The AppWorks Accelerator FAQ (for founders applying to AW#22)

Founded in 2010, AppWorks Accelerator is a startup community created by founders, for founders. We are committed to fostering the next generation of entrepreneurs in Greater Southeast Asia and to accelerating the region’s transition into the digital era. 

Every six months, we take in startups operating on the frontiers of AI / IoT, Blockchain / DeFi, and Southeast Asia, equipping founders spanning all walks of life with the necessary resources, mentorship, and guidance to get their ventures off the ground. Since our establishment 10 years ago, we’ve graduated 21 batches, with the entire AppWorks Ecosystem now encompassing 395 active teams and 1,331 founders. Collectively, they generate an annual turnover of US$8B and boast an aggregate valuation of US$11B, creating the strongest founder community of its kind in Greater Southeast Asia. 

As an international founder we know there are many considerations when applying to an accelerator. That’s why we’ve created an FAQ page to help you decide whether or not AppWorks is suitable for your startup. 

As of Nov 4, AppWorks Accelerator #22 is open for applications.  You can find important information about the Accelerator experience on our main page.

The FAQs

1. “What do I need to know before joining an accelerator in Taiwan during COVID? 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 founders deal with the impact from the pandemic?”

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. 

To make sure founders accepted to AW#22 will have the benefits of connecting to your batchmates, to mentors, to markets, and to essential knowledge and services, we’ve designed a hybrid program that serves both local Taiwan-based founders as well as international founders abroad that cannot physically enter Taiwan. 

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. 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.

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 perks from our technology partners available, 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#22 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 hundreds of investors / executives in person who can make a positive impact on your founder journey.

For now, here are some 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?”

a. The largest community of entrepreneurs in Greater Southeast Asia

Starting a business is lonely. Most of your family and friends will not understand what you are going through. That’s why it’s critical to put yourself in an environment with like-minded peers, to share the ups and downs, and provide mutual support through any setbacks and challenges. In AppWork Accelerator, there will be 50 – 60 batchmates in the trenches alongside you. Additionally, you’ll have an opportunity to connect with hundreds of AppWorks alumni at various gatherings, many of whom have passed through the 0-1 stage and can help you shortcut potential hurdles through sharing their own experiences.

b. 100+ mentors with rich entrepreneurial experience

The AppWorks Ecosystem has over 100 mentors that have offered up their time to guide young entrepreneurs, which you’ll meet through events like Mentor Day and Mentor office hours. Some will help you in strategy, some will help open doors to new connections, some will become your business partner, and a select few will serve as your lifelong mentor, guiding you every step along your founder journey with their own life experiences, offering advice in times of need, but also celebrating with you in times of joy.

c. Masters and Partners 

In the early days of your founder journey, you’ll often be strapped for time and resources, leaving you with little capacity or even experience to handle certain tasks in the course of building your startup. Our in-house Master team consists of 8 subject-matter experts who can assist founders in functional areas such as PR, talent recruitment, finance/accounting, legal, investor relations, alumni relations, design, and workspace management. With average experience of more than 10 years, our Master team can help early-stage founders maximize their time and effort without compromising any additional resources. 

In addition to our Master team, one-on-one office hours are arranged with each of our five AppWorks Partners each month. They can advise in all aspects of your startup including business model ideation, analyzing market dynamics, launching new products/services, and building and hiring new teams. Tapping into experiences from their own founder journeys, our Partners can quickly provide targeted advice to help you clarify problem statements and alleviate bottlenecks.

d. Connections in SEA

Southeast Asia has become one of Taiwan’s primary markets when internationalizing. Penetrating these markets on your own is hard enough as it is. In AppWorks Accelerator, on average more than 60% of the teams in each batch come from outside of Taiwan, including Indonesia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, among others. At AppWorks, we very much maintain a “pay-it-forward” mentality, whereby many of your fellow batchmates and alumni will serve as your eyes and ears on the ground, facilitate warm introductions to key contacts, and open doors for your market entry just because you are a part of the community. In addition, AppWorks has established solid relations with local startup communities and investors across the region, giving you more possibilities for a soft landing.

e. Other resources

After joining AppWorks Accelerator, you’ll have access to many other free resources, services, and perks. For example, we regularly hold Fundraising Bootcamp to provide advice and consultations for founders going through the fundraising process. AppWorks is also located near Taipei City Hall MRT station, in the core business district of Taipei City, featuring a free co-working space, accessible 24/7; within walking distance, you can immediately access department stores, restaurants, bookstores, movie theaters, and shopping centers for those of you looking to conduct first-hand user research. Each team in AppWorks Accelerator is also entitled to free cloud credits valued up to US$100,000 from our long-time technology partners Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud Platform, greatly reducing your infrastructure costs.

3. “Does AppWorks Accelerator cost anything?”

No. AppWorks Accelerator has always been free for founders. We will not charge rent or 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, SEA is rising, displaying impressive growth in middle class incomes and 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?

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 probably isn’t a better time to learn in an accelerator than as 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?”

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 a 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. It demonstrates 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?”

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 an overseas founder to set up a Taiwan office, especially those of you that are B2B facing. This may better enable  you to find business partners and negotiate commercial agreements 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, 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. It also includes a required one-minute self-intro to the founder (CEO).

We hope the above FAQ can help you clarify your questions about AppWorks Accelerator. If you seek more clarity, please write to: [email protected] 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 January 4th, 2020.

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.”


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

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.

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.