HK Marketing Automation Startup Omnichat Moves Into Taiwan and GSEA With US$800K Seed Round Led by AppWorks

Hong Kong-based Alan Chan (left) and Lewis Pong (right) grew conversion rates for e-commerce clients 10x using their proprietary marketing automation software platform, Omnichat. They today announced a US$800k seed round led by AppWorks Ventures.

Hong Kong-based e-commerce messaging platform startup Omnichat today announced it has completed a seed round of US $800,000 (NT$ 24 million), led by AppWorks and other investors including the Aria Group.

Omnichat’s automated cross-platform marketing and customer relations management bots have helped its online merchant customers convert customers by up to 10 times typical rates during the COVID-19 outbreak. 

The seed funds will go towards customer acquisition and expansion in Taiwan, a US$42 billion a year digital economy, and prepare the startup for further expansion in Greater Southeast Asia marketing by moving into Singapore and Malaysia in 2021. Echoing tech developments in 2003, when the spread of SARS boosted the expansion of e-commerce in China and other parts of Asia, Omnichat’s rapid delivery of e-commerce solutions is helping online merchants survive radical pressure on business and stand out as leaders in a fast-growing regional digital economy. 

“Omnichat has an excellent team. They have built marketing automation technologies for online merchants based on their own experience selling things online. That is why their product became so popular so quickly.”Jamie Lin, Chairman and Partner of AppWorks, said. 

Omnichat has brought significant performance growth to e-commerce customers since its inception. The Hong Kong startup has recently worked with well-known Taiwanese e-commerce brands including HH Herbal, TOYSELECT, and international brands like Moët Hennessy. Conversions brought about by the use of an automatic shopping guide produces rates 5 to 10 times the average. 

Across its range of customers, conversion rates using Omnichat platform services are on average three to 7 times higher than those in the overall e-commerce industry. 

During February, two Taiwanese e-commerce merchants selling cosmetics and women’s health care products faced huge spikes in demand for COVID-19-related prevention products. These customer service messages on their websites and social platforms increased by 180% and 250%, respectively. Using Omnichat platform software, these partners were able to fluidly handle these spikes and understand customer motivation and needs through online chat, and quickly convert these interactions into sales.

Omnichat specializes in assisting e-commerce customers through cross-platform marketing, including obtaining lists from Facebook and websites, tracking customer browsing behavior, automatic shopping guides on the website, and Facebook / LINE / WhatsApp retargeting after leaving the site. The startup has a customer service system developed in-house that integrates websites, LINE, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp customers for clients, turning active community management into higher sales conversion rates.

Developed in Hong Kong, Omnichat is making its mark in Taiwan

Omnichat’s entrepreneurial pursuit comes from the pain points experienced by Hong Kong-born co-founder Alan Chan. In the process of setting up an e-commerce website in Hong Kong, he often found that he could not respond to customers’ inquiries on the website immediately, which led to the regret of missing the order. In 2017, he invested in the development of “real-time website customer service” technology and began his path in software entrepreneurship. 

In 2018, Alan Chan came to Taiwan to join AppWorks Accelerator and became an alumnus of AW #16. With the help of AppWorks, Omnichat has successfully carried out in-depth technical cooperation with a number of store opening platforms: including 91APP, WACA, EasyStore, and Cyberbiz (AW#14). 

All of these early customers have continued technical cooperation with Omnichat, such as membership profile linking, LINE / Messenger / WhatsApp order notification bots, and other functions. 

Alan Chan pointed out his reasons for being optimistic about Taiwan: “Taiwan’s e-commerce culture is popular and its development is very mature. Even small e-commerce companies attach great importance to indicators such as traffic, data analysis, membership management, and marketing conversion rate. They are very much in-line with Omnichat’s characteristics and simple software installation. Omnichat is very suitable for promotion to e-commerce companies,” he said. 

By the end of 2019, Omnichat had 3,600 new customers, of which more than 70% were from Taiwan, a number three times the new customers secured in Hong Kong. 

Omnichat is expected to expand and integrate new communication platforms such as WeChat and Telegram in 2020. Omnichat will launch an “Affiliate Program” in 2020, inviting digital marketing-related companies, agencies, and consultants to collaborate on building more mature and innovative e-commerce industry applications for business.

Hong Kong startup exports its Taiwan market experience to Greater Southeast Asia

The Omnichat growth story highlights an emerging trend in Taiwan and Hong Kong e-commerce and other new ventures. Companies that originate in Hong Kong and SEA are moving to Taiwan to take advantage of the country’s digital economy and to use that experience as a stepping stone into GSEA.

According to statistics, the scale of Taiwan’s e-commerce market has reached US $42.7 billion, and it is the leader in GSEA. It is double the US $21 billion of Indonesia, often considered the leading player in the regional market. Startups from all over the region have come to Taiwan to build out their digital capabilities and use it as a launching pad for pushing further into the region and opening new markets. 

Building on its early success, Omnichat will continue to cultivate the Taiwan market in 2020, and aims to expand into Singapore and Malaysia in 2021. 

Every six months, we recruit talented AI and Blockchain startup founders in Greater Southeast Asia to join our Accelerator. If you would like to join us in our 21st class, follow updates at our AppWorks Accelerator page.

香港行銷機器人新創 Omnichat 完成 2,400 萬種子輪融資 AppWorks 領投,深耕台灣市場

隨著武漢肺炎疫情在亞洲持續升溫,讓新創募資活動大減之際,今日 (3/10) 在香港與台灣兩地的新創圈,傳來久違的好消息。提供業界領先的行銷機器人訂閱服務 (SaaS)、來自香港的新創 Omnichat,在今日宣布完成 2,400 萬新台幣種子輪融資,由 AppWorks 領投,其他投資人則包括 The Aria Group。

正當疫情持續衝擊實體經濟,商業活動加速轉往數位化、線上化、電商化的過程中,AppWorks 看好 Omnichat 在這樣的商業結構轉變中,所展現的成長潛力。AppWorks 董事長暨合夥人林之晨認為,數位典範轉移正在各領域產生廣泛影響,當這波疫情過去,大家將發現,這次將為商業運作帶來巨大且不可逆的結果,那就是傳統模式在過程中的加速萎縮,而新經濟則是順勢接管。林之晨進一步指出:「Omnichat 擁有優秀的團隊,他們根據自己以往作為網路賣家的親身經驗,打造出專為線上商家設計的行銷自動化技術,因此迅速獲得客戶的熱愛。」

在行銷社群化、訊息碎片化的時代,Omnichat 可協助電商客戶進行跨通訊平台的行銷方案,轉換率比電商整體平均高 3 到 7 倍。Omnichat 專攻的跨平台行銷,包括從 Facebook 粉專及官網獲取名單、追蹤顧客瀏覽行為、網站內自動導購、離站後進行 Facebook / LINE / WhatsApp 再行銷,並且擁有自行研發的客服系統,整合網站、LINE、Facebook Messenger、WhatsApp 顧客對話到一個平台,鎖定現代電商需要同時兼顧社群經營、行銷轉換率的需求。 

從香港一路過關斬將,Omnichat 在台灣嶄露頭角

Omnichat 的創業主題,來自共同創辦人陳正達 (圖左) 過往經營電商的痛點。他在香港創辦電商網站的過程中,發現經常因為無法即時回覆顧客在網站上的詢問,直接導致錯失訂單的遺憾,於是在 2017 年投入研發「網站即時客服」技術,開啟了軟體創業之路。

2018 年,陳正達來台加入 AppWorks Accelerator,而後順利完成加速計畫,成為 AW#16 校友。在 AppWorks 協助下,Omnichat 成功與 91APP、WACA、EasyStore、Cyberbiz (AW#14) 等多家台灣、星馬電商開店平台展開深度的技術合作,持續進行技術串接,例如會員資料串聯、LINE / Messenger 訂單通知機器人等功能,讓 Omnichat 持續在台灣居於領先。具有營運電商平台經驗的另一位共同創辦人龐榮林 (圖右),也在隨後加入。

看好台灣市場的發展潛力,Omnichat 正持續深耕這塊市場。陳正達指出:「台灣電商普及,發展也十分成熟,即使是小型電商,也都非常重視流量、數據分析、會員經營、行銷轉換率等指標,非常符合 Omnichat 的特色,加上軟體安裝簡單,很適合推廣給電商使用。」

整體而言,Omnichat 能為電商客戶帶來顯著的業績成長,例如,轉換率比電商整體平均高 3 到 7 倍。截至 2019 年底,Omnichat 在一年內用戶已累積到 3,600 個商家,其中超過七成來自台灣,台灣團隊人數也是香港團隊的 3 倍。包括 HH 草本新淨界、TOYSELECT 拓伊生活、萬年東海模型玩具等台灣知名電商品牌,都是 Omnichat 的客戶,自動導購訊息帶來的轉換率,是過往平均的 5 到 10 倍;此外,Omnichat 的網站客服、自動訊息等功能,可讓電商每一次與顧客的對話,都成為傳遞溫度、延續顧客忠誠度的連結,例如 BONNY & READ、烘焙找材料 (AW#16) 等,也將 Omnichat 作為會員經營的重要工具。

肺炎疫情升溫,Omnichat 協助客戶快速因應

Omnichat 為零售及電商客戶創造的價值,也在這波疫情升溫之際展現。例如,兩家分別銷售藥妝、女性健康商品的台灣電商,相關防疫商品面對突如其來的爆量訂單,兩家來自網站或社群平台的客服訊息在 2 月分別成長了 180% 與 250%,得以順利處理,凸顯出使用 Omnichat 跨平台即時客服的重要性,因為能直接透過與顧客的線上對話,了解購物背後的動機、情境,快速轉為客服的能量,為電商客戶創造其他純聊天機器人廠商無法展現的附加價值。

展望未來,Omnichat 除了預計在 2020 年將擴大整合新通訊平台如 WeChat、Telegram 等,也將在台灣串連電商生態系,開啟聯盟技術合作。從過往的客戶經驗中,Omnichat 發現電商的成功,背後需要整合許多專業領域,包含廣告投放、整合行銷、社群經營、體驗設計,而這些,都是跨平台行銷運轉成功的關鍵。因此,Omnichat 在 2020 年將啟動「聯盟計畫」,邀請更多數位行銷相關的企業、代理商、顧問公司加入,讓「跨平台對話商務」的概念,快速伸展到更多電商領域,打造更成熟、更創新的電商產業應用。

香港新創 + 台灣市場經驗,輸出至大東南亞

對台灣與香港電商、新創圈另一個重要的意義,則是 Omnichat 可望成為少數將「香港新創 + 台灣市場經驗」模式輸出至大東南亞 (東協 + 台灣) 的案例。根據統計,台灣電商市場規模達 427 億美元,在大東南亞居於領先,比第二大的印尼 210 億美元還大一倍,領先且成熟的發展,是孕育各種與電商相關新創的最佳場域。

挾著立足於台灣電商產業的高速成長,Omnichat 在 2020 年將繼續深耕台灣,累積出更完整的經驗曲線與競爭優勢後,預計在 2021 年啟動大東南亞拓展計畫,第一階段鎖定新加坡與馬來西亞兩個國家。不論是對台灣或是香港的新創而言,Omnichat 快速崛起的過程,也因此有更深一層的啟發與示範,因為 Omnichat 代表兩地的創業生態系,有更多一起合作拓展大東南亞市場的可能性。

【歡迎所有 AI / IoT、Blockchain、來自大東南亞的創業者,加入專為你們服務的 AppWorks Accelerator

Taiwan’s Blockchain Industry Proves Resilient As It Matches Global Trends (19H2 Edition)

Taiwan’s blockchain ecosystem is a clear stalwart in the Greater Southeast Asia market

Jun Wakabayashi, Analyst (若林純 / 分析師)

Jun is an Analyst covering both AppWorks Accelerator and Greater Southeast Asia. Born and bred in America, Jun brings a wealth of international experience to AppWorks. He spent the last several years before joining AppWorks working for Focus Reports, where he conducted sector-based market research and interviewed high-level government leaders and industry executives across the globe. He’s now lived in 7 countries outside US and Taiwan, while traveling to upwards of 50 for leisure, collectively highlighting his unique propensity for cross-cultural immersion and international business. Jun received his Bachelors in Finance from New York University’s Stern School of Business.

A strong and steady 2019

2019 has proven to be a constructive year for the blockchain industry. It started off with crypto volumes at an all-time low and skepticism at a record high. Many projects that failed to survive the winter were quickly dead on arrival, and feasible commercial applications seemed further away than ever.

While the mass media has moved on from the fervor of 2017’s ICO craze, industry players around the globe have been powering through the downturn, effectively adjusting to a new reality. Many projects are now focusing their efforts on either underlying technical development or finding stronger real-world applications.

In Taiwan, the situation is no different. Although the country has traditionally lagged behind its Western counterparts in terms of embracing the latest innovations, it seems Taiwan has punched well above its weight when it comes to the development and adoption of blockchain. Whether it’s trending applications in gaming or decentralized finance (DeFi), advancements in the underlying infrastructure, or clarity in regulatory frameworks, Taiwan has kept pace on all fronts.

Made in Taiwan

Photo by Tom Ritson on Unsplash

There haven’t been too many new additions to the ecosystem since our last update, but we’ve seen existing players solidify their positioning in the market, with some effectively embedding themselves within the global value chain, very much in line with Taiwan’s legacy as a leading hardware manufacturer.

FST Network (AW#17), for example, has created a modularized, blockchain-based platform enabling enterprises to manage and integrate their data with ease. Their turnkey solution has now been adopted by exchanges and insurance companies in both the UK and Japan.

In a similar vein, local cold wallet maker CoolBitX recently developed Synga Bridge, a messaging-based KYC/AML solution that is now being used by Japan-based VC Trade, a crypto exchanged owned by SBI Holdings.

Along the theme of solving real-world pain points, DeFi has seemingly become the most pervasive use case, and rightly so. Existing financial systems are plagued with inefficient legacy systems that centralize data storage and authority, in turn passing on greater levies to increasingly privacy-concerned citizens. DeFi offers to provide a more transparent and secure means of accessing, lending, and transferring wealth.

The total value of DeFi projects has nearly tripled this year to over US$650 million. Although the conversations are largely dominated by opinions and analysis of MakerDAO and its stablecoin Dai, there are many upcoming projects fueling the DeFi movement. Here in Taiwan, for example, EasyDai is a decentralized exchange and lending platform that enables users to earn high-yield interest on Dai via Ethereum deposits. Steaker on the other hand is a digital asset management platform that helps users invest in notable DeFi projects.  

Working on the rails

In terms of development under the hood, it’s clear there is still much to be done when it comes to the widespread implementation of blockchain technology—engineering teams are still grappling with solving usability, interoperability, security, scalability, just to name a few challenges. But there’s also been a lot of progress made in these areas. Layer 2 solutions such as Plasma and Optimistic Rollup have demonstrated promising results when it comes to increasing transaction throughput and the amount of datasets that protocols like Ethereum can handle. Advancements in foundational technologies like zero knowledge proofs may finally help corporates assimilate into an increasingly privacy sensitive world. Needless to say, it’s still early days of blockchain development, and it’s anyone’s game.  

In Taiwan, some may remember the dramatic dissolution of COBINHOOD and its associated protocol initiative DEXON earlier this year, where after a series of shareholder disputes all one hundred of its staff were ultimately let go. Although a major blow to the local ecosystem, their efforts on building an infinitely scalable and more secure public chain have not gone to waste. The company’s co-founder and CTO Wei-Ning Huang has picked up the reins and began a project of his own dubbed Tangerine Network, which incorporates many of the same core components from DEXON’s open source code.

Also rising from the ashes of COBINHOOD’s demise are a legion of experienced blockchain developers, many of whom are now pursuing their own founder dreams. Lee Hsuan and Edwin Yeh, the company’s former heads of engineering and business strategy respectively, established portto (AW#19), a startup focused on bringing blockchain usage to the masses through its seamless dApp browser Blocto.  

Guiding the way

Facebook made headlines in 2019 with the announcement of Libra, a stable coin meant to establish a frictionless, global payments network. The original consortium consisted of 28 founding members, but five, including Visa and Mastercard, have since dropped out due to the torrent of scrutiny from regulators and policy makers alike.

Facebook attempted to put skin in the crypto game with the announcement of Libra, a stable coin that immediately caused controversy. Photo by Alex Haney on Unsplash

Regulatory uncertainty and the associated legal ramifications have been the primary inhibitors of blockchain’s adoption. Different markets have embraced the technology to varying degrees, but Asia has arguably been a front runner in this area. Countries like Singapore, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan have all delineated clear and definite guidelines on how blockchain companies should work and operate, some perhaps more conservative than others.

At the moment, startups in Taiwan are able to raise up to NT$30 million (US$1M) via STOs, and only from accredited investors with a cap of NT$100,000 per person. On the other hand, in Singapore, regulatory oversight only kicks in if an STO exceeds SG$5 million (US$3.7M) and caters to more than 50 investors or any number of non-accredited ones.

While limiting in some respects, these regulations at the very least clearly stipulate the rules of the game, equipping founders with peace of mind when it comes to planning their long-term operational roadmaps.

The march goes on

Believe it or not, blockchain is now a decade in the running. It’s been 10 years since the release of Satoshi’s whitepaper, and in this time alone, we’ve already gone through one major hype cycle, effectively catapulting the terms “bitcoin,” “crypto,” and “blockchain” from developer circles to front page news, and back again.

Last year’s crash likely confirmed the suspicions of many skeptical onlookers. But recent advancements in the underlying technology, uptick in adoption, and growing commercial implementations are surely driving some decision-makers to develop a more loving embrace. China’s regulators and its president Xi Jinping, for example, went from a hardened, outright ban to a recent endorsement of blockchain technology while announcing intentions to develop a state-backed digital currency.

For Taiwan, stakeholders are proceeding with cautious optimism. The private-public blockchain alliance created by the National Development Council (NDC) last June recently outlined a plan to explore the implementation of blockchain in five major areas: public services, finance/insurance, energy, healthcare, and agriculture.

Investors are also getting more savvy, no longer immediately jumping into the feeding frenzy of token sales but carefully prospecting the use of both traditional and non-traditional financial instruments when determining how to best support founders. And the community itself has maintained, if not gained in momentum, as demonstrated by the recent Asia Blockchain Summit (now second year in the running) which ultimately brought out over 4,000 participants and 135 speakers.

Whether it’s in terms of technical development, regulatory frameworks, or community activism, Taiwan’s blockchain industry has made steadfast progress in the second half of 2019, catering to both local and international founders alike. We’re also starting to see early instances of the ecosystem maturing, with more and more blockchain founders branching out and interacting with traditional industries, while also, perhaps more importantly, setting longer term goals and ambitions.

Every six months, AppWorks hosts an accelerator exclusively for founders who are working on blockchain startups and startups that are utilizing AI. Please visit our Accelerator page to learn more about the application process and to see if the equity-free AppWorks Accelerator is the right startup fit for you.

Taiwan AI Ecosystem Continues Its Expansion (19H2 edition)

Photo: Pexel from Pixabay

Natalie Lin, Analyst (林楓 / 分析師)

Natalie is an Analyst covering AppWorks Accelerator and Greater Southeast Asia. Before joining the team, she worked in the search engine marketing and email marketing teams at Zappos, America’s leading shoes and fashion online retailer, where she primarily focused on KPI management, campaign optimization, and project management. Born in Canada and raised in the Middle East, Natalie returned to Taiwan for high school before moving to the US for college and work. She received her Bachelors of Marketing at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Outside of work she likes to read, travel, and play video games.

Increasingly, the term “artificial intelligence” or “AI” has dominated conversations around tech, and in Taiwan, the technology continues to grow in popularity and usage. This year, in celebration of its 30-year presence in Taiwan, Microsoft opened an AI R&D center in Taipei. Other notable technology giants such as Google and NVIDIA have also made plans to establish AI R&D centers in Taiwan.

To meet this rising demand in AI talents, the Taiwanese government announced this year that 10,000 AI engineers will be trained. While this sounds remarkable, given that only an estimated 22,000 people in the world are expert enough to initiate world-class AI projects on their own, as a leader in AI talent within Greater Southeast Asia (GSEA = ASEAN + Taiwan), Taiwan is already a hub for GSEA-based companies to build their tech teams.

Alongside the world’s giants, more and more startups in Southeast Asia have come to Taiwan to recruit talents. From Singapore, we have startups like Carousell, and Shopback, which was part of AppWorks Accelerator #13 (AW#13), setting up their R&D teams in Taiwan. As Taiwan continues to churn out top talent, the new push by the government to sponsor a culture of AI development, and private companies to develop their AI teams here, founders in GSEA can start to consider Taiwan as a launchpad to catalyse their efforts at regional expansion.

In AppWorks Accelerator’s semi-annual update of Taiwan’s AI Ecosystem Map, we found that in the past six months, a number of regulatory frameworks have been implemented to support the growing innovation in the field of AI and more startups and AI ecosystem builders are increasing in Taiwan. The following verticals have made significant strides in the development of AI:

The AI ecosystem in Taiwan rivals many markets, and is especially interesting for the exposure it has to Southeast Asia, and the prowess of its technologist community.

As Advertising Gains Ground in AI, We See a Rise in Video Marketing, Customer Relationship Management, and Re-marketing

As Facebook’s algorithm continues to change and we’ve witnessed an explosion in data and information, it has become increasingly difficult to reach consumers with limited budgets and digital advertising spend. Companies are beginning to manage relationships with consumers through a variety of AI-driven strategies and digital tools, such as remarketing, to retain their most loyal customers. The push to provide increasingly fragmented customer audiences, and distracted loyalists with personalized experiences and products, has opened up more business opportunities for AI startups to provide marketing solutions.

Founded in 2011, iKala, an online karaoke and live broadcasting platform, has transformed into a human-centered AI marketing technology company after 8 years. It is the largest partner of Google Cloud in Asia-Pacific and of Facebook for global marketing, and it is currently covering markets in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, and Japan. They also announced the completion of their Series A round of US$ 5M early last year. Judging from the services provided by iKala, we can see that there is a rise in audiovisual marketing, influencer marketing, and results-oriented advertising solutions (also known as “performance marketing”).

Other startups, such as Omnichat — formerly called Easychat — and, both AW#16 startups, are focused on providing brand remarketing services. Instead of traditional chatbot services and other communications methods, they help small-and-medium businesses as well as enterprises use an AI model to accurately target customers to create a win-win situation for both their clients and their clients’ consumers.

Security Monitoring and Smart Home Application Market Dominance Is Accelerating

Taiwan has world-class hardware and supply chain management, and coupled with the improvement of camera manufacturing infrastructure, we can see that in regards to AI applications there have been several achievements in security monitoring and smart home appliances.

By combining AI technology with security monitoring, enterprises can greatly reduce the waste of manpower and avoid human error, thereby improving the quality and safety of monitoring solutions, which they deem to be one of their most important verticals. In addition to AW#9 startup Umbo CV, which has successfully entered the European and North American markets, there is also AW#19 startup Beseye, founded in 2014. It introduced its AI computer vision solution as the human safety backbone of Japan’s Tokyu Railway. When the camera detects that someone has entered a dangerous section of track, the system will automatically notify the central control center or the station’s staff to deal with it immediately and reduce railroad crossing accidents. Beseye currently has over 2,000 corporate clients, including Chunghwa Telecom and other large enterprises. Other startups like ioNetworks and CyCarrier are also focused on providing related security monitoring services.

As modern-day working people continue to lead busy lives, there is a gradual emergence of home applications and smart home appliances that make it easier for users to care for elders, their children, and their pets. AW#10 startup NUWA Robotics launched the first generation of their companion robots called “Keibi” in 2018. They specialize in STEAM education, theater-style English learning, and sensory interactive education. Their robots are focused on education and can also be a smart home helper. After selling over 5,000 units, they recently launched the second generation of their companion robots called “Kebbi Air” on a crowdfunding platform. They were able to raise NT $1M within half an hour of launching. Other notable startups in this space include Aeolus , which is focused on elderly care, AW#16 startup Cubo which is focused on developing smart baby cameras, and Furbo,which is focused on smart pet care services.

AI Ecosystem Builders: Sandbox Trends, R&D, and Accelerators

With the developments in AI, machine learning, and big data trends, certain legal topics are widely discussed such as copyrights and intellectual property, legal liabilities, and the impact on the existing regulatory regime in Taiwan. Two laws have been passed in 2018 to tackle these new trends: the Financial Technology Development and Innovative Experimentation Act for a fintech regulatory sandbox and the Unmanned Vehicle Technology Innovation and Experiment Act for autonomous vehicles.

Due to the high degree of regulation, the use of AI in financial services is slower than other industries, but given the advantage of having large amounts of data and complete customer information, the potential business opportunities are at an all-time high. The Legislative Yuan for Taiwan has been hosting a regulatory sandbox for companies to experiment with new business models that currently don’t have a legal framework. So far, 11 applications for experimentation or testing of new forms of fintech have been filed since the sandbox was launched. Many fintech startups have also started to cooperate with large-scale financial companies. Instead of starting from the perspective of replacing the existing financial industry, they are able to create a win-win situation and reduce the anxiety of current financial players in the industry. For example, hiHedge and Fubon jointly launched the Fubon hiHedge AI Chip Strategy, which uses AI technology to calculate the chip flow of Taiwan’s daily listed stocks to provide consumers with more complete information. Other new ventures like Adenovo are focused on providing real-time smart financial solutions for financial institutions and enterprises, and have received investment from Alibaba Entrepreneurs Fund and Zhaofeng VC.

As for the law passed to promote the usage of autonomous vehicles, it is considered one that may provide a more friendly environment for testing the application of AI and IoT technology in transportation. Taiwan will be well-positioned in the autonomous vehicle industry due to its experience in supplying high-quality components for electronics as various high-profile domestic and international players have joined Taiwan’s autonomous vehicle market. The government is organizing a national team for the development of autonomous vehicles and has set out a plan to prepare for the advent of the autonomous vehicle era in Taiwan.

With more and more AI startups emerging, Taiwan is also booming with startup accelerators, education, and research. AppWorks Accelerator, established in 2010 and currently focused on serving AI and Blockchain founders, has so far helped SEA founders launch over 40 AI/IoT startups into the market and continues to inject new energy into Taiwan’s AI ecosystem.

Microsoft for Startups, Taiwan AI x Robotics Accelerator, and many others, are all startup accelerators focused on recruiting AI founders. Taiwan AI School and Taiwan AI Labs are Taiwan’s represented institutions in the field of AI education and research. From 2020 and beyond, more and more resources are expected to be injected into the development of the AI field, which should further solidify Taiwan’s position as an AI hub in the GSEA region.

Upcoming accelerator applications: Stay tuned this quarter as we open up the next application window for founders working in AI and Blockchain categories. You can follow founder news and application announcements on our AppWorks Accelerator page.

2019 Year in Review: The AppWorks Ecosystem Grows Annual Revenues to US$5 B and Fosters Expansion of 376 Startups in Greater Southeast Asia

In 2019, AppWorks continued to help founders from many different countries, contributing to growth in revenue and jobs in the Taiwanese and regional economies

AppWorks, a leading accelerator and one of the most active VCs in the region, finished 2019 prepared for the next decade by bringing it total capital raised to over US$170 million across three funds, and generating an amount of revenue and new jobs creation for Southeast Asia and Taiwan that is equal to the GDP of the island nation of Barbados. The AppWorks Ecosystem, a community of startups and founders directly associated with AppWorks, grew to 376 startups from 356 last year, and 1,113 founders from 925, with the graduation of cohorts AppWorks #18 and AppWorks #19, a total of 49 startups working on AI and blockchain  businesses. The total AppWorks Ecosystem created over 11,000 jobs in Taiwan. 

Over 60% of the accelerator founders hail from territories in SEA, including: Hong Kong, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia. Over 35% of these founders are women. AppWorks continues to be a pivotal catalyst for startup growth and diversity in the GSEA region.

The AppWorks community of startup founders and teams continues to thrive in Taiwan and in Southeast Asia, growing annual revenues to US$5 B per year in the region

In reviewing the growth and successes over the past year, AppWorks Chairman and Partner Jamie Lin says, “The combined efforts of the company and the founders we assist are helping Taiwan further position itself as a regional hub that is uniting the Greater Southeast Asia startup ecosystem.”

“We look forward to a decade of radical innovation and transformation, as the newly minted middle class continues to grow across GSEA and new technologies and smart founders contribute to powerful trade and market creation that lifts the entire region and demonstrates to markets around the world how Asia is leading in technology and business.”

“We could not have done this without the help of our limited partners, but most especially, we thank the founders from across GSEA who have contributed some new leading edge technology to a fast-growing region.  GSEA will over the next ten years generate numerous unicorns and Taiwan will be a fundamental part of that movement and growth.” 

The Funds’ capital raise will assist the fund and the accelerator in continuing in its mission to support founders of AI and Blockchain startups throughout Greater Southeast Asia. 

In 2019, AppWorks made investments in 11 promising startups, including Dapper Labs, a world-class Blockchain company creating new methods for enjoying entertainment; Deep Sentinel, an AI-driven home security camera network; as well as HarukaEDU, an online learning platform, and Infra Digital, a revolutionary payments application, both of which are based in Indonesia.

“We continue to be bullish on AI, blockchain and the growing Greater Southeast Asia market,” says Jamie Lin. “Over the next five to ten years, Taiwan’s startup ecosystem will contribute to some of the next innovations in these industries, and what will make those contributions special will be the integrated way in which founders working in this space will launch from Taiwan and expand and localise throughout this massive region.” 

“Taiwan has much in common with the SEA region, but most directly this connection is it e-economy and the way that its bilingual engineering talent and familiarity with the newest technologies and programming methods are easily paired with unique strategies that are growing out of countries like Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore and the Philippines, if not the entire SEA ecosystem.” 

“AppWorks will continue to work side by side with founders. With our new Fund III, we are now prepared to invest greater sums of money in rounds up to Series C and lead some of these deals that we think will bring unique changes to the regional economy. We look forward to supporting and working closely with founders in this next decade.” 

Key Company Highlights

  • In 2019, AppWorks Accelerator continued with its focus to recruiting and accelerating only AI / blockchain startups, graduating a total of 48 startups across AW#18 & AW#19, with 29 startups developing for AI / IoT and 19 deploying solutions in Blockchain
  • Across AW#18 & AW#19, over 60% of the accelerator founders hail from territories in GSEA, including: Hong Kong, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia.
  • AppWorks Funds invested  across 11 deals spanning AI, blockchain, EC & fintech
  • The AppWorks Ecosystem reached US$ 4.72B in valuation, encompassing 376 startups & 1,113 founders, with the number of startups in the ecosystem accounts for over 11,100 new jobs in Taiwan
  • Many of the existing startups in the ecosystem raised significant amounts of capital this year and drove their expansion plans into GSEA, opening up markets in places like Hong Kong, Indonesia and Vietnam, as well as in other parts of Asia like Japan

The AppWorks ecosystem continued to be a powerful driver of economic growth and a stunning creator of innovation. Several of the early entrants of the startup accelerator raised capital this year and many of the founders and companies achieved new milestones.

Key Milestones of AppWorks Alumni in 2019

Tagtoo (AW#1) became the Leading MarTech Startup in Taiwan, raising a US$ 1.8M Series A to Drive expansion in GSEA.

PetPetGo (AW#3) was acquired by WonderPet Group, the largest pet chain group in Taiwan

VoiceTube (AW#7) will expand beyond Taiwan into the Japan and Vietnam markets in the future. 

VoiceTube (AW#7), the largest language edtech platform in Taiwan, raised US$3.5 M in a Series A to fuel its ambition to become the largest edtech platform in Japan and Vietnam. 

UmboCV (AW#9), the leading AI video security solutions provider, sold to more than 30 countries and raised US$ 8 M in a post-A round to continue its global expansion.

TaxiGo (AW#17), a ride-hailing platform created by founder Kevin Chan was acquired by LINE Taiwan and rebranded as LINE TAXI. 

WeMo Scooter (AW#12) growing and expanding throughout Taiwan in 2019-2020, hitting 5M trips per year

Additionally, another transport startup from a previous accelerator batch, WeMo Scooter (AW#12), the largest e-scooter sharing service in Taiwan, expanded to KaoHsiung and achieved more than 5M trips per year. 

Fugle (AW#12), the leading stock investment mobile platform in Taiwan, surpassed NT$ 500 M in GTV within six months. It raised a NT$ 29 M angel round. 

ShopBack (AW#13), the largest cashback platform in GSEA, raised US$ 45M to drive GSEA growth. 

FBbuy (AW#15), Asia’s leading B2B live social commerce SaaS product, was acquired by M17 and rebranded to HandsUp.

Booqed (AW#15), the Airbnb for workspaces in Hong Kong, raised Us$ 1.68 M in a seed round. It currently possesses 1,600 listings for spaces. 

In the area of AI, MoBagel (AW#16), the leading AI-driven data solutions provider in Taiwan, raised US$5 M in a Series A, to bring widespread AutoML tech into enterprises.

Novelship (AW#16), GSEA’s leading online marketplace for limited-edition sneakers and streetwear, raised over US$2 M in a seed round.

TWDD (AW#16), the leading designated driver service in Taiwan, raised US$ 1.3M in a Series A. 

Soda Labs (AW#17), the leading Hardware-as-a-Service venture builder in Taiwan, raised US$ 2M in a seed round, aiming to create a better connected world. They will be hiring in 1Q 2020. 

Outside of the direct work we do with startups, our Funds team announced that the development of AppWorks Fund III had created opportunities to work closely with a host of new limited partners such as Taiwan Mobile, Fubon Life Insurance, Cathay Life Insurance, Wistron Corporation, Hungtai Group, Capital Securities, as well as Taiwan’s National Development Fund. 

With the addition of Fund III, total assets under management has grown to US$ 170 million, making it one of the largest venture capital firms in Greater Southeast Asia.  

AppWorks School

AppWorks School continues to expand, shaping digital and engineering talent in Taiwan to assist the rapid growth of startups in the country

Since mid-2016, AppWorks School has graduated 179 newly trained software engineers (an increase of 73 in 2019) through a 16-week free coding program. Of these trainees, 91.6% of graduates went on to pursue successful software engineering careers in prominent internet companies such as 91APP, KKBOX, LINE TV (CHOCO Media), WeMo Scooter, LINE Taxi, PicCollage, VoiceTube, Gogoro and UDN Group, with a media starting salary of US$ 23,333 (annually). 

To say it’s been a productive year would have been an understatement. Tapping into the collective effort of each and every one of our team members, we successfully shifted our focus to AI / blockchain and made substantial strides in empowering founders across Greater Southeast Asia to fully embrace a smart and decentralized future. Finally, we’d like to extend a special thanks to all of our partners and friends in the startup community and look forward to working together to strengthen the regional ecosystem even further in 2020.

If you are a blockchain or AI founder in Greater Southeast Asia, and you would like to explore working with us in our semi-annual accelerator program, keep updated by following our blog or the Accelerator page on this site.

You may also find us on LinkedIn and Facebook, where we interact with founders on a daily basis.