Partner at AppWorks
Jessica Liu is a Partner at leading Taiwanese accelerator and investor AppWorks. She manages the fund's efforts in Southeast Asia and the region’s burgeoning blockchain ecosystem. She loves helping visionary founders realize their full potential. Jessica has been active in the digital industry since 2010, starting her career managing online marketing for Standard Chartered Bank’s cross-selling strategies before joining AppWorks in 2014. At AppWorks, Jessica has been closely watching the development of consumer internet applications, especially as they intersect with the increasing ubiquity of deep technologies.
Guest editors are local ecosystem leaders: successful founders, investors, or thought leaders. Have someone in mind? Nominate a country guest editor.
Disclaimer: all content within the Startup Ecosystem Summary and Editor’s Guide sections is written by and reflects the personal perspective of the guest editor. The guest editor is not responsible for content within the Country Snapshot and Community sections, as much of this content is compiled from external sources and does not necessarily reflect the guest editor’s view.
Taiwan is well known for its capabilities as a leading OEM/ODM (original equipment/design manufacturer), producing a sizable share of the world’s semiconductors and consumer electronics today. But often overlooked is the fact that the country also features a growing software ecosystem and mature digital economy with tech-savvy citizens that have been shopping online for the better half of two decades. It should therefore come as no surprise that Taiwan exhibits some of the highest rates of internet and mobile penetration, lending itself as a unique testing ground for startups looking to pilot new ideas and iterate fast.
The abundance of high quality and affordable engineering talent has also turned Taiwan into a much sought after destination for R&D, eliciting the interests of global tech giants such as Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Intel, and IBM. Many of the region’s rising startups including Lalamove, ShopBack, and Carousell are increasingly prioritizing Taiwan in their expansion plans, with hopes of tapping into its low-cost environment, innovative capabilities, and commercial opportunities.
Just as mobile completely transformed the status quo, nascent technologies such as AI and blockchain will eventually redefine the global paradigm, and Taiwan has the potential to lead the charge. The country is already deeply embedded within global value chains, underpinned by high-tech manufacturing infrastructure that allows aspiring innovators to capitalize on the increasing intersection of hardware and software, especially when it comes to AI, IoT, smart city, and Industry 4.0. The rollout of 5G will likely only accelerate the transition to these next-generation industries.
From a sheer scale standpoint, however, Taiwan’s population of 24 million cannot compete with any one of its many regional neighbors that boast millions more laborers, readily accessible for pennies on the dollar. In order to maintain its competitive advantage, Taiwan must reinforce its talent pipeline, investing more in not only STEM related education but also applied subjects such as statistics, computer science, and data science to adequately cultivate a future-ready workforce. Reducing barriers for hiring foreign talent and diversifying its economy into more value-added industries will also be critical initiatives to help Taiwan internationalize its presence and truly cement itself among global tech clusters.
Editor’s choice of the country’s top 10 emerging tech startups.
Editor’s pick of which ‘Featured Startup’ is especially worth following and why.
Editor’s choice of the industries with the most potential for technology disruption and growth.
Editor’s perspective of the maturity level of talent in the ecosystem.
Editor’s commentary on how the country’s culture and history have impacted the ecosystem.
Given that Taiwan’s economy was built on the back of high-tech manufacturing, software startups have traditionally been seen as risky alternatives to stable, high-paying jobs at hardware giants like TSMC or Foxconn. Investor knowhow and preference have also tended to favor tangible, tried-and-tested assets over minimally viable lines of code. However, the proliferation of disruptive software startups both locally and internationally has gradually forced the tides to change.
The government has earmarked startups as a critical pathway to jumpstart innovation and stimulate economic growth. Conservative policy decisions have since been reformed to become more conducive to entrepreneurs. For example, startups are now able to issue shares at low par value and list on public markets without first being profitable. Furthermore, more and more young people are seeking out opportunities for meaning, impact, growth, and overall personal fulfillment—and startups are the first destination in mind. This trend will only continue as decision makers plow more resources into the ecosystem and overhaul startup-specific regulatory frameworks to cultivate more homegrown success stories.
Interested in becoming more involved in this ecosystem and connecting with local ecosystem leaders? Let us know.
ACE Capital (Taichung): ACE Capital was created as a tech focused venture capital firm that primarily focused on investments into seed and early stage companies, in North and Southeast Asia.
AppWorks Ventures (Taipei City): A fund with US$ 170 million under management that invests from US$200,000 to US$10 million per deal and participates in Seed to Series-C rounds. (Source: AppWorks)
Black Marble (Taipei City): In the past, Black Marble has invested in fields such as technology, software, cloud computing, biotechnology and cultural & creative industries. The partners at Black Marble capital management have managed an aggregate of over US$300 million and have supported over 50 of its invested companies to IPO or M&A stages. (Source: Black Marble)
Cathay Ventures (Taipei City): Cathay Venture has four main investment focuses including Fintech, Biotech, Taiwan’s 5+2 industries, and overseas companies.
CDIB Capital (Taipei City): Currently, CDIB Capital operates independently and manages approximately $1.2 billion in proprietary and third party capital and mainly invests in high quality enterprises with proven business models, strong growth prospects and clear management objectives. (Source: CDIB Capital)
Cherubic Ventures (Taipei City): Cherubic Ventures is the only early-stage venture capital firm that's active in both US and China, with a total AUM of US$250 million. They mostly focus on companies in the seed and early stages.
CTBC Capital (Taipei City): CTBC Capital invests mainly in information technology, communications, biotechnology, medical/healthcare, cultural/creative, and alternative energy industries, as well as in companies in traditional industries that have performed well and show great future growth potential.
Darwin Ventures (Taipei City): Darwin Venture Management is a boutique investment firm dedicated to emerging growth companies in Taiwan and Silicon Valley while also providing business and technical consulting services for local entrepreneurs. Darwin currently manages 6 funds has invested in both early and late stage companies. (Source: Darwin Ventures)
Infinity Venture Partners (Taipei City): Infinity Venture Partners is a technology-focused VC headquartered in Tokyo, Japan with investment teams deployed in Beijing and Taipei. As of April of 2018, the venture capital firm has US$180 million under management. (Source: Meet. By startup. For startup.)
Mesh Ventures (Taipei City): Mesh Ventures invests in companies that develop enabling technologies and meaningful applications. They mainly focus on seed and early stage investments.
Taiwan Entrepreneurs Fund (Alibaba) (Taipei City): Alibaba committed approximately US$332 million to create its Taiwan Entrepreneurs Fund that helps entrepreneurs take their ventures global and attract more global enterprises to Taiwan.
WI Harper (Taipei City): WI Harper is a cross-border VC that invested in more than 400 companies in the fields of healthcare, biotech, artificial intelligence, robotics, fintech, sustainability, and new media that focuses on early stage, late stage, as well as seed investments. Thay have a total of 9 funds with most recent 4 having the total value of $133M, $110M, $180M, $174M respectively. (Source: Crunchbase)
AAMA Taipei Cradle Project (Taipei City): AAMA Taipei Cradle Project is a non-profit entrepreneurial service project with the mission of cultivating the next generation of iconic entrepreneurs in Taiwan. Each year, 12 successful entrepreneurs and senior managers are invited to guide and counsel 20 promising startups for two-years.
AppWorks Accelerator (Taipei City): AppWorks launched its Taipei-based accelerator program in 2010 to help Greater Southeast Asian Internet startups optimize their products and business strategies. Every six months, AppWorks Accelerator recruits 30-40 promising startups working on AI, blockchain, and other rapidly growing verticals. AppWorks also manages an early-stage VC fund. The company does not take equity from its founders. (Source: AppWorks)
Asia Blockchain Accelerator (Taipei City): Exists to support and usher in a new wave of blockchain applications and founders with a focus on compliance, track record, and longevity. Backed by the Taiwanese government and a strong line-up of partners, ABA provides a wide range of assistance to Taiwanese & foreign blockchain entrepreneurs with investment resources, training, business development, and talent recruiting. (Source: ABA)
Garage+ (Taipei City): Garage+ helps facilitate early-stage startups to build a team, enhance connections, strengthen core values, access fundraising resources and eventually get to the top. Since 2012, 75% of Garage+ teams have received funds from professional investors and have continued to grow business in various industries. (Source: Garage+)
H.Spectrum (Taipei City): H.Spectrum’s 3 month incubator program aims to provide guidance and service to students who want to create start ups or “add value” to the healthcare industry. With that said, H.Spectrum focuses on digital healthcare, precision medicine, cancer diagnosis-biomarker, clinical decision support system (*Requirement: Current undergraduate/Postgraduate/PhD student enrolled in Taiwanese university, no requirement for citizenship, major, school).
IAPS (Taipei City and Hsinchu): A university-affiliated and tech-focused Startup Accelerator, serving tech startups, corporates and investors on a global scale. Each year under IAPS’s programs, their cohorts raise ~10-11 million USD. The program has also been credited as the top 1 accelerator in the APAC region and top 7 globally by UBI Global in 2015. (Source: IAPS)
Microsoft for Startups Taiwan (Taipei City): Microsoft for Startups focuses on startups who have started to build product prototypes or launch products on the market can solve practical problems or construct far-reaching innovations (ie: AI, big data, IoT Internet of Things, FinTech, geographic location/ mobile-related applications, social networking, smart cities, education, smart healthcare, etc.) In addition, no shares will be taken from the selected startups.
Orange Fab Asia (Taipei City): Orange Fab Asia’s accelerator provides business development opportunities, mentoring, demo day, community, international network, events and many more (completely free). Some areas of focus they have are AI, deep learning, machine learning, Augmented / virtual reality, Big data and analytics, Cloud services & cloud technologies, Consumer applications, Digital Healthcare, Fintech, Internet of Things, Online/offline customer experience, Security, Video technologies.
TC Incubator (Taichung): TC Incubator provides startups services such as digital strategy guidance, digital talent cultivation, as well as a training program. The incubator mainly targets service targets are students with entrepreneurial goals in colleges and universities.
BE Accelerator (Taipei City): BE both local and international startups to start, scale and grow within the challenging healthcare ecosystem. The program has strong relationships with various industry stakeholders, giving them the unique ability to help startups gain traction through demo sites at various hospitals in Taiwan and greater Asian territories. BE Accelerator is backed by the Taiwanese government and the amount of capital they work with is unclear. BE Accelerator has two programs, one invests in companies from “Pre Seed - Pre Series A” and the other “Pre Series A - Series B.” (Source: BE Accelerator)
CDIB Accelerator (Taipei City): CDIB Accelerator focuses on cloud computing, internet of things (IoT), mobile internet and next-generation e-commerce. By providing immense amounts of resources, they hope to support start-up companies grow and expand into global markets. CDIB Capital has raised a single venture fund, CDIB Capital Asia Partners L.P.. This fund was announced on Aug 3, 2015 and raised a total of $405M and they typically are late stage investors. (Source: CDIB Accelerator)
Dream Market Accelerator (Taipei City): The Dream Market Accelerator was jointly funded by five major game players including Online Banking International, Game Orange, Huayi International, Yuquan International, and Qi Min, and Shin Kong Gold International Ventures. Over the past three years, a total of more than 65 startup teams have been accelerated and more than 20 early-stage investments have been completed. The Accelerator focuses on the three major areas of "interactive entertainment", "e-commerce technology", and "people's livelihood service innovation". Most investments from DIT are seed round investments and currently, there is a “fixed amount” of investment of NT$2M for teams that are promising, which the start ups are not forced to take. (Source: Dream Market Accelerator)
HYPE SPIN Accelerator Taiwan (Taipei City and Hsinchu): HYPE Sports Innovation has built the largest global ecosystem in sports innovation. With over 40,000 members, including retail brands, athletic clubs, federations and academia together with over 11,000 startups, HYPE has an unrivalled capacity for outreach to global partners across all sectors in this highly diverse field. They currently manage a fund which was announced on Apr 3, 2019 and raised a total of $75M. (Source: HYPE)
MOX (Taipei City): MOX (Mobile Only Accelerator) enables mobile apps and services to reach the next 4 billion mobile-first, mobile-only smartphone users in Southeast Asia and India. The intensive accelerator program focuses on localization, optimization, monetization and partnerships. MOX is operated by the VC firm SOSV with US$650 million assets under management. (Source: MOX)
SparkLabs Taipei (Taipei City): SparkLabs Taipei offers a strategically designed program designated to cultivate international competence, connect founders to global caliber resource networks, and introduce teams to world-class mentors who have walked the talk. The company takes 6% equity from its participants (can be negotiated). SparkLabs operates with a single venture fund, SparkLabs Taipei Fund I, of $4.3M and invests in Early Stage Venture as well as Seed (Source: SparkLabs Taipei)
StarFab (Taipei City): StarFab sees themselves as partners of innovation, helping entrepreneurs gain a footing with large enterprises and enterprises to collaborate with startups to provide added-value for their customers. Several highlights that StarFab’s program includes powerful corporate collaborations, market-leading mentors, extraordinary VC connections, and on-site tech experts. Flytech, an ODM manufacturer specialized in hardware solutions, jointly set up an accelerator fund with StarFab. (Source: StarFab, Digitimes)
Taiwan Accelerator Plus (Taipei City): Taiwan Accelerator Plus (TAcc +) originates from the "Advanced Industry Strategic Implementation Plan" of the Small and Medium Business Administration of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, and is committed to creating the latest international accelerator for Taiwan. TAcc+ focuses on three major areas of IoT / Healthcare / Cybersecurity. They are committed to creating a new innovation environment suitable for Taiwan and establishing a technology research and business analysis tool (ssBI) that meets the needs of Taiwan's new ventures and industrial environment. Capital: unknown. (Source: Taiwan Accelerator Plus)
Taiwan AI x Robotics Accelerator (Tainan): Taiwan AI x Robotics Accelerator (TAIRA) is an accelerator program designed to fast track startups working on AI and Robotics solutions. TAIRA seeks to support startups through early engagement with potential enterprise clients, access to funding, and a strong network of mentors. TAIRA’s AI_Robot Makerspace Grant Program has a Grant size: $500K - 2M NTD (50 % of the total project cost) and a pitch may be given on Demo Day at the end of the program for the chance to get $1M NTD investment. (Source: Taiwan AI x Robotics Accelerator)
Andong Youth Start-up Hub (Taoyuan): A space fully supported by the Taoyuan city government. The government and Microsoft collaborate to run the program.
DigiSpace (Taipei City, Taoyuan City): DigiSpace is a startup campus. TAVAR (Taiwan Association for Virtual and Augmented Reality) helps to run the space.
FinTechSpace (Taipei City): FinTechSpace is the first fintech-focused coworking space in Taiwan, and a tech-based environment for stimulating and accelerating the latest fintech innovation. With support from domestic and international governments, financial & fintech industries, as well as academia sectors, FinTechSpace offers a whole suite of resources to cultivate the next wave of fintech innovation including a Fintech Accelerator Program, Regulatory Clinic, and Digital Sandbox. (Source: FinTechSpace)
Taiwan Startup Stadium (TSS) (Taipei City): Taiwan Startup Stadium (TSS) is Taiwan’s leading ecosystem builder aiming to cultivate global-minded entrepreneurs and showcase the most innovative Taiwanese startups to the world. Founded in 2015, TSS has already served 150+ startups with 100+ mentors, 500+ investors & 30+ corporations. In addition to a broad network of ecosystem players, it also provides solid coaching programs through extensive bootcamps, workshops & seminars to empower entrepreneurs to grow and succeed in their startup journey and build a startup ecosystem throughout Asia. (Source: Taiwan Startup Stadium)
Taiwan Tech Arena (TTA) (Taipei City): Taiwan Tech Arena (TTA) is a deep tech startup ecosystem building program bringing academic/R&D talent, startups, accelerators, corporate and investors under one roof. Located in Taipei Arena with 30,000+ square foot co-working and event space specifically designed for tech innovation, Taiwan Tech Arena aims to cultivate deep technology entrepreneurship, foster commercialization of innovation and build a vibrant cross border deep tech startup ecosystem. (Source: TTA)
Meet Taipei Startup Festival (Taipei City): Powered by Business Next Media, the most influential tech media in Taiwan, and collaborated with the biggest startup community Meet Startup. Meet Taipei first launched in 2014, demonstrating its diverse content design, resources and global power, becoming the largest, most disruptive and global startup festival in Taiwan.
5+2 Industries: The plan covers seven industries and projects: intelligent machinery, Asia Silicon Valley, green energy, biomedicine, national defense and aerospace, new agriculture and the circular economy. It is believed that these focuses will forward from contract manufacturing to a new commercial model centered on high-value-added business, services and solutioning to increase overall competitiveness of Taiwan in the global market.
Asia Silicon Valley Development Plan: The goal of this plan is to connect Taiwan to global tech clusters and create new industries for future generations. This plan has two major goals, which are promoting innovation and innovation and R&D for devices and applications of the internet of things as well as upgrading Taiwan’s startup and entrepreneurship ecosystem.
DIGI+: This program is intended to enhance digital infrastructure, re-construct a service-based digital government, and realize a fair and active internet society with equal digital rights. In simple terms, Digi+ aims to accelerate Industrial innovation and to create a smart Taiwan.
Startup Island Taiwan: Startup Island Taiwan is the communal brand of the startup community and symbolizes the united power of startup companies in Taiwan.
American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei: AmCham Taipei works to improve the business environment in Taiwan, making it more open, innovative, and prosperous for all companies that want to be globally competitive. This non-profit, non-partisan business organization is dedicated to promoting the interests of international business in Taiwan. AmCham is the largest foreign business organization in Taiwan, with more than 1,000 members representing over 500 companies across a diverse array of sectors. (Source: AmCham Taipei)
Institute for Information Industry (III): III is an NGO that aims to support the development/applications of the information industry as well as the information society in Taiwan under the supervision of the Republic of China Ministry of Economic Affairs. III’s goal is to increase innovative applications of ICT technology and to facilitate the development of digital economy. (Source: III)
Chung Yuan Christian University (Taoyuan): Executive Operation Office for Industry-Academia Cooperation (EOOIA) in CYCU aims to integrate the resources for industry and academia cooperation. With the multi-dimensional services and developments, EOOIA consists of the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center, Entrepreneurship & Technology Licensing Center, Industry Accelerator & Incubation Center, and the Industrial Liaison Center.
National Central University (Taoyuan): The business goals/visions of the incubator program at this university is to combine the "venture capital" and the university’s "R&D technology". By actively coaching small and medium-sized enterprises with forward-looking products or technologically critical products, they hope to elevate Taiwan from a global foundry to a joint R&D and design center.
National Chiao Tung University (Taipei City and Hsinchu): National Chiao Tung University's IAPS program is devoted to empower and advance the growth of early-stage, growth-driven tech startups.
National Taipei University of Technology (Taipei City): Plays an active role in the driving force of local industrial development, the transformation station of industrial knowledge, the incubator of business leaders, and the R&D partners of small and medium-sized enterprises. Specific areas of focus include Biotech medicine, Electric Machinery, and Electronic information.
National Taiwan University (Taipei City): NTU’s Innovation Incubation Center focuses on two main areas: emerging engineering technologies and biotechnology. The center has been running for seven years and it’s ranked as a first-class incubation center by the Taiwanese government as it has incubated around 48 companies and assisted them to gain over NT$10,000,000 research grants from SBIR.
National Tsing Hua University (Hsinchu): The National Tsing Hua University Innovation Incubation Center is a joint project between NTHU and the Ministry of Science and Technology to provide space and facilities to test projects in business and technology innovation.
National Yang Ming University (Taipei City): In response to the drastic changes in development of the technology in the industry, the university has established an Incubation Center within the campus to deal with the increasingly important relationship between academic researches of the industries.