61 Southeast Asian Dark Horses Absorbed USD 4.24 Billion Investment in H1 2019
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Scenery of Southeast Asia. Photo: Credit to Pexels.

Considering that regions vary in economic and industrial development status, entrepreneurs and investors make great efforts to summarize regular patterns from developed countries, by analyzing multiple factors such as resident income, labor cost, communication and internet infrastructure, policy and political environment, and so on. These specialists are trying to figure out what factors enable the prosperity of some specific industries. As a result, they are probably able to predict and seize business opportunities in some developing countries.

When adopting this analysis method to Southeast Asia, people can understand why more and more investment events have been happening in this region recently. Let’s take a glimpse of the investment situation. According to Crunchbase, the number of investment events in Southeast Asia has increased continually in the past four years, from 612 to 931. In the first half of this year, 387 funding events happened in this region, but the real number was supposed to be more than that since some events might be disclosed later than the complete date.

Among the countries in Southeast Asia, Singapore was always at the dominant position as the country accounted for around 50% in the whole investment events, followed by Indonesia and Malaysia accounting for an average number of 16.8% and 14.1% respectively. In H1 2019, Indonesia became a hot-button investing target, absorbing 20% of investment events among Southeast Asia.

Reveal the secrets behind a bunch of investment in Southeast Asia

So, why does Southeast Asia gain momentum on investment these years?

First of all, thanks to the wireless infrastructure construction and further smartphone saturation, many new products and services started to emerge in this region, such as e-commerce, ride-hailing, food delivery, streaming media and so on. In this aspect, Southeast Asia today is similar to its neighborhood, China in 2010, when various cellular-based services appeared, accompanied by the booming smartphone market in China.

After 2010, dozens of Chinese internet and tech companies, as well as brands, was towering, including Toutiao (content platform), TikTok (short video), Meituan-Dianping (on-demand delivery), Pinduoduo (e-commerce), DiDi (ride-hailing), Mobike (bicycle-sharing), Ctrip (online travel agency), (food delivery) and so on. Similar industrial leaders are expected to spring up in the near future.

Besides, low labor cost is another advantage of stimulating industry development in this area. The era of “Made in China” approaches to the end, replaced by “Made in Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippines, Thailand or Cambodia”. Owing to the rapid construction of industrial infrastructure, many global manufacturers have moved some of their factories from China to Southeast Asia, such as BMW, Siemens, Bosch, Haier, P&G, Apple, and so forth.

What’s more, these countries’ governments proposed tax preferential policies to absorb business and investment from overseas. For example, the Vietnam government released several policies for emerging startups or subsidiaries established by global companies to exempt from income tax for four years.

In addition, the service sector is exuberant in this region, which has become an important contributor to the economy. For instance, according to Somkid Jatusripitak, Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand, the tourism industry accounted for 18%-19% of Thailand GDP in 2018. Prosperous tourism partly leads to real estate development. The price of the house is predicted to skyrocket in the next decades.

On top of that, Singapore, the only developed country in Southeast Asia, is quite unique in industry development. As a global financial center, multiple financial services have become more and more popular, including P2P lending, insurance, financial consulting, digital payments, fintech, and so on. Moreover, startups based on artificial intelligence, cloud computing, blockchain and many other cutting-edge technologies, are also attractive for investors because of their obvious tech competitive barrier.

Overview of substantial investments in Southeast Asia in H1 2019

Financing is always regarded to be an important symbol to reflect new business trends in a period of time and a certain region. It is showed by Crunchbase that there were 61 Southeast Asia companies secured new rounds of financing in H1 2019 as the graph below, whose financing amount for a single round surpassed USD 5 million – Debt financing, IPO, post IPO and corporate round are not considered in. The total funding amount of these 61 companies reached USD 4.24 billion. All the investment events refer to the table at the end of this article.

The investment events mentioned above happened in five countries in Southeast Asia. As in the past, Singapore got absolute traction with more than half of the investment events occurring there. Indonesia, a dark horse bobbed up recently, attracted 18 investment events accounting for 29% of the whole. Another 7 investment events were from Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand.

On the base of products and businesses, these 61 companies can be categorized into 15 industries. The most popular one was enterprise service, in which 14 investment events happened. Financial service followed enterprise service closely with 13 investment events. The third one is e-commerce, followed by healthcare and food & agriculture.

The majority of startups in Southeast Asia sped up their business within these years, as the investments were mostly in early stages, gathering in series A and B rounds. Exceptions exist in financial service, e-commerce and auto & mobility, where several startups already entered later investment stage after series D round.

Shoot a glance on these industrial kingpins in Southeast Asia

To further understand the businesses of these startups, summaries by industries and introductions of typical players are valuable. This part mainly gives a glimpse of the top five popular industries.

Enterprise Service

As mentioned above, most of the investment events in this field were in Singapore. Because of the advanced business environment, many startups focus on developing multiple enterprise services driven by new technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, and so on.

ViSenze is one of the representative AI solution providers in Singapore, aiming to help retailers improve revenue and conversions by precise search and recommendation systems, based on image recognition. In short, the valuation of ViSenze’s business is customer engagement. Other similar players include Perx Technologies, Saleswhale and Novosol (widely known as moLotus).

Apart from AI, some companies develop business management software based on the cloud. For example, Deskera offers a cloud-based platform to small and medium enterprises (SMEs). The platform helps SMEs to run their businesses, track their accounts and finances, manage their customers and even to hire and manage employees. Another example is Swingvy, which provides an HR cloud-based workplace for SMEs. According to Swingvy, the company has served over 5,000 companies and it has offices in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Seoul.

There are some other enterprise services such as cybersecurity, website building, coworking and so on. Cobwebs Technologies develops a search engine capable of searching the web for potentially illegal or terrorist activity. The system is capable of running background checks on individuals and providing real-time. SIRCLO helps small and medium enterprises build their own e-commerce websites. And CoHive is a fast-growing coworking space in Indonesia.

Financial service

Financial service consists of several sectors, including P2P lending, payment, insurance, financial consulting, fintech and some other scenarios.

P2P lending is a hot topic for startups. KoinWorks, an Indonesia-based P2P lending startup, operates an online platform that uses machine learning to provide low-interest loans to these small and medium-sized enterprises. It identifies the businesses that are eligible to make the return eventually and connects them with lenders. The platform has amassed more than 300,000 users, it claimed. More than 60% of the lenders are millennials and for 70%, it is their first-time investment. Another two companies, Validus Capital and Batumbu, have quite similar businesses.

In the field of payment, Vietnam company Momo is worthy to highlight, which is the country’s largest mobile wallet company with 10 million downloads, claimed by itself. Another player is Thunes, a Singapore-based company, provides payment solutions for companies and services that deal with consumers and need new features, increased interoperability and flexibility for users.

For insurance, GoBear is a financial supermarket whose purpose is to improve Asia's financial health by making financial literacy, financial inclusion, and financial security attainable for everyone. GoBear has served more than 40 million users across Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, according to GoBear.

Jitta is an example of financial consulting. Jitta develops a proprietary algorithm that helps to identify investment options on a range of stock markets that include the U.S., Thailand and other parts of Asia.

Moreover, fintech is also an attractive business concept for investors. Credit Culture is the first fintech company to provide digital solutions for personal loans in Singapore. Its innovative and proprietary technology enables it to address current market inefficiencies, allowing its customers to benefit from a faster, cheaper and better loan application process. Another player Silot specializes in using cutting-edge artificial intelligence and knowledge graph technology to empower banks with unprecedented discovery and decision-making ability. CDRX bridges the gap between crypto markets and traditional markets, by securitizing equity-based tokens and allowing them to trade on a singular exchange.


Benefit from the internet and wireless infrastructure construction and online payment development, e-commerce in Southeast Asia has become an attractive trend both for entrepreneurs and investors in the past three years. For today, e-commerce is obviously not a new kind of business. Under the burden of intense market competition, startups make efforts to acquire more market share depending on distinctive business models and advantages in vertical markets. B2C platform is a common model, which is widely known thanks to several global giants, including Amazon, Taobao,, eBay and so on.

In H1 2019, Zilingo, Bukalapak and Leflair, three B2C e-commerce startups, raised over USD 5 million respectively. Based in Singapore, Zilingo is a beauty and lifestyle marketplace, allowing small merchants from Southeast Asia without an online presence to list their items for sale direct to consumers. This company also plans to initiate its B2B business by building a network of the supply chains. In Indonesia, Bukalapak became the fourth unicorn this year, followed by Tokopedia, Go-Jek and Traveloka. Beyond e-commerce, Bukalapak also offers streaming and fintech products. Leflair is one player in Vietnam, founded by two French entrepreneurs who sneezed this opportunity and started their adventure journey.

C2C marketplace also becomes a stylish pattern, but the companies vary in scenarios. Singapore-based startup is a women-focused social content network that curates user-generated content and sells products. The Chinese peer of is Red (小红书). Another player in Indonesia WOWBID is an auction marketplace, offering an alternative for customers to buy products and services at a very cheap price.

In addition, there are also some B2B marketplaces serving agriculture. For example, Indonesian startup TaniHub creates a marketplace to connect farmers with food, hotel, restaurant and catering business.

Food & Agriculture

When basic life is guaranteed, people pay more attention to life quality, especially in pursuing healthier food and better dining experience. Grain, an online food company headquartered in Singapore, improves meaningful food experiences by offering meals and catering, working with its own chefs, menu and delivery team. In Malaysia, Dahmakan cooks all dishes itself and dispatches them to customers, and it considers its food to be healthy rather than of the junk. There’s also a technology company, Nutrition Innovation, dedicating to producing a variety of natural sugar products that are healthier and assist in dietary sugar reduction.

Besides, a new coffee chain Kopi Kenangan appeared in Indonesia, owning 80 stores in eight cities and serves close to one million cups of coffee each month. And another startup Soya Garden developing organic soybean beverage is also thought highly of its business by investment institutes.


Several healthcare startups focus on building a bridge to link doctors, pharmacies with patients. Indonesia-based startup Halodoc develops two services, one for teleconsultation with healthcare professionals and one for the delivery of pharmaceuticals in 30 cities across Indonesia. In Singapore, Docquity offers a network of professional doctors in Southeast Asia, currently hosting over 80,000 verified doctors who have been verified via its partnership National Medical Associations across the region, according to the company.

Apart from the medical online platform, there are also some different businesses related to healthcare in Singapore, including beauty and aesthetic services platform Novena Global Healthcare Group, insurtech + healthcare platform CXA Group, and medical facilities provider in rural areas Lifetrack Medical Systems.

All the investment events refer to the table below. There are other nice industries we haven't discussed here. Further analysis and insights can be found in the next related article. This article is included in the series analysis works. Recently, EqualOcean is exploring potential industrial leaders in different regions, including Southeast Asia, India, Middle East, Africa, Europe, North America and Latin America. Welcome to keep eyes on our series.


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