The old saying “the world is your oyster” is probably none more true than in the startup world, where almost all startups should be thinking of the global market from day one. To that end, at The Mills Fabrica, we are actively exploring opportunities to take our startup incubatees and portfolio companies overseas, especially to increase their brand exposure and develop new leads. Over the past week, The Mills Fabrica team was in Taipei together with two of our incubatees (EONIQ and ORII) to showcase at the Creative Expo Taiwan (CET) and also join in events hosted by our partner Taiwan Startup Stadium (TSS). Overall, it was a wonderful opportunity to showcase The Mills alongside our incubatees to the warm crowd of Taiwan and a great learning experience in what Taiwan has to offer for the design and entrepreneurship community. The following details some of the trip’s key highlights.
Showcasing The Mills, EONIQ & ORII at CET: Design culture as Taiwan’s DNA
Creative Expo Taiwan (CET) is one of Taiwan’s largest annual creative fairs, stretching over 4 days and attracting over 200,000 trade buyers and general public. For this year, The Mills was one of the exhibiting brands where we showcased our vision and initiative as well as also giving our two incubatees (EONIQ & ORII) the chance to expose their brand to the Taiwan market. The event allowed both startups to increase their traction and awareness in Taiwan, develop new business leads, increase product sales and even secure press interviews with the Taiwan media.
(The Mills booth & ORII media interview at Creative Expo Taiwan)
We are also particularly impressed by the strong design culture in Taiwan, most likely nurtured by its strong craftsmanship heritage and also a greater willingness to take risks to start design brands (due to lower living costs and pressures in Taiwan compared to Hong Kong). During those few days, whether it’s at CET or design malls like Eslite to even food markets in Taiwan, there’s the recurring trend of “pop-ups” as a model of retail experiment pulling together a good diversity and assortment of product offerings for the Taiwan public.
Events with Taiwan Startup Stadium: learning about the building blocks to create a startup ecosystem
Over the course of the week, we were also extremely grateful to have the opportunity to be hosted by our partner Taiwan Startup Stadium (TSS) for various events including a panel as well as a mixer event amongst our startups. Taiwan Startup Stadium is one of the leading startup ecosystem builders in the region and many of Taiwan’s top startups have gone through their programmes. (ORII, which is also a registered business in Taiwan is a fellow TSS startup). The week began with a “Battle of the Startup Ecosystems” panel featuring us (Alexander Chan, Co-Director of The Mills Fabrica), Amarit Charoenphan (Co-Founder and Chief Connection Officer at Techsauce Thailand), Joseph Huang (Venture Partner at Infinity Ventures), and Holly Harrington (General Manager at Taiwan Startup Stadium), where the panel squared off comparing the strengths and limitations of different startup ecosystems.
(Taiwan Startup Stadium events)
A key takeaway is that every startup ecosystem is unique and needs to create its own path (rather than just following in the footsteps of Silicon Valley). This is especially true as every ecosystem has its own local language – not just verbally but also culturally. In addition, there was a thought-provoking discussion about the need to head outwards (especially for cities/ countries with a small population). There is a necessity to connect to outside markets (thinking in terms of economic-corridors rather than singular cities/hubs) for market growth. To that end, Taiwan Startup Stadium excels in its programmes both through its cultural coaching and training (e.g. teaching their startups about US culture before they head off to Collision conference in New Orleans) or creating opportunities for Taiwanese startups to participate in global conferences to showcase their businesses. Likewise, our other fellow panel member Amarit is also actively building Thailand’s ecosystem through his co-working space, Hubba, as well as organizing one of Bangkok’s top startup events, Techsauce (similarly Joseph Huang is running Infinity Ventures Summit in Japan). What’s notable is their dedication to forming connections to other ecosystems such as having a series of pitching roadshows/events for Techsauce (e.g. in HK or Taiwan) before culminating for the final event in Thailand in May. Likewise, one of the other partners we met, Appworks, is also actively developing a Greater South East Asia strategy (SEA + HK + TW) with the acute assessment that the next focus market for Taiwanese startups is in SEA.
Taiwan in transition: searching for the next innovation driver
Taiwan as a nation has a strong manufacturing and technology heritage with some tech companies growing drastically in the past 2-3 decades (including HTC, Foxconn etc.). Many of these companies arose as Taiwanese transformed from a simple manufacturing hub into a high-tech manufacturing economy. This resulted in Taiwan becoming the world’s go-to manufacturer for many different electronic components globally – yet they have never taken the leap into going beyond just supplying components to making finished branded products. And as many other competing countries’ manufacturing strengths increase, Taiwan faces the predicament that it can no longer compete on low-cost high-tech manufacturing and that it needs to find the next innovation driver.
(Far Eastern New Century: Made in Taiwan > Innovated in Taiwan)
In that regard, one of our close corporate partners Far Eastern Group have a core belief in the need to shift from “Made in Taiwan” to “Innovated in Taiwan”. In the past few years, they have started undertaking a lot of ground breaking deep research such as in the areas of functional textiles and high-tech materials including EMS-powered fitness suits. They are now starting to work with different brands and tech companies to commercialize and take some of these technologies forward. It is this spirit of innovation beyond just manufacturing that is what’s required for Taiwan’s future.
Thank you for hosting us Taiwan!
Overall, we are extremely thankful to our various partners for hosting us in Taiwan in the past week. We are very impressed by the energy and dynamism of our partners in creating the future of Taiwan’s innovation scene and special thanks indeed to the Taiwan Startup Stadium team, Far Eastern team and the Creative Expo for having us there.
And more importantly, it was wonderful to have our incubatees with us on this trip and growing our stories together. Till next time, #TaiwanRocks!
(Obligatory group selfie: The Mills, ORII & EONIQ)