A Message from Taipei

Today I am opening the APEC Start-Up Accelerator Leadership Summit here in Taipei. The summit is challenging 30 startups along with 200 top executives and officials from the APEC region to re-think past assumptions about how the public and private sectors can collaborate to build sustainable startup ecosystems in the region.

Chinese Taipei has always played an important role in the entrepreneurship world. Most of us in the U.S. have experienced the business acumen from this island. Innovation Works, Zappos and Gumhoo all have CEOs with direct ties to this part of the world. In fact, in 2005, 5.8% of startups in the United States were founded by people from here including Steven Chen, co-founder of YouTube. They are now expanding that significantly, forming a competitive platform for startups throughout the Asia-Pacific region to interact at various stages with key players throughout the world for internationalization, funding and other opportunities to scale.

Forbes reported last year that Taipei dropped from the 4th top immigrant-founder-sending country in 2005 to 22nd in 2012. This reduced its share of startups in the U.S. to 1.1% (see the Kauffman Foundation report on immigrant entrepreneurship). While China currently draws many of the graduates from here in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields because of cultural and linguistic advantages, Taipei has also become a magnet for entrepreneurial talent itself, reversing the brain drain that helped fuel startup ecosystems abroad. Ranked 20th globally in terms of economic freedom and 16th in the ease of Doing Business, new high growth firms have numerous incentives to stay here.

Improved local education opportunities have also helped keep a declining young population at home. At the same time, entrepreneurial communities here appear to have an inherently global mindset. For example, the entrepreneurship center at National Chengchi University is not only named International Entrepreneurship Hub but it has managed to attract foreign entrepreneurs. Startup Labs Taiwan, a Y Combinator-type incubation program initiated by Clint Nelsen, a co-founder of Startup Weekend, is another good example. Further, local government and APEC leaders that are meeting here this week are much closer than five years ago in asking the right questions as they focus on the role this part of the world wants to play in fostering borderless startup activity. Just take a look at some of those questions the Summit is addressing over the next two days:

  • Where do the larger companies and governments fit into the community and how can they bring value?
  • How does policy influence the spread of ideas and the growth of disruptive innovations? For example, how do tax benefits for private investors compare between Asian countries and the US?
  • What are the current challenges facing entrepreneurs outside of the Silicon Valley?
  • What is missing from Asia’s startup ecosystems?
  • How different are Y Combinator, TechStars and 500 Startups from their Asia counterparts?
  • What will the rise of the maker movement mean for larger corporations?
  • How can grassroots innovation be harnessed to push the needle for both corporations and startups?
  • Can the “thousand little things”—as startups are often considered—become the next large corporations?


In speaking with some of the leaders here today behind Global Entrepreneurship Week on the island, it is clear government is playing a much more thoughtful role than in the past in building a startup platform. In partnership with similar renowned higher education institutions, the government here decided to support the development of high-tech enterprises by funding incubator centers and has been quick to constantly renew its vision and engagement on behalf of new enterprise creation, even after becoming one of the Asian Tigers and 13th most competitive economy worldwide. Many post-World War II entrepreneurs from Taipei rose to become giant exporters of electronics, machinery, and petrochemicals. In turn, the SME sector which is largely family-run has kept trading and food service industries dynamic. Now Taipei is aiming for a new wave of entrepreneurs to see new high-growth companies, such as Wretch.cc, a Taiwanese blog community acquired by Yahoo!, and Atlastpost, founded by the Kuo brothers and acquired by Groupon to become Groupon Taiwan. For more information on the startups here today scroll down the summit agenda.

While there has been plenty of government direction and leadership here, Chia-Juch Chang, the Minister of Economic Affairs, clearly has a healthy respect for letting entrepreneurs and their communities lead. Entrepreneurs here are clearly mingling and sharing resources. Initiatives like the Founder Squad and IDEAS Show are sharing ways in which they collaborate and support others in the APEC region.

How times have changed and what an appropriate place for other APEC leaders to learn how to foster a climate of genuine top-down meets bottom-up collaboration among all the startup community actors in developing the most appealing startup ecosystem for ambitious entrepreneurs.


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