5 Startups Making an Impact in Southeast Asia

Opinion31.01.2017
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Asia is witnessing a rapid growth in its startups scene. While the truth is that only a few startups make it beyond those crucial first three years of building a business, a lot of millennials with a business dream are venturing out to start something of their own. But beyond those that follow the traditional business models are startups that are on a mission to contribute to solving some of their communities’ most pressing social and environmental issues. Taking into consideration the region’s varied political, development, and environmental contexts, having these startups pursue such goals is not only crucial but also inspiring. These are five notable startups already making a difference to society and the environment in Southeast Asia:

Soara Industries (Malaysia)

Founder: Ganesh Muren

Ganesh Muren was inspired by his travels to India as a teenager and college years where he witnessed first hand India’s lack of access to clean water. Wanting to give more people in the world access to clean water, he started Soara Industries.  He set it up as a social enterprise and uses technology to drive social change. The startup focuses on providing access to safe drinking water using a compact water purification design, and basic solar lighting to rural and marginalized communities. In the long run, Ganesh sees his startup managing green initiatives on a bigger scale with the aim of reducing inequalities and promoting sustainable development. Committed to building a more sustainable environment, they are also brainstorming and exploring green solutions for different industries. With aims of scaling up their production at the commercial level, Ganesh hopes to reach out to more people at the grassroots level.

SALt (Philippines)

Founder: Aisa Mijeno

With a significant portion of global populations still lacking access to basic electricity and lighting, Aisa Mijeno wanted to change the way remote communities in the Philippines used alternative light sources. SALt aims to replace the typical alternative sources that include kerosene lamps and candles. These are believed to have health consequences, especially in remote communities where their use is widespread. During her work with Greenpeace Philippines, she noticed that residents in remote communities had to walk six hours every other day to obtain kerosene to power their lamps. The simple yet unique technology behind a SALt lamp requires residents to use a basic saltwater solution that can power the lamp for up to 8 hours. The lamp in this case is powered by the galvanic reaction of an anode with saline water. The only component of the lamp that needs to be replaced costs very little and only needs to be replaced every 6 months. Aisa has already received numerous awards for her invention and is already preparing to scale up production at a commercial level.

Strategy First (Myanmar)

Founder: Aung Chit Khin

Aung Chit Khin is also on a mission for his country. An entrepreneur, marketer and educator, he wants business organizations to take on more responsibility in Myanmar’s development. With this vision, he established Strategy First, a management institute. He developed entrepreneurship, marketing, and management programs for prospective students with the additional focus on making positive impacts within the community. In building Myanmar’s future entrepreneurs and business leaders, Strategy First already has over 2,500 students enrolled at the Institute and word is spreading fast amongst student communities about the unique curriculum the institute has to offer.

Endapo (Indonesia)

Founder: Adhitya Lanae

Endapo is a tour agency with a heart for the environment. Adhitya Lanae created Endapo to attract young people who enjoy traveling but also are environmentally conscious. With a simple and straightforward website, customers can navigate easily through their web platform. Adopting a “green urban lifestyle” spirit, the startup does not use paper to market its products and services. Nor does it have any large spaces for offices that can consume quite a bit of electricity. Moreover, in encouraging customers to adopt more environmentally friendly habits while traveling, the agency always provides a reusable bag and tumbler for free. Endapo has already become quite popular in the local tourism market and hopes to make an even bigger impact in the future through its business model.

Hanoi Creative City (Vietnam)

Founder: Doan Ky Thanh

For those in love with Hanoi, it is hard to miss the creative/artistic vibes the city offers to both local residents and international tourists. Doan Ky Thanh had a vision of building a community around the creative and artistic expressions of the city. Hanoi Creative City, essentially a creative hub, attracts the youth population of Hanoi who have a strong appreciation for the arts and a working space for burgeoning artists. Located in a 20-story building with 5 main zones that include Arts, Education, Fashion, Food, and Entertainment, it offers the perfect environment for the creative spirit. Driven by art and creative values rather than commercial values, the center offers free admissions to a lot of its exhibitions and events. Doan Ku Thanh hopes that the center is not just a place of transit or a resting stop for passersby but rather a source of inspiration and space for the youth to express their creative passions.

With the positive impacts these startups are having on the local communities they operate in, it is important that governments, business associations, and the broader public community support their missions. While it is already challenging for startups with traditional business models to survive and succeed in their ambitious business plans, it’s even more challenging for social enterprises to sustain their growth and business development. Adopting more business friendly policies and incentives to engage the youth on this “impactful” journey is therefore important. As can be observed from the startups mentioned here, for local governments and communities, it can also be quite rewarding.