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[Tuning In] Elisa Chiu, founder of Anchor Taiwan, spotlights Taiwan’s supply chain boosted innovation ecosystem

Elisa Chiu uncovers how companies in Taiwan’s supply-chain and traditional sectors are creatively pivoting in times of disruption across global markets.

Elisa Chiu is an entrepreneur and investor who operates at the intersection of tech innovation, strategic investment, and cross-border collaboration. She sailed from Wall Street with a decade of experience at top tier investment banks and hedge funds, overseeing more than USD 1 billion assets in pan-pacific Asia. She founded Anchor Taiwan, an award-winning platform to provide industry access and market immersion, and Anchor Venture Partners, an early-stage investment platform to combine her passion for startups and her expertise in capital markets. Elisa was awarded “40 Under 40” as a “Woman in Tech” in 2018 and recognized as one of the “30 Women Power” by New Taipei City Government in 2019.

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Elisa Chiu, Founder of Anchor Taiwan

KrASIA (Kr): Very happy to have you here, Elisa. You’re an industry expert and highly entrepreneurial, and you know Taiwan’s landscape well. Can you quickly summarize what the landscape of Taiwan’s innovation and startup ecosystem currently looks like?

Elisa Chiu (EC): First of all, super awesome to be here and saying hello from Taipei. For a quick intro about the innovation ecosystem here in Taiwan,  I try to dissect the ecosystem usually from talent, capital, government involvement, and also market perspectives.

The Taiwan startup ecosystem is actually largely involved with the government. So there are a lot of different government initiatives from the central governments, including the Ministry of Science and Technology, Ministry of Economic Affairs, the National Development Council, and more. There’s a lot of government initiatives. You will come across a lot of government-driven initiatives and programs for startup founders, and even on the investment side. I think it’s also useful to understand in terms of the cross border basis of which markets Taiwan historically has been closed with. Historically, Taiwan has had pretty strong ties with the US, particularly with Silicon Valley.

With big tech companies in Silicon Valley, there are many Taiwanese Americans as their leaders, such as Nvidia and AMD. In addition to Silicon Valley, there’s also China. Foxconn and other players from the supply chain have their presence in China as well. A lot of people ask me why they should come to Taiwan as founders or investors. We have a lot of talent who are good at software and hardware integration; there are a lot of general engineers due to their decades of industry expertise around semiconductors, panels, etc. From manufacturing to even software companies which are looking for places as their pilot markets here in Taiwan, those are all some elements to consider if you want to look for your next innovation ecosystem to get into.

Kr: I’m curious to know more about the supply chain and traditional sectors that you’ve mentioned. Can you let us know what are the strong industries in Taiwan that you’re seeing right now and break it down for us?

EC: Supply chain definitely is a keyword for Taiwan. I’ll break it down into two segments. One is more around ICT supply chains namely information and communications technology like semiconductor panels, iPhone, and notebook. This can be about consumer electronics that we are familiar with, and enterprise B2B business in servers, advanced chip manufacturing etc. Another side is more around non ICT supply chain like traditional industries including plastic, metal, cement, so on and so forth.

In Taiwan, out of all listed companies, 800 of them are from the ICT industry as of 2019, contributing a lot to our economy and cross border economic activities. Now increasingly, we also have a lot of players getting into the electric vehicle space. For example, Quanta, Compal, and even Foxconn. Quanta’s non-notebook revenue even accounted for over 50% in 2019, with automotive electronics, servers, cloud and AI devices continue to grow. They’re also transforming along with the industry as well. One very strong sector around the ICT supply chain in Taiwan is around semiconductors. TSMC stands for Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company and they are the biggest contract semiconductor foundry in the world with over 50% market share.

Another side of the sort of supply chain is the non ICT supply chains. From plastic, petrochemical textiles, we actually manufacture and supply to a lot of the world’s biggest brands like Nike, Adidas, Lululemon, and more. There are a lot of big players in Taiwan that power all these big brands from around the world, even when it comes to things like cement and metals (even screws).

But whether from the ICT sector or non-ICT sectors, they are really rich with their cash balance. When it comes to having enough dry powder to invest into innovation, they can. These companies are still generating billions and billions of revenue every year, but to stay relevant, some of them are turning into startups to look for partners and solutions. Hence, it’s an amazing place to look for potential partners and investors among them.

Kr: Thank you for sharing that. It’s interesting to see enterprises, who have been around for so long, start to pivot and become like startups again. On that note, I want to bring up something I read in Taipei Times, which was an article on how 450 companies pledged to invest TWD 1 trillion under a government incentive program and is attracting Taiwanese manufacturers to return home. I’m curious to know if the supply chain industry has been broken or disrupted, and how do you see Taiwan evolving in this?

EC: This “coming back home” initiative has started since 2019. We saw a wave of Taiwanese companies moving from China back to Taiwan. This whole initiative started during the US-China trade war and COVID-19 definitely accelerated this whole movement. We’re seeing a lot of big players like Quanta move. The government has to think about which companies or what kind of industries they should attract back.

And when they move back, they need to think of ways to simultaneously upgrade the system and basically inject, for example, AI solutions or industry 4.0 solutions so we can keep industries and factories that are more competitive with a higher margin.

As for the China trade war and COVID-19, the supply-chain industry in Taiwan is so far actually one of the beneficiaries. Many major manufacturing players in Taiwan have actually increased their Q1 and Q2 revenues and their numbers look actually better than expected. Some of them did even better than last year. Obviously, I still hope the whole world will get better because—as you know—these days, not a single player can operate in isolation forever. So, we still want the whole world to recover and basically to get back to normal soon.

Taiwan is getting more and more visibility. There’s one industry leader that I respect a lot, who is the founder and president of Digitimes, Colley Hwang. He actually told me that Taiwan is a harmless partner. So essentially, we get a really good corner, which is in our DNA and in our culture because traditionally, when you observe, we’re very good at OEM and ODM. Taiwan works with big brands and has the specs, and we’re just really good at realizing the best products and services in the world. Technology often becomes one of the bargaining chips in global politics. Taiwan doesn’t have as much agenda and because of our size and our history, I think increasingly people realize that we are actually a good partner when it comes to both manufacturing and also other types of collaboration.

Kr: This is a good segway into my next question as well. What is your general approach or advice to those who want to make capital investments in this space, and work closely with Taiwan? 

EC: I started Anchor Taiwan in 2017, essentially focusing more on innovation programs and entrepreneurial residency. We believe that Taiwan can really play a role when it comes to contributing to the best teams and startups, realizing their solutions to build a better world. We are very cross-border focused and we believe that the toughest issue in the world is that we need people to come together to find and build that solution. We started our investment arm Anchor Venture Partners in 2019. I came from a late-stage investment background. After running the program for two years, we started seeing some of the startups that we brought over, landing in Taiwan and working really well with our industries.

For international founders looking to come into Taiwan for talent, capital, markets, or partnership, the first thing to think about is what’s your Taiwan angle? Think about why these investors should invest in you. What unique value proposition do you have to bring? If you are looking for capital as an international startup founder coming to Taiwan, the good news is that more and more overseas Taiwanese, especially quite a few from Silicon Valley, are coming back to Taiwan. Many of them brought back the Silicon Valley type of entrepreneurship, mindsets, the investing styles, so on and so forth.

There’s a report showing that in the last four or five years or so when it comes to startup funding, over 50% actually came from CVC (corporate venture capital) in Taiwan. That gives you an indication where you don’t need to only focus on the traditional, more financial return driven kind of investors or angels. There are also traditional accelerators and VCs. Another area is seeking out the financial holding companies, which are among the richest when it comes to cash balance and a lot of them have their own venture arms with a diverse portfolio. They typically focus on later-stage companies because of the structure and the culture within financial holding companies, but those are definitely targets if you are slightly more mature, usually with A or beyond startups.

Kr: I have certainly seen corporations and banks build out their own venture arms. It’s a smart move. My last question to you would be: Are there any resources that entrepreneurs should tap into considering Taiwan’s industries, and do you have general last comments that you would want to give to our listeners?

EC: It’s a given that the government is hugely involved in the startup ecosystem here in Taiwan. Look into different initiatives under different ministries. There are three that I have mentioned earlier, which are the MOST with TTA, MOEA with Startup Terrace, NDC with TSS.

One thing that I would caution is to try to avoid getting or becoming into a “B2G” kind of company because very often I see startups just become highly professional grant writers, and they get into different programs and grants. It’s important to get that right balance and to know your options, but also understand that sometimes, the resources might come with strings attached. Find out what events are available out there and start meeting the local ecosystem builders. Those are also great ways to kick off your new chapters here in Taiwan. The good thing here is that because Taiwan is relatively small, even though we do have 23 million people, it’s a meaningful pilot market and still relatively easy to navigate. Instead of being a small fish in a big pond, if you really work hard, it’s actually easy to get noticed and to get seen. So, get yourself here and find the right people. In Taiwan, people are willing to help.

Kr: This is immensely helpful to entrepreneurs or capital investors looking to expand in Taiwan. We do have two more chats with Elisa Chiu, the second one is on capital markets, and the third one is on Taiwan’s market and talent. So, if you’re around, please stick around and listen to those two. Thanks again Elisa, I really appreciate you being here.

Tuning In is a new KrASIA series where we interview and chat intimately with thought leaders who are breaking the mold, pushing innovation along and are trailblazing figures in their space. To read similar stories, please hop on to Oasis, the brainchild of KrASIA. 

Disclaimer: This article is part of our “Tuning In” series. All answers reflect the personal perspective of the interviewee herself, and not KrASIA’s. If you’d like to contribute as a writer or nominate someone for our “Tuning In” series, you can email us at community@kr-asia.com.