Battling entrepeneurship woes

Technopreneurs face an uphill battle, including getting Asia to shake off its inferiority complex and recognize local products are just as good.

The technopreneurship spirit is alive and kicking in Asia, if ZDNet Asia's search for the Top Asian TechnoVisionaries is anything to go by.

"The technopreneurial spirit in my estimate is as strong in Asia as it is in any other part of the world. If it weren't, we would not have been able to have so many entrepreneurs," said Siddhartha Shankar, CEO of Drishtee, one of ZDNet Asia's Top 10 Asian TechnoVisionaries. "But to succeed, Asian tech startups need three things: passion, luck and resilience."

As any successful entrepreneur will tell you, the path to success is never easy. Not only do startups face challenges like insufficient capital, they have to deal with the skeptics and self-doubt.

According to Adrian Burden, CEO of Singular ID which won ZDNet Asia's Breakthrough Award, the top three challenges facing tech startups in Asia are:

1. Raising early-stage finance
2. Attracting and retaining sufficiently skilled and innovative staff
3. Gaining acceptance from U.S. and European customers as a viable and reliable supplier

Burden believes that the private finance sector in Singapore is still uncomfortable putting money into early-stage high technology, preferring more traditional investments in real estate, construction, and established growth technologies.

"As a result, the individual technopreneur needs to have a particularly [strong] fighting spirit to succeed here so, arguably, the technopreneurial spirit in the individual is very strong," he noted.

To ensure Singular ID raised enough finance in the early stages, which is marked by high risk, Burden focused on financial groups that were either based overseas or had overseas backing. For example, the company's principal investors to date have roots in the United States, Switzerland and Norway, he revealed.

Lessons learnt
Burden's three biggest lessons learnt so far? First, pursue finance from several sources in parallel so as not to be overly reliant on any one sponsor. Second, remain focused on critical near-term goals as much as the overall vision, "otherwise the company can spread resources too thinly". Third, build a strong reliable team, both at the management and operations level.

Entrepreneurship tips

Adrian Burden of Singular ID finds these resources useful for his business, as they provide valuable information on important areas such as tax, employment law, health and safety.

And to add to a startup's long list of challenges, entrepreneurs have to deal with the Asian inferiority complex.

According to Burden, there is an "invented here" syndrome which means that locally grown ideas cannot possibly be as good as those from elsewhere, and this could erode the all-important technopreneurial spirit. He hopes that winning ZDNet Asia's Breakthrough Award will make other local technology-based companies more confident in their technology and business development.

What advice does he have for other entrepreneurs?

"Always try to review alternatives and if possible, do this regularly with a business partner or advisor. Many decisions that have to be made are a lot simpler when someone else considers the issues with you," Burden said.

He feels the Singapore government has done well to support technopreneurship by way of infrastructure building. "However, the policy makers and implementers also need to promote risk-taking," Burden said. "The general community's technopreneurhip spirit is certainly growing but it is fragile and insecure, and so lends only cursory support to the individual technopreneur."

In contrast, he said, governments in Europe and the United States are more risk adverse in building new infrastructure, but conversely the private financial community quickly supports new ideas. "Moreover, in the U.S. and some parts of Europe, being an entrepreneur or technopreneur is a fashionable occupation."

Daniel Lai, CIO of MTR, agreed that more can be done to boost entrepreneurship in Asia. "The technopreneurial spirit in Asia is developing rapidly. There are plenty of innovative engineers and scientists, but the capital market is a bit conservative. We need more technopreneurial investors in Asia," he noted. "Local policies and incentives need to be developed in line with industry needs, too."

Entrepreneurs can also help themselves by not just focusing on the local market but having an international outlook and vision, Lai added.