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I recently attended the 2021 Meet Taipei Startup Festival in Taipei. It was a fantastic, 3-day event and I got to meet a variety of Taiwanese startups. Based on my short time there, I put together a list of small startups that I thought are doing something kind of special or noteworthy.
The Meet Taipei event has been going on since 2011 and it is probably the single biggest event for meeting interesting Taiwan startups.
Having worked here for a long time, I can tell you that the 2021 Meet Taipei event was the biggest start-up event that I have been to in a while.
Not only did a number of really interesting startups took the time to come out in individual booths, cities like Taoyuan and Kaohsiung sponsored for their local companies to exhibit too.
Huge companies like the Big Four accounting firms and IKEA - and no I don't care how you pronounce it - came out as well. I did not get a chance to visit those booths but they looked quite fun.
I am not a venture capitalist so I am not talking about these companies like as if I want to invest in them.
I just want to profile a few that caught my eye. Either because they are being run by impressive teams or because they’re doing something unique.
Let’s start with Cooby.
This one appeals to me a whole lot. One of the things that I have noticed in international business is just how much gets done on WhatsApp or Line. Salespeople, especially. They keep in close touch with their customers this way. But it means a lot of valuable information stays locked up inside those chats and is difficult to review or analyze.
Cooby helps sales managers get data insights out of chats. Salespeople scan a QR Code and then "add" their work contacts. Cooby only syncs those work contacts. Obviously there has to be some trust going on, but it should work for small teams.
The company claims that they have 5,000+ users in over 54 countries. And they really stand out in that they claim to be invested by Hustle Fund and Sequoia Surge.
I have heard of Sequoia Fund before, but Sequoia Surge not really. As it turns out, Surge is a rapid scale up program for startups with the possibility of a Series A round.
The team member I spoke to was super nice and spoke English very well. She remarked that the cofounders are both ex-Facebook employees. Knowing Facebook quite well myself, I don't really give that a lot of currency. But it is good to see people with options choosing to start their company in Taiwan.
Teachify. This one appeals to me a lot. They describe themselves as the all-in-one platform for content creators to set up educational courses. As a creator myself, this naturally caught my eye and I think creators can always use more options to monetize.
Sometimes people suggest to me that I set up and sell courses. I am not interested in that but have looked into it and found the experience rather distasteful. To have an all-in-one option available is compelling, because creators can't be bothered. They would rather be creating.
They are an eleven person company based in Taipei. Their CEO told me that since they launched, the company transacted gross merchandise volume in the millions. I think it fills a compelling need.
One problem that they have is that their original name sounds like an unfortunate word. I don't blame them for it. After all they are from Taiwan and speak Chinese. It is a very Chinese name for a startup, if you understand what I mean.
However, this has led to a branding problem because if you Google "Teachify" in the United States you are not going to find their website. But in Taiwan you can, so I guess that's fine for now.
This one just started out, but they are coming out of the gate strong. And I like the company's energy.
The company is working on a edTech tool that works with teachers to make English speech practice and assessment easy. The teacher shares a QR code that the students can scan. The students can then record their responses to an English question. An AI would then grade the answer and show the teacher any issues with the speech.
I wanted to see how it worked in more detail, but the demo was a bit buggy when I stopped by. Since it was so noisy around.
The company is bootstrapped and thus a little small. Just three people including the CEO and CTO. The CEO had a chance to pitch her product to a panel of judges in front of a crowd and she did pretty good. Lots of energy.
EdTech is a really interesting space, but I would not recommend the VC investment route. Schools are pretty budget-conscious, and they operate slowly. It makes the "up and to the right" graph that VCs want hard to achieve.
I think there is the potential for this to become a nice, sustainable and self-funded business. Raising investor money to "supercharge it", I think might create another AltSchool situation. Those guys raised lots of money to build micro-schools and develop expensive technology that nobody adopted. They were then forced to slowly wind down and sell their operations to others.
I have been interested in the robotic process automation or RPA space for a while. Lots of software automation systems need to be integrated into the system it works with. This might need a lot of integrations. Zapier for instance boasts that they integrate with thousands of services. It’s their competitive advantage.
RPA goes around this by acting and automating human-like actions on the computer. For instance, ever feel like your job is nothing more than responding to emails, downloading data, and making repetitive spreadsheet charts? Well, RPA can do all that now, clicking on things on a desktop just like you. And I guess replace you too.
They showed me a demo. You send an inquiry email to an inbox Emily monitors. Emily reads it, and sends back an email with additional information and attached materials. Pretty cool.
There are already a few big RPA companies out there. Like UiPath, which recently raised over a billion dollars in a New York IPO. Right now the company has a market cap of about $27 billion.
The team mentioned UiPath without me bringing it up. They mentioned that they acquired a large Taiwan-based customer because they were OS-agnostic, while UiPath only worked on Windows.
Despite only launching very recently back in 2019, they have already picked up a variety of customers. I have not studied the RPA market that much, but I reckon what matters the most is building features and customer acquisition. I hope they continue their momentum.
In my videos, I talk about the primacy of having and manufacturing the best technologies. So it is important that we give light to companies featuring hardware innovations.
Not everything has to be a SaaS. And it would be detrimental for a high-tech ecosystem if that were to be the case.
Let’s start with drones. I have been really interested in UAVs and automated vehicles. So when I read about this company I tried to find them. I was surprised to find two companies - one doing flying machines and another doing swimming machines.
The guy explained that the original company split into two so that they can have more focus. He mentioned that much of the UAV industry developed on top of open source technologies, and he had been one of its early developers. He started a company and added several critical things that the open source community was missing - like encryption.
While a lot of people are interested in the flying UAV, the swimming UAV has been more successful for them. The latter was recently commissioned to inspect ports and harbors for oil leaks and the like. Which makes sense to me. Lots of people are doing flying UAVs. Why compete there?
I have previously done a video about the mini-LED industry so naturally I had to go visit this company. The Tainan-based PanelSemi has created a mini-LED panel screen that you can roll up and use in end user devices.
The first thing I noticed is that the resolution on the headlining example screen is not that great. But I reckon that is all a matter of cost. In the background there is another example that looks much better.
The team looks to be very competent. The guy who talked to me had been working in the industry for a long time and clearly knew what he was talking about. I am glad he came out to demonstrate his technology.
This company won the pitch contest that I attended. I was not able to visit them during my time there. But they seem to have a pretty interesting piece of tech.
Smart Tag has developed a heat-resistant and flexible PCB that can be used as a sensor for any machine tool. You patch it onto existing machinery and get information about its operating status.
I can see why this can have appeal in Taiwan, land of boba and semiconductors. Chip foundries run day and night 24/7. So it is a big problem when equipment breaks down. ASML estimates that a standard TwinScan machine breakdown costs a foundry $20 for each minute it is down. The easier it is to know what goes wrong, the faster they can get to fixing it.
Like I said, I only had enough time to join the event for a few hours. I wish I could have gone for the full day. Thus there are a few companies that I wish I could have talked to, but missed them for whatever reason.
This is a small five-person company from Chiayi. While I was able to visit their booth, their English was not that great and we could not have a good conversation.
But I still enjoyed watching their promotion video. I don't eat shrimp myself. But shrimp is a crucial, high value source of protein and I am always interested in learning about new aquaculture methodologies.
This organization or company was on the listings but I could not find them. Their employees must have been away on lunch or something.
But their mission is to train some of the 130,000 stray dogs in Taiwan to be professional support doggos. These good bois can then assist people with autism, hyperactivity or disability to have better lives.
Podcasting in Taiwan has been really taking off lately for some reason. More than a few of my friends and coworkers have started their own podcasts, talking about life and work issues.
Firstory has emerged as one of the more well-known Taiwan-based podcast hosting companies. They specifically cater to the Taiwan market, offering a form of freemium service. I have been seeing them in a bunch of startup and jobs festivals. Never been able to talk to them, but glad to see them growing.
Even if you are not running some VC fund with a massive checkbook, some of these companies might be worth looking at and talking to. Maybe you might end up working for them. After all, I would have never ended up in Taiwan in the first place had it not been for a job offer from a startup.
The whole event was a blast and I cannot recommend it enough. Small and medium sized businesses are the lifeblood of a major economy. To me, seeing new entrepreneurs come out of the woodwork is a good thing. But I have a startup background, so maybe I am a little biased.
I hope you enjoyed this video. Make sure to check out some of the companies on this list. Give them a shout and help them out!
There will be another event next month in Kaohsiung by the same organizers. I am planning on being there. If you're coming too, I'd love to meet up.
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