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Accelerating success: SparkLabs Taipei’s Edgar Chiu

Taiwan News 2021/12/09
 SparkLabs Taipei
SparkLabs Taipei

At Meet Taipei, Taiwan News sat down with Edgar Chiu (邱彥錡), co-founder and managing partner at SparkLabs Taipei for an exclusive, extensive interview.

This is part of a multi-part series on the startup scene. The first is Insights on the startup space with Meet Taipei's Kyle Chen.

Huge opportunity is not luck but a process of finding solutions to problems — then taking these solutions global. Taiwan has an abundance of opportunities and is well placed to make them a reality.

These are the key takeaways from Edgar Chiu of SparkLabs Taipei. Insights will be explored over a few articles, with this first introducing Chiu and the company.

SparkLabs was originally founded in Silicon Valley by a group of Asian-Americans in 2013. As Chiu said, “They noted there was Y Combinator but there were no accelerators in Asia that can help startups to go out (from the region). The Asia market is so fragmented, so use this to unite them.”

Their first overseas venture was in South Korea where they found Chiu, who was then working on new business development projects for Naver (co-owners of the LINE messaging platform, among other product lines) after Gogolook, where he joined as a founding COO, was bought by the Seoul-based corporation.

“You don’t know how lonely it was in the beginning, no one believed in us,” Egdar Chiu stated of the first year, but he persevered. “So I started to raise the funds to start this accelerator to help Taiwanese startups grow."

Chiu, who is Taiwanese, turned out to be a good fit for their expansion to Taipei. Today, SparkLabs has offices in 12 cities around the world as far afield as Beijing, London and Tel Aviv — but Taipei was their second overseas destination.

Chiu explained why Taiwan was such an important early priority: “There are a lot of well-known companies that were founded or led by Taiwanese, including AMD, Nvidia, Twitch, Guitar Heroes, YouTube — those founders are actually Taiwanese-American or they were born and raised in Taiwan."

"So there should be more Taiwanese companies that are global successes on the world stage. There are some, but there is not a phenomenal situation. I think the market is lacking a mechanism to cultivate this kind of early-stage startup to very late stage,” he said.

“You don’t know how lonely it was in the beginning, no one believed in us,” Chiu stated of the first year, but he persevered. “So I started to raise the funds to start this accelerator to help Taiwanese startups grow."

Starting from 2017 here in Taiwan, SparkLabs raised funds here from big corporates like CTBC, 104 Job Bank, and also got some investors from Silicon Valley, including the co-founder of Twitch, Kevin Lin, and both co-founders of Guitar Heroes IoT app. "It’s a hybrid fund, with investors in Taiwan and outside of Taiwan.” With this support finally secured, they launched their investment fund in 2018.

One of the top early-stage investors, SparkLabs Taipei is now hitting its stride. They currently have more than 40 investments and two alumni exits, and their partners have had a remarkable 100% survival rate so far.

They make good use of their worldwide presence, as Chiu explains: “Something interesting is we are a global network of accelerators, so a lot of times we hear something is happening in the U.S., or Japan or Korea. Their solutions are in Taiwan.

"Those Taiwanese founders really haven’t had a chance to export to the entire world. So by interviewing them and through the due diligence process, we found there are a lot of opportunities to solve these kinds of problems. That’s how we elevate startups to the next level," as Chiu explains.

They already have notched up some notable successes in spite of it only being the fourth year since funding was launched. This year saw two alumni exits, which is the ultimate goal.

The more publicly visible of the two is JustKitchen, which had its initial public offering (IPO) on the Toronto Stock Exchange earlier this year.

JustKitchen is a mix of hardware and software: a cloud kitchen that prepares food for delivery only using a main ingredient preparation hub that connects to local satellites that prepare the food for delivery by services like Food Panda and Uber Eats. They currently have around 20 satellite kitchens with a team of over 200 cooking for over a dozen brands, including Smith & Wollensky and TGI Fridays.

SparkLabs made a good bet at the best possible time, funding them in 2019 as their first investor — just prior to the pandemic that supercharged the food delivery business model.

The other one to successfully exit this year was ParseMe, a cybersecurity firm only two years old. They bring together data streams from multiple sources and use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to parse the data to provide real-time cybersecurity alerts, weed out useless data, and provide insights to companies. They were purchased by Systex earlier this year and merged into a new entity Gemini Data.

Chiu also pointed to two other companies making moves, Pickupp and Influenxio, which are both in the SparkLabs portfolio. Pickupp bears some similarity to Uber, but it's for logistics. They use data to assign drivers and aggregate deliveries to optimize the route.

he also use the data in a predictive way to get the jump on demand. Pickupp went on to be invested in by local giants PChome and the Far Eastern Group, both with big pockets and a strong focus on logistics.

Influenxio targets micro-influencers on Instagram. With this platform one enters a budget and industry and they match up marketers with micro-influencers directly.

According to Chiu, after being the first investor, SparkLabs attracted Hong Kong-based DCM Ventures to further invest US$2 million (NT$55 million). This is a notable investment not so much for the cash, but for the fact that DCM Ventures recently took a company they invested US$15 million in, Kuaishou, and turned it into NT$12 billion in a recent IPO.

About the author : Courtney Donovan Smith (石東文) is a regular contributing columnist for Taiwan News, the central Taiwan correspondent for ICRT Radio News, co-publisher of Compass Magazine, co-founder of Taiwan Report (report.tw) and former Chairman of the Taichung American Chamber of Commerce.

The original article : Accelerating success: SparkLabs Taipei’s Edgar Chiu

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