Ecosystem Accelerator Innovation Fund Round 3: Findings from the top Asia Pacific start-ups applications

Since its launch in 2016, the Ecosystem Accelerator programme has sought to bridge the gap between mobile operators and start-ups in emerging markets. The programme provides mobile-first start-ups with grant funding, technical support and opportunities to develop strong partnerships with local mobile operators. Spanning across two rounds, the Ecosystem Accelerator programme has built a portfolio of 24 start-ups across Asia Pacific and Africa. Collectively, these companies have raised an additional £21.3 million in funding as of September 2018, representing more than six times the amount the programme has disbursed to these ventures. The 24 projects have had a positive socio-economic impact on over one million citizens.

During the first quarter of 2018, the third round of our Innovation Fund was launched. After analysing the top 200 pitch applications received for this Round 3, here are some insights from the top applications we received from start-ups in Asia-Pacific.

A total of 215 start-ups from 16 markets across Asia Pacific applied to the third round of our Innovation Fund. These figures are significantly higher than all the combined applications received from start-ups in Asia Pacific during Round 1 (98 applications from 11 countries) and Round 2 (99 applications from 10 countries) of our Innovation Fund back in 2016 and 2017.

Similar to Round 2’s top Asia Pacific applications insights, we have started by looking at the markets from which these start-up applications came. In comparison with our previous round, the biggest change came from Vietnam which represented 16 per cent of all the top applications (versus three per cent in Round 2). Indonesia and Vietnam each led the way with 16 per cent of the applications pool, followed by Bangladesh (14 per cent), Myanmar (13 per cent), Sri Lanka (10 per cent), Pakistan (nine per cent) and Philippines (five per cent). Another significant change compared to the previous rounds came from start-up applications received from the Pacific Islands. Combined, Fiji, Laos PDR, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Vanuatu accounted for 10 per cent of the top Asia Pacific applications.

Ecosystem Accelerator Innovation Fund Round 3 - Asia Pacific

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Looking at the profile of the start-ups that applied, the top Asia Pacific start-ups were on average 2.5 years old with a team of 16 people (quite comparable to our findings from Round 1 and 2). At early stage level confirmed by the amount of funding raised: 56 per cent of these start-ups had raised less than £100,000 in funding before applying to our Innovation Fund.

Looking at the founding teams, we observed that 53 per cent of the start-ups have been founded or co-founded by women entrepreneurs – this compares to 20 per cent for the second Round of our Fund. These figures jump up to 90 per cent when looking at the number of women in their management teams (versus 60 per cent in Round 2).

To focus on sectors, the distribution confirmed our findings during Round 2 as AgriTech led the sector clusters again with 18 per cent closely followed by FinTech (17 per cent) and Health Tech (13 per cent). E-Commerce and Job Tech accounted for 10 per cent each, Transport Tech (nine per cent), Waste & Clean Tech (eight per cent) and Ed Tech (eight per cent). Examples of start-ups operating in the leading sectors include Indonesian-based AgriTech start-up, Eragano (an end-to-end mobile farming platform that connects farmers with lenders – banks and crowdfunding platforms-, industry vendors and agriculture experts), and Bangladesh-based FinTech start-up, Hishab (Bangladesh), which runs a voice-based service that allows people at the bottom of the pyramid to perform financial transactions.

A key focus of the Ecosystem Accelerator programme is the collaboration between mobile operators and start-ups. In this perspective, it was encouraging to note that, in this regional sample of start-ups from Asia Pacific, 26 per cent are already partnering with local mobile operators like Axiata, Telenor or Telkomsel Indonesia, among others. Similar to our findings on the global pool of applications, for most start-ups from Asia Pacific the ask for mobile operators was around accessing their mass payment (mobile money) or communication (SMS, USSD, Voice, data) channels. Illustrating this point is Fori Mazdoori (Pakistan), which runs a mobile- and web-based platform that connects skilled workers with potential employers. Skilled workers can register for Fori Mazdoori through Telenor Pakistan’s mobile money service EasyPaisa and Jazz’s JazzCash. The registration fee is less than $1 and can be paid via mobile money.

Linking to our research on tech hubs in Asia Pacific, we found that 51 per cent of the 77 top Asia Pacific applications have received support from local incubators or accelerator programmes (including the likes of Plug & Play (Indonesia), Phandeeyar (Myanmar) and Muru-D (Singapore) and Ideaspace (Philippines), to name a few.

Finally, we observed that these start-ups are tackling 14 of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with three being most frequently mentioned by the applicants: No poverty (SDG 1) – 25 per cent of the start-ups, decent work and economic growth (SDG 8) – 19 per cent and good health and well-being (SDG 3) – 16 per cent. An example here is ImmunifyMe (Sri Lanka), a smart vaccination scheduling and monitoring tool that sends automated reminders to parents regarding children’s upcoming immunisation dates.

After reviewing each of these 699 start-ups’ applications and conducting a more in-depth due diligence on close to 30 of them between May and September 2018, the GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator is now proceeding with the last selection phase through an independent panel. Stay tuned for the Round 3 start-ups portfolio announcement in the coming weeks!

The Ecosystem Accelerator programme is supported by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the Australian Government, the GSMA and its members.