The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated borderless entrepreneurship in Southeast Asia, a trend seen to continue to grow and impact the region, and to offer enterprises opportunities to extend their business beyond borders, according to regional experts.
“There is a bright future in borderless entrepreneurship. Digital is now the way to do business and there is no turning back,” said Laurent Tam Nguyen, co-founder and general manager of Digital Mekong in Vietnam, a virtual market agency addressing the need for an entrepreneurship freelancer market in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Nguyen was one of the speakers at a recent webinar on borderless entrepreneurship organized by the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA).
Citing a survey from global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, Nguyen said COVID-19 has accelerated the digitalization of companies in the Asia-Pacific region by about four years.
Even industries that are highly traditional and technology-averse are now joining the bandwagon and finding that the digital approach can also work for them, he added.
As the trend of borderless entrepreneurship is quickly escalating, he emphasized the soft skills that all entrepreneurs should have, including resilience, adaptiveness, empathy, and transparency in managing teams and building businesses.
Haewon Rah, engagement manager at Techstars, a global startup accelerator based in South Korea, pointed out that investors will be more likely to support and invest in the companies that are interested to scale up their business globally.
But she acknowledged that going global is neither easy nor simple as there are differences in regulations, culture and behavior that an entrepreneur needs to become aware of.
She shared two important factors critical to successful borderless entrepreneurship: the ability to utilize networks and the willingness to create small wins.
Haewon said enterprises must actively network to gain knowledge of how businesses in the region work, adding that even group chats are a form of networking that can yield results down the line.
Creating small wins is about becoming aware that immediate, big achievements (and profit) are likely not realizable early on, and it is wise to take small but steady steps toward reaching one’s goals. Haewon suggested working in the local area first while at the same time trying to build a network and find someone who can help the business expand into a new location.
Jirut Wattom, technology strategy manager at global accelator Sprint in Thailand, echoed Haewon, saying the pandemic provides an opportunity for entrepreneurs to scale up their business faster as they can mobilize and operate their teams to do business locally while also accessing global markets.
For Jirut, although physical interaction will remain important, digitalization has been helping many regional enterprises to compete with their counterparts around the world. He highlighted how the borderless entrepreneurship ecosystem has given entrepreneurs the advantage of high exposure to clients or talents from various cultures and backgrounds.
During the Q&A session, the speakers discussed how entrepreneurs can address the challenge of differing national regulations by being creative and agile as well as learning in-depth about the entrepreneurship ecosystem in other countries and the region.
Moreover, as digitalization has now reduced the cost of testing products, they encouraged entrepreneurs to always conduct market testing before launching their expansion bid.
Lastly, joining startup support programs or accelerator programs is also another notable way to expand networks and discover opportunities for scaling up, they said.