East Asian cities for entrepreneurs

East Asian cities for entrepreneurs

Over the past few years, many East Asian cities have popped up to lead the way for start-ups. With access to growing markets, a skilled talent pool and lower living costs than the Valley, East Asian cities are starting to claim their piece of the pie and they are stepping up to attract entrepreneurs.

There are other factors, such as community availability of investment and access to local expertise - that have played a vital role to create an optimal environment for a start-up to grow.

Here are some of the cities leading the way for start-ups:


Home to over 7,000 start-ups and, Beijing reigns supreme in the Asian start-up scene. Scattered with opportunity and talent, the Chinese city also houses more than 40 unicorns, which businesses with a valuation of more than $1 billion. Housing 300 coworking spaces, the tech hub of Zhongguancun is the Chinese equivalent to Silicon Valley. Haidan District, however, remains wider and houses some of the city's success stories, such as Xiaomi and Baidu.


Blessed with affordable living costs, Shanghai is a great place to start a business. Apart from the living costs, the city prides itself in its start-up scene and some districts encourage aspiring entrepreneurs by providing housing allowances or free rent if businesses choose to register there.

Housing around 3,000 start-ups, Shanghai falls behind Beijing in terms of the size of its scene. The city, however, boasts a higher success rate in terms of business' ability to expand internationally.


What once was a small fishing village with a population of 175,000 30 years ago is now a metropolis of over 12.5 million inhabitants. The cosmic growth of the population has meant more business opportunities and has spawned a thriving start-up community. The city is the birthplace of global names like Tencent and OnePlus. The city is also famous for breeding hardware developers, attracting some of the largest volumes of research and development investment of anywhere in the country.

Hong Kong

Although Hong Kong has long been one of the world's leading financial centres, it has struggled to replicated that success in its infant scene. With the current changing landscape, Hong Kong has been able to turn things around over the past few years and it has been a boost in entrepreneurial activity. Today, the city houses more than 2,000 start-ups, 50 coworking spaces and one unicorn - van-hailing app GoGoVan.

Fukuoka (in photo)

Over the past few years, Fukuoka has grown its reputation as a start-up hub to such extent that it is now Japan's designated regulatory sandbox for start-ups. As such, it is authorised to provide local entrepreneurs with loans of up to $232,000 and is home to the country's first six-month start-up visa for foreigners, hence its growing expat community.


What was once was the centre of a thriving internet start-up scene has struggled to maintain its position in the past few years. Despite housing one o the world's largest investors, Softbank, investment in start-ups has been poor during this period.

Despite the recent trends, as the capital of the world's third-largest economy, Tokyo boasts numerous opportunities for start-ups that can provide solutions to the problems the country is facing, such as its rapidly aging population.


Housing 3,500 start-ups and around 100 accelerators, Seoul is leading the start-up scene in South Korea. The city's prominent start-up scene is partly thanks to the South Korean government's investment to help entrepreneurs. Although it usually favours nationals, South Korea boasts the highest government backing per capita for start-ups.


Despite being smaller than other Asian cities leading the way for start-ups, Taipei is a hub for hardware development and manufacturing. The Taiwanese capital also houses a notable network of engineering and design expertise.

High-tech hotels in Asia

High-tech hotels in Asia

As the world becomes more technology dependant, it becomes imperative for hotels to offer guests more than a comfy bed to sleep in. On the contrary, hotels need to ride the wave of technology changes to attract the new generation of tech savvy travellers.

Colour TV and vibrating beds were once associated with high-tech hotels, but nowadays it takes more state-of-the-art amenities to attract guests. This new generation of travellers expect even more in the form convenience, accessibility and artistic design, which can be achieved through technology and innovation.

Asia - and Japan in particular - houses some of the most modern and high-tech hotels in the world, offering amenities at the cutting edge of technology. Here are some of the best high-tech hotels in the continent:

Henn Na Hotel Tokyo (in photo)

Innovation and technology are palpable in this Japanese hotel from the moment reach the front desk. There you will be greeted by three robots instead of staff. These human-like and dinosaur robots check guests in at the front desk and they are even capable of engaging in basic conversation in both English and Japanese.

Henn na - literally translated as Weird Hotel - does not only use these robots to impress guests or seem high tech, but to maximise efficiency. Indeed, Henn Na Hotel relies on both robotics and human workers to ensure guests are well looked after. Apart from checking guests in at the front desk, guest rooms feature a miniature robotic personal assistant capable of providing local dining and entertainment recommendations. Beyond the robots, guest rooms are not only equipped with typical tech amenities such as free Wi-Fi and touch screen HVAC control panels, but also with a facial recognition system that unlocks your room door and a “Radiant Panel” air conditioning system that adjusts the temperature according to your body heat. All of these features will keep you glancing around to see if you spot James Bond.

The Peninsula Tokyo

If you were to expect a Minority Report-type of accommodation, you'll probably expect it to be in Tokyo. Once more, Japan is pioneering the cutting edge of high-tech hotels with the luxurious The Peninsula Tokyo. Located in the high-end Marunouchi business district - only a few minutes away from the famous Tsukiji fish market - this ostentatious property is buzzing with modern and impressive features. All 314 guest rooms live and breathe luxury, featuring over 3,000 Internet radio stations, huge flat-screen TVs, customisable mood lighting, and Skype-capable wireless phones. As impressive as it sounds, the hotel also offer guests exclusive access to a number of luxury cars such as BMW 750s, a Tesla Model S, and two Rolls-Royce Phantoms. Apart from being a playground for adults, the hotel also offers children an interactive Pokemon treasure hunt, that is only to real thanks to augmented reality.

W Singapore at Sentosa Cove (Sentosa Island, Singapore)

W Singapore are popular for being the most modern hotels brand in the world and W Singapore at Sentosa Cove is no exception. There you will enjoy uber-high tech luxury amenities, like LED lighting pulsing throughout the hotel and creating a nightclub-esque atmosphere. Rooms are equipped with 40-inch flat-screen TVs, Bose speakers and iPod docks. That is, however, nothing compared to the $9,000-per-night Extreme WOW Suite, which features a private DJ booth. The hotel also boasts a beautiful pool with underwater speakers.

Pengheng Space Capsules Hotel (Shenzhen, China)

From the reception desk to the waitstaff to the doorman, the hotel relies entirely on robotics, from the reception desk to the waitstaff to the doorman. This is one of Shenzhen's most high-tech hotels, featuring a use of neon lighting, multiple computer banks and 17 capsule beds designed to mirror the hyperbaric sleep chambers from the film Alien. The design makes the hotel look futuristic. Beyond the design and robots, technology doesn't play a big role in the hotel as a whole and the number of amenities is low, but on the bright side, that means that the hotel is not that expensive and it's ideal for travellers on a budget who want to stay in the city.

Some other high-tech hotels worth mentioning are Aloft Bangkok - which uses technology in its design to optimize convenience for guests and W Taipei - which uses technology in a quirky way. Aloft Bangkok features robotic butlers and voice-activated rooms that can even run baths and set alarms that will make you feel like you are in a film. Meanwhile, W Taipei features typical high-tech amenities like LCD flat screen televisions and modern sound systems, but what makes it special is that it houses a wall with an interactive grid of OLED lights that will change based on your movements.

The most popular apps in Asia

The most popular apps in Asia

Apple unveiled its list in 2017 of the most popular apps across the App Store, Apple Music and iTunes in the Southeast Asia region. Accordingly, 2017 was a tremendously successful year for entertainment, when lots of new content from indie artists and development community took prominence.

Some of the innovative trends in the year was the introduction of augmented reality (AR) apps and games, the rise of real-time competitive gaming, apps that focused on mental health and mindfulness, and apps that have transformed reading and storytelling.

Revolutionising AR technology apps like “My Very Hungry Caterpillar AR” has change the way stories are red. With just a few taps on your mobile device, the classic children's book characters come to life.

Some of the apps that are centred in mindfulness, mental health and stress reduction include meditation app Zen Studio and colouring book apps such as Bloom and Lake.

Ride Sharing

This ride hailing app tops the list of most downloaded apps in 2017. Despite Uber's millionaire investment to take over the Southeast Asian market, Grab or Gojek, the question is still there for who remains the favourite ride-sharing app amongst Southeast Asians. Although Grab tops the list, Gojek is also one of the downloaded apps in the region, securing a marketplace in Southeast Asia.

oBike secured its 8th position down the list, competing as a bike sharing app. Based in Singapore, oBike is a stationless bicycle-sharing system with operations in several countries. Thanks to a built-in Bluetooth lock, bikes can be left anywhere at the end of a journey, not necessarily at a docking station. The way that it works is that users use this oBike app to locate and hire bikes. Ever since it was launched in 2017, obike has expanded to 24 countries including Taiwan, Korea, Malaysia, Australia, Thailand, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, France and Sweden.


Social networks such as Facebook and Instagram remain at the top of the list of most downloaded apps in the region. Although Facebook retains a powerful position, it is closely followed by Instagram. Meanwhile, Snapchat occupies the 20th position on the list.


Whatsapp Messenger is Southeast Asia's favourite app to call and message each other. Other apps to communicate with one another, such as Messenger and WeChat, have also secured a good place on the list.


YouTube remains the king app to watch and stream videos all across the region, as it was the fourth most downloaded app in 2017, according to results gathered by Apple Store.


Occupying the 10th position down the list is Carousell, a mobile and online consumer to consumer marketplace for buying and selling new and secondhand goods. Although the app is based in Singapore, Carousell has expanded to Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Australia and the United States.

Food Delivery

The most popular apps for food delivery are Foodpanda and UberEATS. Headquartered in Berlin, Foodpanda is a German mobile food delivery app that allows users to select from local restaurants place orders with just a few taps on the mobile device.

Launched in 2014 and headquartered in San Francisco, UberEATS is an American online food ordering and delivery platform launched by Uber back in 2014. You can order either on their website or with the app, and accordingly, you should get your delivery within 30 minutes.


Google apps feature prominently on the list, with Gmail - email by Google - as the most downloaded app for email, and Google Chrome as the preferred web browser. Google translate is also amongst the 20 most downloaded apps in Southeast Asia. Google Maps remains the preferred app to get directions and get from point A to point B.

Healthy 365

Also one of the most downloaded apps in Southeast Asia, this app allows you track your daily steps count and calculate the corresponding calories burned as you move. Health 356 accepts data from tracking devices such as HealthKit and Apple Watch. Apart from tracking your steps, the app enables you track your daily food and drinks intake and the calories consumed. The app puts together the concept of caloric balance, providing an overview of your overall daily calories consumed and burned, thus helping you in your weight management journey for a healthier lifestyle.

Why Grab app is such a success

Why Grab app is such a success

Formerly known as GrabTaxi, Grab is a Singapore-based car-sharing technology company that operates in Singapore and other Southeast Asian nations such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar. Through its app, Grab offers ride-hailing, ride sharing logistics services.

While Uber's founders were testing their app in San Francisco, two Harvard Business School classmates from Malaysia conceived a similar idea: Uber for Asia and that's how GrabTaxi started. They fist tested the app in 2012 when they launched the ride-sharing service with 40 drivers in Kuala Lumpur. Ever since, Grab has grown exponentially, overtaking the ride-sharing market in Southeast Asia, with 2.3 million drivers in 168 cities across eight countries. Today, Grab is the most valuable tech startup in Southeast Asia, amassing $2.5 from investors such as Softbank, the Chinese ride-sharing company Didi Chuxing, and Hyundai, and as a result, now Grab is valued at $10 billion.

Although Uber has invested dramatically in the region, Grab remains the number one ride-sharing app in Southeast Asia. What Grab has mastered and Uber hasn't is a better knowledge of the region. Uber has spent years doing research on Western users, but these results can't be applied to Southeast Asian countries. Meanwhile, Grab has made the most of its cultural advantage, and has invested, instead, in trying to figure out how to make e-pay work in nations with poor financial infrastructure. Grab acquired Uber's Southeast Asia business in 2018 with Uber getting a percentage stake in Grab.

The company has recruited young coders - that include alumni of Facebook, Amazon and Google - to keep up with the fierce competition in the region. Ever since Uber launched in the region in 2013, the company has invested millions of dollars into recruiting riders and drivers. At the same time, local competitor Go-Jek has a strong market lead in Indonesia and has recently raised at least $13 billion in a funding round that involved Google as well as Chinese companies Tencent and JD.com and the Singapore sovereign wealth fund Temasek. Go-Jek recently closed $2 billion round at $9.5 billion valuation.

This millionaire investments and race to dominate the market stem from the fact that dominating ride-share in Southeast Asia leads significant economic opportunity. A report co-authored by Google stated that spending on ride-hailing apps in the region has more than doubled over the past two years to $5 billion. By 2025 it is expected to reach $20 billion.

Despite Uber's astronomical investments, local companies are still leading the market, which has prompted the Western company to try and match the discounts and promotions competitors are offering riders and drivers in the region. This initiative, however, has resulted in Uber losing money. During a New York Times Dealbook Conference in New York, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi addressed this issue and the company's performance in Southeast Asian, saying that the market was over-capitalized. “We're going in, and we're leaning forward,” he said. “But I'm not optimistic that market is going to be profitable any time soon.”

It is hard for Uber to catch up with Grab, which has prompted rumours that both companies might join forces. Uber cannot compete with Grab's cultural proximity and understanding of the needs of drivers and riders in countries like the Philippines and Vietnam. For instance, when Grab first launched, it held sessions every to weeks to train drivers how to use the app and even smartphones. Since most riders didn't have credit cards, Grab accepted case from the very start. Although Uber accepts cash in some parts of the region, it took it two years to adopt this strategy.

As people were already familiar with Grab, when smartphones started to become more popular, they already fest comfortable to use Grab's app to hail a car, a motorbike, a van ride or even a trike.

The best step for Grab was to enable riders to load money via into their app via credit cards, online banks, local ATMs and even convenience stores that take part in an over-the-counter digital wallet service called GrabPay. To this date, the company has been purchasing fintech startups and opening research and development centres dedicated to growing its payment service.

Grab has also enabled peer-to-peer payments and allowing other merchants to accept GrabPay. The way that it works is that you scan a merchant's QR code, key in an amount and then hit the “pay” button. This service was launched across restaurants and food stalls in downtown Singapore, and is now being spread out through the region.