Taiwan Startup Stadium helps promising local startups go global
Founded in 2015 with funding from Taiwan’s National Development Council (NDC), Taiwan Startup Stadium (TSS) acts as a hub for early-stage Taiwanese tech companies, helping to strengthen the local startup ecosystem. To join TSS’s Starting Lineup program, startups must be Taiwan-based, with at least one co-founder here and show evidence of user acquisition or revenue generation. If a startup’s product is software, it needs to be functional (either as a website or app), while hardware makers must have a working prototype. Finally, the product must have global potential.
Startups that meet the requirements are provided with a wealth of benefits – all for free! Some of the benefits include matchmaking with TSS’s network of over 350 investors, as well as mentorship with experienced entrepreneurs, Public Relations and media help, pitch practice (in English), and an array of corporate perks and member-only deals.
These benefits are already paying off for TSS members.
GilaCloud, for example, has created a platform that makes it easy to convert text into video using artificial intelligence technology, reducing the production conversion time by 90%. As a TSS member, GilaCloud has attended a number of overseas exhibitions, including TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco, 2017 RISE startup conference in Hong Kong, and NYC Media Lab 2016 Summit. With support from TSS, last August GilaCloud was awarded US$500,000 in seed capital from Japanese venture capital investment firm Infinity Venture Partners Seed. Last June TSS also played an instrumental role in helping GilaCloud establish partnerships with China’s leading media companies.
TSS member Health2Sync is another startup to watch. This startup integrates IoT technology with healthcare diagnostics to create a smart device for diabetes patients to monitor blood glucose more closely. This 2016 TechCrunch Hardware Battlefield and TechInAsia alumnus and former Singapore-based accelerator Income Future Starter just closed its series B funding round, and is aiming for target markets in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Singapore.
Startup accelerators help early-stage firms grow by offering them financing, mentorship and education. The application process is open to anyone, but can be highly competitive, especially for top accelerators like Silicon Valley-based Y Combinator and Boulder, Colorado’s TechStars.
Startups enter accelerators for a fixed time period, usually three or six months, as part of a cohort of firms. Their time in the accelerator is often formative for their future development. “The accelerator experience packs a huge amount of hands-on learning into just a few months,” says Holly Harrington, co-founder and general manager of TSS. That learning process, along with the opportunity to cultivate industry connections and financing channels, can have a decisive effect on a startup’s future prospects, she says.
To prepare Taiwanese startups to join an accelerator, TSS guides them through the application process. Many of the best accelerators are in the U.S., where the education system differs from Taiwan’s, Harrington observes. “In Taiwan, failure – especially in business – is frowned upon,” she says. “It’s not something people like to discuss. But U.S. accelerators want to know about those failed business ventures, which show that applicants have experience running a business, that they know how to work as part of a team, that they’ve suffered through disaster. All of these things are relevant for a startup’s future prospects.”
Choosing the right accelerator is critical, Harrington says. The elite Y Combinator, whose graduates include Airbnb and Dropbox, is often not an ideal match for Taiwanese startups. “It’s big, highly competitive, and provides limited mentorship, even though it does offer a great network,” she says. “We find that Taiwanese startups benefit from being in accelerators with smaller batches of companies where they can get more individual attention from mentors.”
In some cases, finding the right accelerator means looking beyond Silicon Valley. Harrington points out that New York City has an ascendant startup scene covering retail, fashion, design and media – all industries that have long been pillars of the city’s economy. “New York is good because it’s different,” she says. “It’s not yet a startup hub like Silicon Valley, so you can stand out a little more there. Whenever we’ve gone to New York, we’ve gotten such a warm welcome.”
Entering an accelerator is no guarantee of success, but in many cases, it positively impacts a startup’s development. Harrington points out that 7 out of 10 startups in TSS’s first program went on to join overseas accelerators.
TSS has a partnership with the NYC Media Lab accelerator. Typically, only New York-based startups can join the accelerator, Harrington says. This year, Akohub, a Taiwanese startup which has created machine-learning software that provides marketing assistance to e-commerce entrepreneurs, has gained the rare opportunity to join NYC Media Lab, following two other TSS recommended startups, Toii and Diuit.
One of TSS’s primary tasks is preparing local startups for international expansion. That process includes taking startups to global industry conferences, sharpening their sales skills, connecting them with mentors (typically successful Taiwanese startup founders) and helping them select the right accelerator – a short-term, cohort-based program to boost startup growth. “We are not an accelerator but an important part of our job is to prepare Taiwanese startups to succeed in international accelerators,” says.
Over the past three years, TSS has taken Taiwanese startups to prominent conferences in the U.S., Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore. Those include TechCrunch Disrupt (San Francisco), NYC Media Lab Summit (New York), Slush Asia (Tokyo), Infinity Ventures Summit (Kyoto), RISE Conference (Hong Kong) and Echelon (Singapore).
TSS says that it focuses on getting startup teams prepared before going to overseas exhibitions, including English investor pitch practice, investor relations, international media relations, and to familiarize them with U.S. marketing tactics. TSS recently brought 12 Taiwanese startups to New Orleans and San Francisco to meet local investors, business partners, and media, as well as hosting demo days in each city.
TSS is also happy to connect startups to corporate investors in Taiwan and abroad. TSS is already working with AmCham Taipei to bring these very different sectors together. This past April 17, AmCham hosted the first TSS Demo Day and Networking event, which was a smashing success by all viewpoints. Representatives of some of AmCham’s largest multinationals were in attendance and were highly impressed by TSS member startups.
Taiwanese startups are on the move, offering boundless creativity and innovative solutions for businesses and consumers in the digital age. Corporations and investors are encouraged to reach out to TSS for more information.