture Voices” series, KrASIA’s writers have featured feedback from investors based in Southeast Asia, but regional startups depend on capital coming from outside of Asia too. In this week’s entry, we spoke with two venture capitalists who are based in Europe, and why they think the business conditions and ingenuity within the region warrant attention.

In Denmark, Jan-Cayo Fiebig, a general partner at 3B Ventures, looked at the fundamentals:

ASEAN is, for me, the most attractive market to scale early-stage tech ventures when looking at social and financial return. The staggering growth of Southeast Asia’s digital economy, where a rising middle class will soon have 490 million internet users, cannot be overlooked!

Fiebig points out that capital from the West is following Chinese money into the region:

Yet not enough European B2C ventures leverage such market dynamics. I don’t blame them. European VCs, including their LPs, follow what is familiar and what has worked in the past. On the bright side, strong investment activities into ASEAN led by Chinese tech giants Alibaba, Baidu, and Tencent are not left unnoticed. EU-based funds and vehicles with an ASEAN outlook such as 3B Ventures (Denmark), Unifier.vc (Germany), or EQT (Sweden) are creating awareness.

A clear path for me is to engage and collaborate with active ASEAN investors, especially corporate venture captial. It is important to be able to build cross-border partnerships, facilitate co-investments, and de-risk Asian focused initiatives.

In the United Kingdom, Cyrille Antignac, the founder and managing partner of Uberis Capital, had this to say about the startup environment in ASEAN:

For VCs outside the region, ASEAN is shaping up as an increasingly attractive destination for venture capital investment. Reasons for this include a growing pool of tech-savvy enterprises and a growing population of young entrepreneurs. ASEAN has recorded ten unicorns between 2012 and 2017, compared to none in the prior decades. A recent report by Bain on venture capital in ASEAN predicts that ten more enterprises will reach unicorn status by 2024. This shows an accelerating trend.

For us, this comes as a result of sound demographics with a median age of 25, compounded by a rising level of highly educated human capital throughout ASEAN, itself a promising block of emerging economies at the center of Asia. We see Asia as the continent of the 21st century, with massive room for growth in ASEAN economies. Impact Investing is trailing the same trend, with large socio-economic problems to solve for populations.

Jan-Cayo Fiebig is a general partner at 3B Ventures, a Danish venture capital firm based in Copenhagen that places a special focus on startups aiming to address one of more of the 17 social or environmental issues included in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, particularly in emerging markets. 3B Ventures is currently not investing but it recently launched a USD 60 million Frontier Fund II for startups in Southeast Asia, the United States, and Europe. Fiebig is also a steering member at the Nordic Impact Investing Network (NIIN), where he helps connects impact investors with tech startups in Nordic countries. Previously, Fiebig was the co-founder and COO of CodersTrust, an organization that impacts over 60,000 lives in emerging countries by providing them with access to tech-based education and micro loans. 

Cyrille Antignac is the founder, chairman, and managing partner of Uberis Capital, which was founded in 2012 to pioneer impact investing where investments are made with an added intention of having a measurable social or environmental impact. The firm has a multinational team and has made investments in smart agriculture, waste recycling, and mobile platforms in North America, Europe, Africa, and Asia.

This article is part of “Venture Voices”, a series where the writers of KrASIA speak with venture capitalists based in Southeast Asia to get their takes on topics of interest.