The AppWorks Accelerator FAQs — What Founders Need to Know about the Accelerator Application Round

The AppWorks Accelerator in Taipei has been an integral part of the Greater Southeast Asia (ASEAN + Taiwan) founder ecosystem for ten years. It is a Blockchain and AI Accelerator that is also focused on helping founders from across SEA.

AppWorks Accelerator was started in 2010 to address a growing need for founders in Greater Southeast Asia (ASEAN+Taiwan, or GSEA) — they need a network of other good founders who can relate to the things they are going through, share similar experiences, give good feedback and partner up to challenge the incumbents.

As of May 6, AppWorks#21 is open for applications.  You can find important information about the Accelerator experience on our main page. 

If you’re a founder from outside of Taiwan, and you are still deciding, we thought it would be good to list out the Frequently Asked Questions we get from applying founders. They may help you decide if AppWorks is right for you.  

The FAQs

1. “What do I need to know before joining an accelerator in Taiwan during the COVID-19 pandemic? What is AppWorks doing to help founders make the most out of the accelerator before it’s completely safe to travel and congregate?  How are you helping your founders deal with Covid impacts?”

The world has seen nothing like the COVID-19 pandemic, and we can confidently say that no founder we know had this on their disaster mitigation plans. But the experience of being a founder is all about learning and adaptation, even when things look dire. We are here to support you do just that, no matter the circumstances. 

Founders may be wondering if it’s even possible to attend an accelerator, or if it’s right to do so. 

It is the right time, but just as founders have to be adaptable, so do we. Thus, we have adjusted our program accordingly. 

To make sure founders accepted to AW#21 will have the benefits of connecting to your batch-mates, to mentors, to markets, and to essential knowledge and services, we will move many activities online. 

Currently, up to six hours of online sessions per week are provided, ranging from office hours with our partners, to coaching sessions and workshops with founders from all over GSEA. With over 1,100 founders in our network, who are scaling at varying paces of growth, the opportunities to have intimate conversations with other founders have in fact increased. 

Such meetings include founder mentoring sessions with veterans of the technology industry who have launched startups from zero to one, and even listed several IPOs. All have been through their share of challenges, and survived, and they can give you up-to-the-minute advice on market conditions and approaches to solutions. 

Finding connections with supply chain partners and other potential business partners will not be a problem, either, since we will help to connect you to these resources through virtual introductions. 

In addition to providing these and other aspects of our curriculum online, we will continue to make services such as cloud resources and other software from our partners available, easily distributed online, as we have been doing for the past ten years. There is no obligation to sit in the physical accelerator space in order to take advantage of them. 

Finally, we will continue to monitor visa and travel restrictions in a timely way and update you with new information we learn during the application process. 

The moment it becomes easier to physically travel to Taipei, you and the other AW#21 founders will be the first to know. And rest assured, with our Demo Day plans 100% in planning and execution modes, we will make sure it goes ahead, and you’ll get to meet the 1,000 investors / executives in person who can make a positive impact on your growth trajectory.

Felix Hartantio, Founder of Indonesia-based FourCons, gives his Demo Day #19 pitch. The Demo Day is the leading founder event in Taiwan, and draws over 1,000 of SEA’s investors and technology executives, among other leaders in the ecosystem

For now, here are some of the standard questions that we see every year. You may wish to read these FAQs as you work on filling out the application to determine if the accelerator is right for your founder journey.  

2. “How can AppWorks Accelerator help a founder? Why join an accelerator?”

The primary benefit of an Accelerator is that it brings founders into close proximity to other founders so that they can learn how to get better by being exposed to each others’ approaches. We have created the largest founder community in Greater Southeast Asia (GSEA) dedicated to this methodology. On average, there are 50-60 founders in the same batch with whom you can interact, in person or through virtual meetings. 

When you join AppWorks, you join a community of over 1,100 founders from Taiwan and Southeast Asia, many of whom have made the journey from zero to 1. We frequently organize gatherings throughout the 6 months you are in the Accelerator, so that you can meet these more seasoned founders who have been doing this for many years. Through your engagement with them, you can again learn more quickly and stay laser-focused on what you need to do to get better, and perhaps make connections that help your BD and market approach. 

3. “Does AppWorks Accelerator cost anything?”

No. AppWorks Accelerator has always been free for founders. We will not charge rent or any service fees, nor will we require any form of compensation, such as sweat equity, options, revenue, or profit-sharing. Our exclusive mission is to help founders. 

4. “We need funding now, can we get investment by joining AppWorks?”

The short answer is it depends on what stage you are in your journey. When capital can significantly enhance the strength and competitive advantage of your startup, any AppWorks founder is welcome to start a discussion with us on fundraising. We will do our best to advise and support you. 

Please note, AppWorks Accelerator will never require teams to accept our investment before joining the accelerator, nor will teams ever need to provide any form of equity or revenue / profit share returns.

5. “Why does AppWorks focus on accepting AI, Blockchain, or SEA founders?”

We believe the paradigm shift brought about by AI and Blockchain are the two mega opportunities founders in the 2020s must leverage. At the same time, GSEA is rising, displaying impressive growth in middle-class incomes and in GDP. Its citizens participate in an acceleration of tech usage that makes it one of the most pivotal regions in the world for innovation and economic growth. We believe that founders in this region must use these technologies to make the most of the opportunities. 

Therefore, this is where we are putting our focus. Founders should think carefully about how to leverage these three areas as much as possible to make the greatest gains with new business models. 

6. “I am a student team / I am a one-man team, can I still apply?”

Yes, you can. We are here to help founders. While there are alway some questions to answer about the team, the age of the company, or the makeup of its technical abilities, the founder’s experience and personal journey is the most important of all the factors we look at. 

When AppWorks reviews applications submitted by founders,  we pay special attention to several characteristics to determine their fit for the accelerator. 

We call them the “3Hs,” or “Heart, Head, and Hand,”  and we evaluate founders with these following questions, and others, in mind:

Heart: Is there a determination to start a business? Is the founder willing to devote himself wholeheartedly to it for a long period of time? How passionate is the founder about the problem he or she wants to solve?

Head: How fast can the founder learn in the uncertain environment that develops while building a startup? Are they capable of reflection and self-awareness, and applying that vision to creating rapid iterations to the business model and also to their own self-improvement?

Hand: Can they display high-order dexterity in conducting the business, and can they do it expertly? Can they scale their own thinking to a team, and manage that team with skill and attention to detail?

Founding Partner Jamie Lin provides founders with insights from his previous startup experiences in the US, China and SEA

7. “I am not a technical founder, or I need to find an engineer to help scale my idea, can I still apply?”

Yes, you can. In a manner of speaking, you have come to the right country. 

Taiwan graduates over 25,000 hardware and computer science engineers each year and is world-famous for the engineering and computer science mastery that has boosted the quality of international companies like Apple and Acer in hardware and Google and Microsoft in the software category, to name but a few. 

We strongly recommend founders who come to Taiwan check out the country’s vast human talent resources. Part of the founder journey will be about learning how to hire, and there is probably no better place in Asia to do that engineering hiring than here. 

8. “My service (or product) has not yet started to make money. Can I still apply?”

Of course! There is no better time to learn in an accelerator than while one is a founder just starting out. This period before a founder has built a startup into a scalable business model with a Product-Market Fit is called the “seed stage”. During this period, founders always need more than funding; they need a variety of entrepreneurial-related insights, inspiration from other founders, and room for trial and error. AppWorks Accelerator was built to provide these, and more. 

9. “I already raised a Series A / I’m profitable, is AppWorks right for me?”

Yes. The most important thing for us is to identify where a founder is in their journey. 

Reaching a funding goal can be a cause for celebration, but it’s also a relatively minor part of the growth of a founder. So many more things can go right or wrong, even with a funding round. There are many other facets to master. When we admit founders into the program, it is because we have carefully considered what they need as a founder, and how our resources and network, and Taiwan’s unique market and supply chain position in the world, can help them grow. 

Joel Leong and Henry Chan at ShopBack had already built a business model and received seed funding in 2015 when they launched in Singapore, before they came to AppWorks Accelerator #13 in 2016. 

Joel told us that had the team known about Taiwan’s massive US$ 42.2 Billion GMV per year e-economy and how it made it possible to figure out crucial e-commerce and engineering solutions for them, they would have made the move to Taiwan sooner.

Stories like ShopBack’s demonstrate that funding rounds and business model maturity do not limit founders to learning something new.  As long as you think that AppWorks can help you in the entrepreneurial learning process, you should apply. 

10. “Since I am not a Taiwanese citizen, can you help me obtain a proper visa?”

International founders admitted to AppWorks Accelerator can apply for the Entrepreneur Visa in Taiwan. This enables founders from overseas to concentrate on work in Taiwan without having to travel abroad to sort out troublesome visa issues. We have professionals at the Accelerator who can offer advice on this process. 

11. “After the AppWorks Accelerator program begins, do I have to be there every day? Can overseas teams participate remotely?”

During non-pandemic times, AppWorks arranges about four to six hours of speaker series, workshops, office hours, and gatherings each week. These are tailored to the needs of current batch founders. We encourage teams to participate in as many of them as possible to learn from the veteran founders we invite to these sessions. AppWorks also provides a free co-working space. As for whether the team should choose to work in AppWorks, this is up to you.

If you want to test the Taiwan market with AppWorks, or set up a technical team, we strongly recommend you to invest the time and effort to personally understand Taiwan’s cultural environment and market. 

12. “Do I have to set up a company to join AppWorks Accelerator?”

Not necessarily, but we would recommend a B2B overseas founder to set up a Taiwan office. This may help you find business partners and negotiate follow-up cooperation later. AppWorks has professional accounting and legal specialists who can assist in handling procedures for landing in Taiwan.

As Andrew Jiang, co-founder of Soda Labs (AW#17) told us in a recent podcast, when you take the time to physically show up in the market, you get “10x the attention and focus of potential customers and partners” you seek in your business development process. 

13. “Do I need a business plan to apply for the Accelerator? 

No business plan is required. AppWorks Accelerator’s online application covers about 30 topics related to team background, product/service, business model, market analysis and more. It is very detailed and requires time to complete. 

We hope the above FAQ can help you clarify your questions about AppWorks Accelerator. If you seek more clarity, please write to: a@appworks.tw and we will try to answer your questions.

We welcome all AI, Blockchain, or Southeast Asia founders to join AppWorks Accelerator. Applications will be open until July 1st. 

申請 AppWorks Accelerator 常見問題與回覆 (FAQ)

AppWorks Accelerator 在 2010 年創立,每半年招募一屆,對象是來自台灣、東南亞與世界各地的網路創業者。成立 10 年以來,總共畢業 20 屆,並自 2018 年 8 月招募的第 17 屆 (AW#17) 開始,限定召募 AI / IoT 與 Blockchain 兩個領域的新創,2020 年 8 月招募的 AW#21,除了 AI / IoT 與 Blockchain 外,另外加上佈局東南亞的創業者。整個 AppWorks Ecosystem 的活躍團隊有 376 個、共 1,113 位創業者,全體加總年營業額 49.7 億美元,形成一個緊密的新創網絡,是大東南亞 (東協 + 台灣) 校友規模最大的創業者社群。

每次招募團隊,AppWorks 都會收到許多申請書,過程中我們發現,新創團隊在看完網站的介紹後,對我們的加速器計畫仍有些許疑問,因此,我們整理了幾個常見問題,如果你也有類似疑惑,或許可以從中得到解答。

【下一屆 AppWorks Accelerator 自 2020 年 5 月 6 日開放申請,歡迎加入:AW#21 申請專頁

1. AppWorks Accelerator 可以提供創業團隊什麼幫助?

a. 大東南亞最大的創業者社群

創業是一件很孤獨的事,創業之後,大部分的朋友、家人都不知道你在經歷什麼。因為這樣,有越多厲害的創辦人和你一起同甘共苦,可以讓你遇到挫折的時候有人懂,也更有動力撐下去。除了同一屆會有約 50-60 位創業者一起加速外,我們會頻繁地舉辦各式校友聚會,許多校友已經走過 0 到 1 的階段,透過他們的分享和交流,可以讓你少走許多冤枉路。

除此之外,由 AppWorks Accelerator 校友們建立起的生態系,或是 AppWorks 與大型企業的關係,將是新創拓展業務與尋找策略夥伴的重要管道。例如,AI 新創要建立 Data Pipeline、Blockchain 要開發落地應用,或是希望尋求大企業的資源協助,AppWorks 每位同事的重要任務之一,就是在其中穿針引線將資源與人脈引介給各新創團隊。

b. 100 位創業經驗豐富的 Mentors

AppWorks Ecosystem 有大約 100 位左右的 Mentors,透過 Mentor Day,當屆團隊可以認識不同類型的 Mentors,有的會是你商業上的助力,幫你推薦人脈、和你進行商業合作;有的會是你心靈上的支柱,在你煩惱的時候替你分擔、分享他們寶貴的人生經驗與創業建議。

c. 9 位全職、專業、最懂新創的 Masters

早期新創團隊資源有限、人手精簡,導致新創在商業上許多重要、尚不常發生的工作,缺乏專業人才來處理。我們內建的 Master Team 共有 9 位專家,分別從中文及英文媒體公關、人才招募、財務會計、法務、設計、投資人關係、校友關係、工作空間管理等領域來協助創業者,每人在原本專業領域的平均資歷超過十年,透過 Master Team 的協助,讓新創在資源較少的早期階段,就能有效率地獲得專業奧援。

例如,在新創找到 Product Market Fit 之前,商業模式或業務形態尚未成熟,在人才面向上,我們會協助提供徵才建議或是每年舉辦 AppWorks 新創聯合大徵才,而不是建議新創在太早期就建立人事考評制度;或是新創的創新服務或產品,如何處理因此延伸的會計課目與認列方式,我們也能提供創業者符合公開會計原則的建議。

除了 Master Team 之外,新創進駐 AppWorks Accelerator 期間,我們五位 Partners 每月也都會與各團隊安排一對一的 Office Hour。在建立商業模式、分析市場動態、開發新產品與服務、建立團隊、分享創業經驗等各個面向,每位 Partner 都能從本身的專業與經驗中,提供一針見血的有力建議,幫助創業者瞬間釐清問題與瓶頸。

d. 東南亞地區的連結

東南亞地區已成為台灣跨向國際的首要考量之一,透過自己打市場,可能要花費許多心力也不得其門而入。在 AppWorks Accelerator 每屆有超過六成的團隊來自國際,其中包含印尼、新加坡、香港、越南、泰國、馬來西亞等地的創業者,自 AppWorks Accelerator 畢業後,也成為活躍的 AppWorks 校友社群一份子,在創業的道路上互相協助、為彼此打氣,這些位於東南亞各國的校友們,能為你建立第一手的市場資訊與在地人脈網絡。除此之外,AppWorks 也和當地的新創社群與投資人擁有良好的關係,讓你在當地的市場有更多可能性。

e. 其他協助資源

加入 AppWorks Accelerator 的新創,還可享受其他我們提供的服務與資源。例如,我們定期舉辦 Fundraising Bootcamp,針對有募資需求的新創團隊提供建議與諮詢;AppWorks 位於捷運台北市政府站附近,身處台北市最核心的商業區,不僅免費提供 Co-working Space 給進駐的新創使用,在步行的距離內,就有百貨公司、熱門餐廳、知名書店、電影院、高中等人潮熱點,方便創業者進行潛在用戶研究;Amazon Web Services、Microsoft Azure 與 Google Cloud Platform 也是 AppWorks Accelerator 長期贊助企業,每支進駐團隊,可獲得價值超過 10 萬美元的贊助資源,大幅降低新創團隊的實驗成本。

2. AppWorks Accelerator 要收費嗎?

AppWorks Accelerator 是針對創業者完全免費的服務。我們不會向新創團隊收取租金、服務費,也不會要求技術股、選擇權、營收、獲利分成,或是選擇權等任何形式的回饋。

3. 我們現在需要一筆資金,加入 AppWorks 就可以被投資嗎?

當資金可以大幅提升新創的實力與競爭優勢時,歡迎團隊隨時與 AppWorks 聯絡開啟關於募資的討論,AppWorks 管理的創投基金將隨時準備好提供協助。另一方面,AppWorks Accelerator 不會要求新創團隊在加入前,就接受我們的投資,也不會跟進駐的團隊收取股權回報。

4. 為什麼 AppWorks 現在限定招募 AI、Blockchain 和佈局東南亞的創業者?

我們認為,AI 與 Blockchain 是下個 10 年創業者必須槓桿的新巨大板塊位移。同時,東南亞數位經濟革命正在崛起,包括持續擴大的中產階級、亮眼的經濟成長率,此外,一般民眾參與數位科技的使用也促使這個區域的數位經濟加速發展,成為全球創業、創新、創意最蓬勃發展的地區之一。 

因此,這就是我們現在關注的重點。創業者應該思考如何利用這三大領域,在產品、服務、商業模式上,創造未來的成長曲線。

5. 我是學生團隊 / 我是一人團隊 / 我的團隊沒有工程師,這樣能申請嗎?

AppWorks 招收團隊時,不會因為團隊的身份或狀態而有所設限,但會特別注重創業者的幾項特質,我們稱為「3H」:

Heart:是否有創業的決心?是否願意全心全意投入?對想解決的問題有多大的熱情?

Head:能用多快的速度學會多少東西?是否具有反思與覺察能力?

Hand:是否具有執行力?

【延伸閱讀:3 個 H,AppWorks 如何評估創業者?

當然,對新創團隊來說,工程師是相當重要的人才資源,如果團隊組成中有優秀且經歷豐富的工程師,的確會幫團隊加分許多。但找尋合適且能為團隊加分的成員,需要花費不少心思。建議創業者在招募時,先審慎釐清團隊現階段最需要的人才項目,逐步補足,寧缺勿濫,而 AppWorks 也會針對有需要的團隊,提供人才媒合與專業人資顧問的輔導諮詢,協助創業者找到他們需要的優秀人才。

6. 我的服務 (或產品) 還沒開始賺錢,這樣能申請嗎?

當然可以。從公司創立到找到可規模化商業模式這段期間,稱為「種子期」。種子期新創公司需要的多半不是資金,而是各種與創業有關的知識、啟發,以及嘗試與犯錯的空間。AppWorks Accelerator 主要在協助種子期新創尋找可規模化商業模式,幫助他們順利邁向下一階段。

7. 如果我已經募資過 Series A 或是我已經賺錢了,那 AppWorks 是不是不適合我?

我們並沒有限定申請團隊的成熟階段,只要你認為在創業過程中,AppWorks 可以幫助你。過去也有許多較成熟的團隊加入,例如,有些團隊已經在台灣做得小有成績,想往東南亞發展,AppWorks 可以成為走向東南亞的橋樑或踏板。規模已不小的國際團隊,想在台灣建立技術團隊或開發市場商機,那加入 AppWorks 可以成為在台落地的第一步,像是來自新加坡、在 2016 年進駐的 AW#13  ShopBack,早在 2014 年就創立,並在 2015 年完成種子輪募資並在新加坡推出服務,而透過在 AppWorks Accelerator 的時間,ShopBack 在台灣建立起技術團隊,並同時測試台灣市場的可能性。

8. 我不是台灣公民,能否幫忙申請簽證?

入選 AppWorks Accelerator 的國際創業者,皆可申請「Entrepreneur Visa 創業家簽證」,讓來自海外的創業者能在台灣專心工作,不需為了簽證問題出境往返。

9. 進駐 Accelerator 後,是否每週一到五整天都要待在 AppWorks?海外團隊可以遠距參加嗎?

AppWorks 每週會安排約 4 – 6 小時的講座、Workshop、Office Hour、交流聚會,這些都是我們針對創業者的需求所設計,因此我們會鼓勵團隊盡量參加,認識由我們邀請而來的厲害創業者,從中得到靈感或啟發。此外,AppWorks 也提供免費的工作空間,至於團隊是否要選擇在 AppWorks 的空間工作,可以自由決定。

如果你是希望藉由 AppWorks 來測試台灣市場,又或是設立技術團隊,依照我們輔導團隊的經驗,我們建議創業者投入必要的時間與心力,親自來了解台灣的人文環境、市場狀況,拓展必要人脈。

10. 加入 AppWorks Accelerator 一定要設立公司嗎?

不一定,但我們會建議做 B2B 的團隊設立公司。因為根據我們的經驗,這將有助於你尋找事業夥伴並洽談後續合作。AppWorks 備有專業的會計與法務 Masters,可以為創業者團隊提供成立公司過程中,所需要的協助,也有豐富的經驗,能為海外團隊處理落地台灣的手續。

11. 申請 Accelerator 是否需要附商業計畫書?申請書的題目都是英文,用中文寫會不會影響分數?

不需附商業計畫書。AppWorks Accelerator 的線上申請書共有約 30 個題目,包含團隊、產品、商業模式,與市場分析等眾多面向,非常詳盡,需要花一定的時間與心思填寫。我們希望可以透過這些題目協助每一個來申請的團隊,知道自己當下的發展狀態與所需協助。

填寫報名表是一種自我「健檢」,因為在填寫過程中,創業者必須深入思考自己的產品、市場策略、團隊分工,以及整體產業環境,對事業或團隊的後續發展非常有幫助。因此,不管申請與否,我們都建議創業者針對這些問題仔細思考、研究。

我們鼓勵你嘗試以英文作答,但用中文填寫並不會影響評估結果,最重要的是必須清楚表達你想傳達的訊息。另外,我們也鼓勵創業者拍攝一段一分鐘的自我介紹影片,讓我們能夠更快且更深入的認識你。

希望以上整理能幫助你釐清對 AppWorks Accelerator 的諸多疑問。若還有其他需要進一步瞭解的地方,歡迎留言給我們,或是來信至:a@appworks.tw,我們將盡量為你解答。

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


創業者何時該向銀行融資?如何進行?有何注意事項?

Anne Chen, Investor Relations Manager (陳祈安 / 投資人關係經理)

負責 AppWorks 創投基金的投資關係與服務。就讀台大財金時期曾在 AppWorks 實習半年,畢業後於星展銀行企業金融處擔任客戶關係經理,協助上市櫃及私人企業客戶進行財務規劃。在商業銀行工作四年後,再度回歸 AppWorks,期待帶著她累積的經驗與能力貢獻創業圈。平時熱愛下廚、海洋及多肉植物。

AppWorks Accelerator,如何最快速有效的協助創業者,一直是我們的重要任務。其中,最受創業者們重視的活動之一,就是我們經常針對進駐的新創團隊或畢業的新創校友,與 AppWorks 的合夥人們或創業導師,安排 Ask Me Anything 的活動,或是一對一的 Office Hour,一起切磋交流創業過程中碰到的難關、未來的發展策略等「Google 無法解答的問題」,其中,這個問題一定可以名列經典:身為創業者,我該如何找到資金?

這個問題,在新冠肺炎帶來的景氣低迷、消費不振下,對新創更為重要。因為原本計畫好的 Runway,很有可能因為疫情帶來的影響而全盤改變。

我們曾多次分享,找到 Product Market Fit (PMF),應該是創業者初期的首要目標。在此之前,太多資源不僅效果有限,可能還是毒藥;然而,找到 PMF 後,適時引入資金,能幫助創業者更有效率地從 1 走到 100,加速好產品取得關鍵用戶的過程,可以放大或深化商業模式,甚至啟動海外拓展計畫。

募資與借貸有何不同?

對新創來說,籌措資金的管道有很多。除了最常聽到的募資、天使投資人投資外,向銀行借貸也是一種常見的方式,但一樣都是錢,到底股權募資 (Equity Financing) 跟借貸 (債權融資 Debt Financing) 有何不同?

從最基本的概念來看,募資是股權,投資人投資新創後取得股權後,期待未來股權隨著公司發展增值,進而出場獲利。借貸則是債權,債權人 (通常是銀行) 借錢給新創,取得對新創的債權,借款到期後,債務人 (新創公司) 要將本金連同利息一起還給債權人。

從資金用途看,募資常用於新產品開發,或是新市場開拓的前、中期規模化 (投入資金幫助創業者跨越用戶或市場關鍵規模門檻);而借貸的目的,通常是填補營運資金缺口 (Working Capital Gap) 或是預支營運費用,舉例來說:一間賣 AI 攝影機的新創,從製造攝影機、出貨,一直到收到客戶貨款,總共歷時可能長達 45 天,如果付給供應商貨款的天期是 15 天,那麼我們可簡單推算這間新創,會有 30 天的營運資金缺口,這種狀況下,若與銀行借貸,新創不需要癡癡等待錢被應收帳款卡住的 30 天,就可以拿借貸來的資金,繼續接下一筆訂單,備料、出貨。

在資金成本考量上,股權的資金成本,通常遠高於借貸的資金成本。一般而言,與金融機構借貸年化利息費用,取決於該企業體的債信 (Credit Rating) 及市場利率,國內借款利率約在 1%~8%,最高鮮少超過 15%,乍聽之下很高,但與採用股權募資相比,早期借款人目標的年化內部報酬率 (IRR) 為 30%~50%,中、後期投資人則為 20%~40%,創業者有幫投資人股權增值的責任,若新創發展順利,讓估值大幅成長,創業者在投資人出場時,回饋給投資人的獲利,通常會遠高於借貸的利息。

舉例來說:創業者有 100 萬元的資金缺口,若以 5% 的年利率向銀行貸款 100 萬元,假設利率固定,五年下來的利息成本約為 25 萬元。若採股權募資,投資人投資 100 萬元並佔 10% 的股權,五年後,若新創發展順利,投資人想出場時,假設估值成長為 5,000 萬元,創業者等於總共要回饋 500 萬元給投資人,是原始投資的五倍。

然而,除了考量資金的成本,借貸除了利息費用,實務上通常需要公司負責人、CEO 等管理階層提供個人連帶保證,不成功便成仁,若創業失敗,創業者與經營團隊可能陷入鉅額債務中,短期內不易翻身。

從交易成本及時間而言,募資需要投入大量人力、時間資源,回應各種盡職調查 (Due Diligence) 的需求,募資時程短則數週,長則可達半年以上;而借貸人力及時間成本投入較低,銀行企業放款業務部門會進行徵信作業 (Credit Analysis) 以判斷企業信用風險,作出是否核貸及核貸金額等決定,徵信作業內容通常相當標準化,通常 1-3 個月內核貸,雙方簽約後即可啟用額度。

從擁有權的角度來看,除非新創進入破產重整階段,否則一般狀況下,債權擁有者 (即銀行) 不介入公司經營;若採股權募資,投資人可介入公司經營,取得董事會席次亦是機構投資人投後管理的常見做法。

從風險層面分析,當經濟環境或新創的營運狀態有大幅改變時,銀行的放貸政策也可能跟著緊縮,「晴天借傘,雨天收傘」可說是銀行借貸的常態,過度仰賴借款,可能讓創業者在銀行緊縮銀根時措手不及,借貸時銀行徵提的個人連帶保證,也可能讓創業者及主要經營團隊在創業失敗後,造成鉅額的個人債務。若採股權募資,專業的天使、機構投資人往往了解投資風險,因此若遭遇創業失敗,不會要求創業者償還投資損失,然而,投資人可藉由推舉董事、競選董事長等方式介入公司經營,若與經營團隊理念不合,可能衍生許多問題。

創業者該如何與銀行打交道?

我曾在銀行的企業金融部門服務四年多,觀察到的殘酷現實是:銀行幾乎不會借錢給尚未損益兩平的企業。偏偏對早期新創而言,虧損是這個階段非常普遍的情形,也因此,跟銀行借錢對創業者來說,通常並不容易。

但如果是資產密集商業模式的新創,或已經找到 Scalable Businss Model,也開始初步進入獲利階段的新創,跟銀行借款相較於向投資人募資,不但可保有經營權的獨立性,在上述的資金及交易成本等考量上,通常是更有效率籌措資金的方式。

對於銀行來說,放貸決策的關鍵,就在於企業的信用風險。白話來說,就是銀行必須評估企業還不出錢、借款變壞帳的風險。在分析企業的信用風險時,銀行最基本的原則,就是授信 5P,以下透過這幾大原則,與創業者分享銀行分析企業信用風險的視角,作為需要跟銀行借錢時的參考:

People 借款戶

銀行會從商業模式、借款記錄、管理階層、公司治理品質、所在產業等角度分析借款戶的素質。

值得創業者注意的是,對銀行來說,可能難以理解新創的商業模式,首次嘗試與銀行申請貸款的創業者,也沒有借款記錄可供銀行分析,這種「信用小白」讓銀行難以判斷真正風險所在,也因此,新創若趁早與銀行建立長期存款關係 (例如:指定客戶匯入款到銀行帳戶,或從該帳戶匯款給供應商) ,讓營業活動有跡可循,申請貸款時會是一大助力。

Purpose 借款用途

前面提到,借款用途常見於填補營運資金缺口,也可用於購置廠房、土地、機台設備等中長期資本支出。

與拿投資人的錢不同,借款有期限,也有利息成本。創業者應該優先將借款投入於可以產生利潤的商業模式或是資產上,若將借款用於辦公室裝潢、人事、產品開發等短期難以看到效益的費用上,可能會陷入債務的無底洞。

Payment 還款來源

還款來源是銀行決定是否核貸的關鍵因素。銀行會徵提借款戶的財務報表,觀察借款戶的獲利能力、資產負債表結構、資產流動性、現金周轉天期等財務指標。獲利能力強,或是高資產強度的新創,容易受到銀行的青睞。

如同先前提到,虧損是新創的常態,就算有小幅獲利,在銀行眼中,財務報表的體質,可能仍不夠強壯,除了加強在銀行的存款實績,指定買方匯入款到銀行帳戶,也可加深銀行對新創營運型態的了解。

除此之外,也可透過應收帳款融資等不同授信額度架構,增加還款來源的強度。舉例來說,一間 SaaS 新創的客戶是知名超商,但超商要 3 個月後才會付款,新創可以把對超商的應收帳款賣斷給銀行 (可能收取手續費與利息,融資成數也會視信用風險而有不同),如此一來,即可填補營運資金缺口,對銀行來說,風險會從對新創的信用風險,轉為對知名超商的信用風險,因為還款來源強度增加,新創更有機會得到銀行額度。

除此之外,創業者與銀行溝通時,要秉持誠信、透明的原則,也應當盡力配合銀行貸後控管,提供具正確性及一致性的財務報表。因為這有可能影響到未來的融資成數、放貸成功率。

Protection 債權保障

債權保障是銀行除了還款來源外的第二道防線。通常會徵提個人保證、其他公司保證、不動產或動產抵押等擔保品,作為債權保障的額外加強。

對新創來說,若財務報表體質不強,提供擔保品也許可以增加銀行放貸的機會。但若尚處於虧損狀態,不建議以提供足額擔保等方式為借錢而借錢(例如:拿 100 萬的房子抵押,借到 70 萬的資金),如果創業失敗,創業者將失去一切。

Perspective 授信展望

對銀行來說,放貸產生的收益與風險要可以達到平衡。因此,銀行會對借款戶發展性、經濟局勢、銀行風險胃納作綜合判斷。

所以,創業者定期與銀行交流,在創業過程中,一旦營運狀況有大幅更動時 (不論是變得更好或更壞) 主動提供資料,並適時提供銀行額外業務 (存款實績、換匯、收付款、薪資轉帳戶等),成為銀行心中的「好咖」客戶,將有助於經營銀行關係。值得注意的是,新創若想持續累積信用紀錄,建議可與兩家以上的銀行從存款關係開始往來,不要全部集中在同一家銀行,以達到風險分散,若固定往來的銀行拒絕了新創的借貸申請,至少還有其他銀行可選擇。

以上透過銀行分析信用風險的視角,與創業者分享和銀行打交道的心法。事實上,在不同的創業階段,募資與借貸各有不同的優缺點,聰明的創業者,必須懂得從中平衡出對自己最有利的選項,讓新創持續獲得成長壯大所需的養分,邁入下一個階段。

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

Photo by TheDigitalArtist on Pixabay


疫情下的募資,新創最該留意的事情

Liying Wang, Legal Master (王琍瑩 / 法務輔導長 & 明日科技法律事務所主持律師)

帶領內建法務團隊,提供企業經營、合約協商、紛爭處理等各方面法律諮詢,輔導建立營運管理機制,必要時也協助團隊尋求「突破框架」的解方。曾任 HTC 全球營運資深法務經理、萬國法律事務所科技法律部律師,也曾服務於士林地方法院、台北高等行政法院。美國西北大學法學碩士、政大法學士、政大 EMBA,具備美國紐約州與台灣律師執照。

新冠病毒 (COVID-19) 疫情爆發至今,大家從一開始的無視或恐慌,到逐漸能夠理解與因應,甚至「超前部署」並相互支援。在 AppWorks Accelerator 總共 376 支活躍新創的生態系中,我們也看到許多新創團隊夥伴,除了迅速採取遠距工作、強化數位行銷等戰術調整之外,面對可能持續一段時間的國際移動限制、總體經濟蕭條、銷售業績下滑,紛紛重新思考策略佈局,為長期抗戰做好準備。其中,最為關鍵的,莫過於資金的節流與開源。

節流,為了活下來

疫情重創全球經濟,環環相扣,各行各業都難以倖免。儘管我們相信多數創業者有能力化危機為轉機、更能夠在整體產業加速數位轉型的這個關頭,扮演重要推手。但是,在此之前,景氣低迷、資金緊縮,勢必率先影響新創的市場擴張與營收成長。對於「十個鍋子九個蓋、燒錢總比賺錢快」的新創團隊來說,第一個本能的反應必定是「求生」,第一個浮上腦海的字眼必定是「Runway」,也就是「手上的資金,到底還能撐多久」?對此,紅杉資本 (Sequoia Capital) 提出了以下這張圖表,幫助團隊在面對未知、毫無頭緒的情況下,作為初步的參考。

圖表來源:紅杉資本

圖表的橫軸,是指無法控制的外在情勢,以封城或類似的防疫隔離管制 (Lockdown) 導致營收損失 (Revenue Loss) 的時間與金額比例來判斷;縱軸則是團隊針對營業費用 (OpEx) 可能採取的節流方案,據此精打細算,在哪一種情境、搭配哪一種節流方案,才能夠勉強撐過這一關。當然,這一題數學並不難,究竟要如何具體落實「提升效率、精簡成本」,才是真正考驗創業者的智慧。尤其,疫情發展變幻莫測,團隊的決策也是牽一髮而動全身,即便預先設想了種種情境、方案、配套措施,仍然必須適時進行滾動式檢討與調整,才可能應變得宜。

舉例來說,我們都知道「人才」是新創團隊最重要的資產,而人事成本也往往成為所有運營成本當中負擔較重的部分。在面臨龐大資金壓力的當下,刪減人事成本看似能最快解決生存問題,近期確實也陸續看到國內外新創團隊大幅裁員的消息。但是,裁員真的是所有選項當中最必要的嗎?當團隊的產品設計、服務模式、行銷策略,為了因應疫情間接造成的市場板塊位移與消費行為改變,而必須有所調整,此時人員的配置又該孰輕孰重?即便裁員作為一個選項,是否符合當地法律規定 (「非法資遣」萬萬不可,各國法院實務也大多要求資遣只能作為最後手段 (Last Resort),此外也要注意有些政府紓困方案設有「不得減薪或裁員」的條件)?資遣費用的預估,會不會影響最終決定?而一旦作成決定,離職同仁權益如何保障?整體團隊士氣能否維護?人才流失對短、中、長期競爭情勢又產生哪些影響?這一切的一切,都需要依照個案狀況通盤評估,絕對不只是數學而已。

開源,才能長得壯

在受到疫情衝擊、營收銳減的情況下,新創事業尋求開源的方式,不外乎政府補助、民間貸款、以及向投資人募資。其中,政府與各金融機構已經陸續推出減稅、補貼、降息等因應措施,團隊可以自行參考。只是,這一類「救急不救窮」的方案,目的在於「紓困」,不在「振興」,也只能被歸類是為了「活下來」的糧草補給。

至於近期詢問度很高的國發基金「受 COVID-19 影響新創事業投資專案」,雖然基於法令規定,「外觀上」是投資入股 (不是補助或可轉債),「程序上」也必須踐行修章與增資發行特別股,但因為「本質上」屬於過渡性質的短期紓困,國發基金要求兩年或相當期限的回贖權,團隊在「心態上」寧可當作一筆低利貸款加以申請與運用 (國發基金建議特別股股息以年息 1.5% 為原則),不必太過擔心股權稀釋或影響將來募資,反而建議積極制訂「還款」計畫,仔細評估兩年期限是否符合實際,執行回贖的資金來源如何調配,是否有提前、延後或分期回贖的需要,甚至從這個過渡專案,銜接到國發基金其他正式投資方案的可行性,讓政府的美意發揮真正效益。

相對而言,團隊如果認同「攻擊才是最好的防禦」,疫情過後不只要「活下來」、還期待能夠「長得壯」,則仍然必須仰賴靈活的募資規劃。所謂「靈活」,就是認清現實,一方面理解市場面對全球疫情這樣的系統性事件,會在估值上作出反應,另一方面避免簽署不切實際的合約條款,導致營運卡關,甚至傾家蕩產:

接受估值系統性折價

估值修正 (Valuation Correction) 本身是一個中性、健康的概念,針對團隊估值被不當高估或低估的情況,以正確的方式重新檢視。雖然,估值調降在某些個案中,表達了投資人對團隊經營能力的負評,甚至是作為拯救團隊的最後一搏。然而在疫情衝擊總體經濟環境的現實下,可以預期新創事業的估值,在全球與區域市場會經歷一波通案的重新校準 (Recalibration)。畢竟對投資人來說,上一輪投資模型所依據的市場假設,都必須因應外在情勢變動而加以調整。

此時,創業者應該更為關心自己估值被調降的原因,究竟是前者 (個案、自己沒做好) 還是後者 (通案、大環境不佳) 成分居多。建議團隊以同一市場的競爭團隊,或不同市場的同類型團隊作為參考基準 (Benchmark) 加以觀察、比較或推估,一方面用以判斷投資人提出的估值修正與市場行情是否相當,一方面作為與投資人談判的初步基礎。

同時別忘了,估值調降如果發生在新一輪募資,意味著股價下修 (Down Round)。團隊以往拿到投資意向書 (Term Sheet) 後,很容易閉著眼睛就跳過的「反稀釋」(Anti-Dilution) 條款,例如常見的廣義加權平均 (Broad-Based Weighted-Average) 公式,或是投資人穩贏不輸的完全棘輪 (Full-Ratchet) 公式,可以趁這個機會好好認識。

但是,數學公式從來不是創業者最該煩惱的問題。當股價下修、啟動反稀釋條款,創業者更應該注意的是,投資人對創辦人、對團隊,是否仍然維持高度的信心。在 Down Round 的談判裡,這樣的信心,應該要反映在重新整理過的股權結構表 (Cap Table) 當中,也就是創辦人 (以及核心團隊) 應該要擁有合理的持股比例。

簡單來說,因為既有投資人的持股,會透過反稀釋的數學計算來補足,創辦人的普通股,卻沒有這樣的權利。一旦創辦人持股比例因此受到過度壓縮,不足以提供激勵誘因,反而將造成雙輸的後果。此時,可以協調既有投資人放棄或減少反稀釋的執行,甚至另行提高員工選擇權方案 (ESOP) 的比例,這也是對團隊有信心的投資人,通常會樂於採用的選項。

換句話說,在 Down Round 發生的時候,創辦人用清楚的遠見、負責的規劃與積極的行動,來說服投資人挺你,才是上上之策。等到非得動用「Pay-to-Play」這種投資人之間相互牽制的條款 (約定當既有的投資人不跟投,就強制喪失某些特別股權利),才能確保足夠的資金進帳,恐怕已是積重難返。

拒絕不切實際的合約條款

2008 年金融海嘯的經驗告訴我們,全球性的經濟衰退,可能直接反映在新創事業出場 (包括被併購與公開市場發行) 機會減少、時間拉長、金額降低、流動性受限;於此同時,投資人承受風險的意願,也可能趨於保守、投資條件更加嚴格。同樣的場景,此刻正在重演。因此,實務上,我們會看到投資協議出現某些不切實際的條款。以下是最常見的三大誤區:

第一大誤區:賭市場

條款:有別於前述國發基金的回贖機制,具有政策性目的,在一般募資的時候,投資人所要求的回贖權 (Redemption Right),是指當投資人未能順利出場取得原始投資與預期報酬的情形下,創業團隊同意以較高甚至加倍價格買回投資人持股。回贖條款雖然是常見對於投資人在消極面的保護 (Downside Protection),然而,特別是面臨疫情打亂市場步調與營運規劃的當下,新創團隊更不能因為需錢孔急或過度樂觀,而忽略與投資人協商放寬出場門檻。

解法:建議新創在投資人要求增加回贖權時,同步爭取合理調整原先設定的出場年限與市值等條件,也可以溝通分期回贖。尤其注意最多只能同意由公司來回贖,或允許公司協調第三人承購,避免由創辦人或團隊個人連帶保證。這些細節都要事先溝通清楚、安排妥當,才能避免在措手不及的情況下被迫回贖股份,使得鉅額回贖款項直接造成公司或個人的龐大現金缺口。

第二大誤區:賭人性

條款:單一投資人要求針對特定股東會決議事項具有否決權 (Veto Right)。如此一來,即便議案按照章程表決通過,只要該投資人反對,便無法執行。像是增資發行新股或增減董事席次等決策,如果必須取決於單一投資人同意與否,甚至可能嚴重阻礙後續募資規劃,或影響其他投資人的投資意願。

解法:建議團隊爭取提高投資人否決權的門檻。例如,必須特別股持股過半才能否決特定議案,讓持股過半的多數投資人為重大營運決策把關,避免單一投資人意志凌駕於多數持股,更能符合公司整體利益。此外,哪些決議事項必須納入、哪些特殊情況應該例外排除,都是新創可以與投資人具體溝通的項目。

第三大誤區:賭身家

條款:當現金流問題急迫,許多團隊選擇發行可轉債 (Convertible Note) 作為下一輪募資前的過渡性融資措施 (Bridge Loan),或是延緩前述估值修正問題的權宜之計。此時投資人可能要求無論執行哪一種轉換條件,都有權任意決定轉換一部份或全部的本金成為持股,然而,如此一來,團隊本身難以掌握在何時或何種情境下,投資人會拒絕全部轉換,導致團隊必須加計利息還款,因而增加了違約 (還不出錢來) 的風險。如果投資人進一步要求公司或個人擔保,更將造成團隊與創辦人莫大的壓力。

解法:建議團隊爭取投資人在特定條件下,必須轉換本金的全部 (而非一部份),並且務必避免以個人財產擔保公司債務。當然,各種不同的「債轉股」條件設計、到期日、利率,與能否提前還款等約定,也都需要審慎評估與協商。

如果說募資是一門藝術,疫情下的募資,大概就是一場魔術了。不過,創業者也不要灰心,其實所有合約條款的協商,都是雙方相互折衝與取捨 (Give and Take) 的結果,當新創希望投資人在某些權利讓步,投資人便可能期待有更優惠的價格,或增加相對應的停損機制。事實上,專業的投資人並不介意新創針對具體情況提出客製化的合約條款。基於這樣的理解,便有機會為自己爭取到合理的條件。當然,也別忘了「時間」往往對團隊不利,募資過程的每一天,資金水位都在直線下降,團隊的壓力只會愈來愈大、籌碼愈來愈少,唯有及早啟動募資佈局,面對前述種種交易條件,才有談判的餘裕。

結論

疫情下的募資,真的比較難嗎?如果你是先天不良的新創,確實應該誠實面對疫情帶來「擇優汰劣」的結果,從失敗的經驗中獲得啟發與再造。但如果你是戰神型的創業者,外在的困境正能考驗並突顯出你愈挫愈勇的韌性 (Resilience)。所謂「A smooth sea never made a skillful sailor.」 (平靜的海面無法造就高超的水手) 不只是老生常談,像 AppWorks 這類長線思考、資金無虞的投資人,反而更積極在尋找萬中選一、能看清自身處境、擅於權衡協調、勇於異軍突起的創業者,並給予他最大的信賴與支持。

最後,卻也最重要的,是提醒所有在疫情下募資的創業者:「資金入袋才算數」。這一點,在平常時期的募資,本來就是第一鐵律,如今身處非常時期,外在環境瞬息萬變,更要時時刻刻提醒自己,就算 Term Sheet 談得愉快、就算董事會和股東會一秒拍板、就算投資協議簽署順利、就算修章過程毫無困難,你的募資還不是你的募資。唯有資金入袋,才是真正「Deal Closed」。

許多創業夥伴都有這樣的感覺,新冠病毒這隻超級黑天鵝,好像把 2020 年第一季 (甚至第二季?) 直接變不見了。這當中,有些創業者選擇把時間凍結,期待冬眠結束還有春天;有些創業者選擇把時間快轉,彎道超車,加速奔向終點線。無論如何,面對這前所未見的局面,請始終記得,你不是孤軍奮戰,在新創圈,還有許許多多團隊正與你經歷相同處境,大家不僅要努力活下來,也要長得高又壯。

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

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How SEA Founders Can Take Advantage of Taiwan, the Startup Island, After the COVID19 Pandemic

As pandemic controls begin to loosen, Taiwan will emerge ready for startup development
Image by Robert Pastryk from Pixabay

Douglas Crets, Communications Master


Douglas is the English Master in Communication. A marketing strategist and content writer, he spent three years with Microsoft in Silicon Valley managing the global social media marketing strategy for BizSpark, Microsoft’s Azure and software program for entrepreneurs. Douglas has a deep love for technology, literature and travel. He holds a Masters in Fine Arts from Syracuse University and a Masters in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong.

Two quarters ago, the future seemed optimistic for Southeast Asia. Economic projections for the fastest-growing of these economies rose to the high single-digits. Broadband adoption was reaching a critical scale. New startups driven by a generation of young founders with international experience were rising to the region’s challenges and searching for traction. 

It now seems very likely that the economic consequences of this disease outbreak will be generation-changing. While economic and tech expansion will continue, the ground-truths of the current COVID19 situation show that innovative thinking will have to lead us through the disaster. With sealed off countries, work from home lockdowns, and breakdowns in profit growth in nearly every industry vertical, where can founders turn when it comes to finding solutions in this environment? 

At AppWorks, we are certain that founders will be among the group of people creating solutions that will bring SEA back to normalcy, and as always, we are ready to rise to the challenge.  We have evidence to show that Taiwan can be a country from which SEA founders can re-launch when they are ready. 

Taiwan possesses an e-economy that is not only well-versed in tech usage, but as the largest e-economy in the region, at US$42 billion per year, it has not slowed down significantly during this pandemic. Startup founders have worked with government officials to take an already planned-for mitigation strategy and accentuate it with tech. 

From the installation of vending machines that distribute face masks, to an unprecedented tracing technology through mobile and GPS coordinates, Taiwan has stayed ahead of the pandemic curve. It’s economy and its national health statistics have reflected this tech-forward approach. 

In terms of infection rates, the country has year-to-date had the fewest COVID19 cases. While no country has been left unscathed by the economic impact of the pandemic, Taiwan’s economists still project Taiwan to reach 2.37% to 2% in GDP growth this year, though this has been bolstered by a NT$ 100 billion injection in main business infrastructure to support the economy. 

The knowledge networks that have kept the country’s portion of the supply chain running, and a decade-long history of aiding startup growth, means that smart founders who still have their eyes on expanding through SEA should consider the island as their starting point when this horrifying pandemic eases. 

Taiwan will clearly be among the first countries for startup founders to turn for growth and learning when it becomes possible to move freely around the region again. 

This map of Greater SEA reveals that Taiwan shares more in common economically and technologically with SEA than any other country outside that traditional moniker

Predecessors define the trend — Taiwan is an undiscovered launch pad for the region

As we wrote last year, SEA founders have long landed on the island to use it as a key market for expansion and leveraging engineering resources

Companies originally from Singapore — Shopback, social streaming company M17 and the e-commerce unicorn Carousell — have established engineering and R&D teams in Taipei. 

Companies like AI-driven consumer analytics company Tagtoo (AW#1) and Hong Kong-based Omnichat (AW#16) whose founders participated in the AppWorks accelerator, gained much of their traction by leveraging the Taiwan ecosystem. 

Taiwanese companies like Mooimom (AW#16), purveyor of maternity goods, have used local engineering talent and experience in digital commerce to dominate Indonesia’s e-commerce market in that vertical.

All of these companies have used the microcosm of the AppWorks Accelerator and the macro-economy of Taiwan to gain a foothold and expand, through either direct or indirect experience in the semi-annual sessions devoted to Blockchain and AI and the community.

The accelerator and its network offers three critical sets of resources that make Taiwan a strong tech hub for the SEA region.  

  1. A community of  peers and experts who can answer questions and give support, while providing opportunities for hiring, funding, and partnerships
  2. Mentorship from seasoned public company executives who launched their own companies over the past 10-20 years
  3. Resources like software and access to supply chain that make entry into a local market easier

Community is an accelerant for learning and scaling

For young founders, a community is a lifeline to growth. In the AppWorks network, 376 operating startups and the 1,113 founders who run them have proven vital for any founder that is trying to solve a hard problem, grow at scale, make acquisitions of talent, or find funding. 

Sometimes this network and community is in-person, but it can also be virtual, as it has been so especially during the COVID19 pandemic. To accommodate founders who are not able to travel to Taiwan, and to enable connection among founders who continue to build during this time, the accelerator team holds virtual office hours and online seminars via Zoom on a regular basis. 

This would be true, in any case, and it has become something of a new manner of doing business. Over the past 3 years, AppWork’s community has started to span across tech hubs throughout SEA and become more distributed. Over the past 18 months, the number of these startups infiltrating SEA has grown at a 1.6x pace. 

A map reveals how the AppWorks founder community has expanded throughout GSEA
Image credit: AppWorks

The types of founders in this network give some insight into what kind of knowledge network is at hand during these virtual calls and virtual meetups. In many cases, former accelerator teams have reached a point where they have started to grow and are raising money to fuel expansion. Their insights can provide valuable feedback for other founders who want to go down the same path. 

Some of these former accelerator teams include: WeMo (AW#12), Taiwan’s first shared e-scooters startup, helmed by Jeffrey Wu; Voicetube (AW#7), the largest language edutech startup in Taiwan, which recently raised a US$3.5M A round; Novelship (AW#16), a Singaporean team that raised a US$2M seed round; and Booqed, also of AW#16. This Hong Kong team raised a US$1.68M round.

There are also peers who have made the journey of an acquisition. Kevin Chan of LINE Taxi (AW#11) started his company as a challenge against a fast-scaling, but wayward, Uber, which didn’t seem to have grasped the dynamics of the local market. After a few years of development, LINE acquired them. Chan mentors the community in private and public events around Taipei.

Founders like those at Omnichat (AW#16), Allan Chan and Lewis Pong, have found that connections to peers who are at this level have been key to their learning. They started in Hong Kong with their e-commerce marketing solutions startup and then came to Taiwan to join the accelerator and build out the market here. 

Three years after graduation, they have secured Taiwanese companies as clients at a scale larger than those they have in Hong Kong. Chan and Pong recently raised a US$ 800k seed round for further expansion, which will help them launch in Malaysia and Singapore in 2021.  

They have found the virtual and in-person connectedness with their peers have put them in a good place for continuing to build.  

“If we have any kind of question, we can just send a Facebook message and a lot of people will help us,” says Allan. “That’s amazing.” 

Mentorship by leaders of IPOs shaping decades of ecosystem growth

The AppWorks mentor network provides access to 100+ seasoned founders, each with at least 10-20 years of experience in nearly every technology business vertical.

Through an in-person Mentor Day, the accelerator team connects early stage founders to this network in an intimate setting organized around pitching and personal meetings. 

Founders get to meet founders in our investment portfolio like Sui Rui Quek, founder of Carousell; Joseph Phua, co-founder of live streaming social platform M17; Benjamin Wu, co-founder of iChef

Equally, they can meet founders who have IPO’d, like Ben Tseng, founder of Net Publishing, a publicly-listed game publishing platform.

Early stage founders can meet with Tai Chi Chuan of Fusion Media, which manages three of the top media platforms in Taiwan; or cryptocurrency founder Alex Liu, who created MaiCoin; and Wang-tun Chou, CIO at Next Bank, which has been granted one of the first virtual bank licenses in Taiwan.

The semi-annual mentor day brings top executives from around Taiwan and SEA to meet, coach and partner with young founders attempting to scale
Image credit: AppWorks

Peggy Cheung, a Hong Kong founder who established photo platform startup KaChick (AW#19) with co-founder Larry Lam, has firsthand experience with this. She came to Taiwan last year and says that the experiences with her mentor, Ming Chen from travel startup KKday, have focused her development efforts.

“My mentor sometimes sees what I can’t see in myself and gives me the courage to be bold,” she says. “In some cases our discussions saved me time from dwelling into unimportant matters or walking towards directions that make little sense.”

Resources

Having this kind of human support makes it easier for founders to extract value and make important connections with the macroeconomics of the country. 

AppWorks alumnus Andrew Jiang, founder of hardware-as-a-service (HaaS) venture builder Soda Labs, was part of cohort #17. He came to Taiwan from Silicon Valley. 

Soda Labs co-founder Andrew Jiang
Image credit: Andrew Jiang

To build out his HaaS startup, he partnered with tech giant Foxconn and hired local engineers. These AppWorks Accelerator-fostered connections solved critical problems in Jiang’s mission. 

“We believe Hardware-as-a-Service is a massively undervalued opportunity. Engineers in Taiwan are the most experienced in the world,” he says.

“We partner with Foxconn, which has an extensive footprint in Taiwan. When you show up in person, you get 10x the time and 10x the attention that you are able to get via WeChat or a video conference. It is also significantly easier to get agreement when you can build real relationships with your OEM,” says Jiang. 

Besides connections, AppWorks provides all the essentials that a startup needs in the early days and that they could otherwise find scattered around the island’s tech hubs. 

During the accelerator session, we give founders six months of free co-working space, available 24/7. After they “graduate” from the program, founders can provision seats on an on-demand basis for a fraction of the cost of a regular co-working space. 

There are also business credits supplied to founders from partners at AWS, GCP, and more. Founders, who might not have the resources to build internal teams for design, PR, HR, legal or accounting, can also utilize connections to a team of “Masters” on staff. These industry specialists work on-demand with founders to solve critical operational and strategic challenges.

Separate from the AppWorks offering, the Taiwanese government itself makes it easier for founders to get established on the island. Recently, the government built out a new initiative called Startup Island, geared to help international founders explore Taiwan as a launching pad. Though the COVID19 pandemic has put a freeze on new visa issuance temporarily, the government makes it possible for entrepreneurs to apply for an “Entrepreneurs Visa.” 

In December, Taiwan’s National Development Fund — a fund of over US$ 18 billion — announced that it is primed to make investments of at least US$180 million in the next few quarters, largely in Blockchain and AI. 

The next steps 

Before the arrival of SARS-CoV-2, it was estimated that the economies of GSEA (ASEAN + Taiwan) would generate US$300 billion in e-economy business by 2025

While many economies around SEA find themselves grappling with precipitous falls in GDP, with many eyeing security strategies that will seal off their borders and preserve resources for their citizens indefinitely, Taiwan will remain a willing partner to SEA founders seeking to find a foothold here. 

We expect that when life returns to what will likely be a new form of normal, the nation and our accelerator will be open, and willing, to help founders from all around the region. 

AppWorks will launch its application for its accelerator for blockchain and AI founders from SEA in May, so track our page for future announcements