Asia’s 10 Leading Startup Accelerator Programs: The Fuel for Sparking Startups

Asia, the continent once known as the little sibling following the other continents for development, has now grown independent and even leading others in terms of technology and innovation. The economy in Asia is growing stronger with each day and one crucial factor is the rapidly evolving startup ecosystem. It is of no surprise that Asia is accommodating more than a third of the world’s unicorn startups, valued above US$1b (McKinsey, 2019). Being in the spotlight, Asia has attracted more and more national as well as international investors and entrepreneurs.

If you have traveled or lived in Asia’s capitals like Tokyo, Seoul, or Singapore you most probably have experienced the contagious entrepreneurial spirit. People in these cities are embracing change and are willing to redirect the fate of their countries through innovation and technology.

In a conversation with Long Hoang, Co-Founder of FireVisor Systems Pte, he highlighted “Asia is unbelievably forward-looking when it comes to using technology and creating innovations to advance the world”. After growing up in Germany, Long moved to Hong Kong to complete his Bachelor’s Degree and ever since that had stayed in Asia to establish his successful startup in Singapore focusing on predictive analytics for manufacturing companies. Today, his system took off and expanded operations into major markets like India or China. Global expansion is planned with European countries next in line.

A major reason for the success and motivation for startups in Asia is the valuable leverage through accelerators. Long’s startup has been sponsored and supported by the accelerator program Entrepreneur First. His company is a great example showing that receiving the right resources and direction can turn a brilliant idea into a very profitable business.

Besides Entrepreneur First, there are a plethora of various accelerator programs in Asia pushing the next big idea with diverse resources ranging from coworking spaces, legal advice, connections to tailored expert mentorship and assistance.

Some of the biggest and renowned accelerators across Asia, worth checking out are:

1. SparkLabs (Korea)

The SparkLabs Group has launched its first accelerator program in 2012, called SparkLabs Seoul. SparkLab Seoul is the leading accelerating program with the world’s largest startup demo day event. Founded by Entrepreneurs for Entrepreneurs, the goal is to help startups succeed globally, more specifically to secure the next round of fundings through not only Korean but global investors.

As a general technology program, SparkLabs Seoul accepts 8–10 startups twice a year from diverse industries and sectors. They should be related to the Internet, online gaming, mobile, e-commerce, digital media, healthcare, and more.

In their 3-month accelerator program seed to early-stage startups will get matched with 4 to 6 world-class mentors. Besides that, the selected startups get access to a top-tier network of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, angel investors, and executives as well as free office space and perks from GAN (Global Accelerator Network).

Following SparkLabs Korea, the SparkLab Group has expanded its accelerator network in Asia to SparkLab Taipei, SparkLabs China (Beijing and launching Shanghai, Chengdu and Shenzen), SparkLabs Connex & Smart Cities (Songdo, South Korea) and SparkLabs FinTech (Hong Kong).

2. HAX (China)

A special accelerator from the SOSV family is HAX. HAX is based in Shenzhen, China, the city with the strongest manufacturing ecosystem. What differentiates it from other accelerators is their investment in companies innovating at the intersection of the physical and digital making them the world’s first and largest hardware accelerator.

Every month from March till December, HAX looks for 3 to 4 startups reshaping industries, improving health or creating novel B2B and consumer experiences. This could be through sensor data, robotic automation, biochemistry and material science with software-driven intelligence.

The program consists of two stages with the first being in Shenzhen for 4 to 8 months focusing on engineering, design, sourcing and manufacturing challenges as well as initial preparation around marketing and sales. In the second stage you will relocate to San Francisco for 2 to 3 months to close funding rounds.

3. NX NIVEA Accelerator (Korea)

Up next, we enter the rising industry of beauty. NX NIVEA Accelerator is one of the accelerator programs focusing on innovating and revolutionizing the beauty industry, specifically skincare. Based in the beauty pioneering country South Korea, NX was founded in 2019 under the world’s largest skincare brand NIVEA.

NX is currently mainly focusing on, but not limited to, startups operating in South Korea that reshape modern skincare. This entails beauty tech, indie brands, digital platforms, and personalization. In annual batches, the best 5 startups are chosen to be rewarded with their program.

One remarkable aspect of the NX program is the customized approach of the program. The successfully selected startups receive support tailored to their individual needs. In addition, every NX startup has the possibility to form a strategic partnership agreement and to discuss venture investment with the Global Beiersdorf Group. Other benefits include free office space in the heart of Seoul, as well as internal and external mentorship from a global network.

4. Entrepreneur First (Singapore)

Entrepreneur First is the accelerator program that supported the example mentioned in the beginning. Located in Singapore, they distinguish themselves from other accelerators by supporting individuals instead of companies. Since 2011, the mission is to enable the world’s most ambitious people to build the most important companies.

Ambitious and talented individuals all over the world with a drive for extraordinary can apply to the program. An idea is not a prerequisite, only the motivation for the future will be assessed. Every half a year, their cohort supports between 50 to 100 individuals.

Entrepreneur First not only accelerates startups but is already involved from day one when co-founders are matched, and ideas created. Teams and ideas that are selected from the investment committee can launch their startup and will receive structured training for 3 months from advisors typically successful venture partners.

5. SOW Asia (Hong Kong)

Since 2013, SOW Asia is a charitable accelerator based in Hong Kong that supports social enterprises in order to scale their social impact in Hong Kong and throughout Asia. Their vision is to create an ecosystem in which local social businesses can grow, self-sustain, and attract external funding.

SOW Asia selects businesses incorporated in Hong Kong and ready for early scale meaning beyond prototype with a market trial or pilot test. These social businesses need to tackle social challenges through innovative technology.

The program is 5 months long and includes interactive workshops, pitch practices and one-on-one consultation to help develop the selected businesses to be investment-ready. Additionally, participants are exposed to a valuable network of angel investors, impact investors, NGOs and charities, corporates, foundations and startup communities.

6. DBS Accelerator (Hong Kong)

Another unique Asian accelerator program introduced in our list is DBS Accelerator. This program was first formed in 2015 by DBS Bank is based in Hong Kong and powered by Nest. This special collaboration between DBS Bank and Nest aims at finding innovations for Finance and Banking.

They choose up to 8 promising Fintech startups for each round regardless of location and invite them to Hong Kong to complete their accelerator program. Some examples of startup ideas DBS Accelerator are looking for include Artificial Intelligence, Big data, and analytics, Banking infrastructure with workflow and operational management, Mobility and payments, Risk monitoring and management, Security, or SME Banking Solution.

Successful applicants of DBS Accelerator will receive mentors, visibility, and engagement around business opportunities for at least 3 months. Besides the dedicated workspace in Wanchai, entrepreneurs will have access to a variety of resources for instance over 600 specialists in banking, technology, and startups, as well as industry experts.

7. Open Network Lab (Japan)

Open Network Lab is a seed accelerator program headquartered in Tokyo, Japan, and was launched in 2010 with the purpose of “developing world-class entrepreneurs” and the vision to build the best environment for startup growth and success. Open Network Lab does not specialize in any industry but rather supports disruptive ideas made possible by the internet.

Their general program called Onlab has received applications from entrepreneurs worldwide. It runs twice a year and during its 3-month program, startup teams are given funding up to 10 million yen, facility access e.g. in Shibuya, global mentoring, and access to leading international and domestic entrepreneurs and developers. Above that, successful startups will gain access to tools and resources from various partners.

Besides Onlab, Open Network Lab runs four more accelerator programs focusing on specific fields. Onlab BioHealth, Onlab Resi Tech, Onlab HOKKAIDO, Onlab FUKUOKA.

8. Zeroth AI (Hong Kong)

Zeroth AI was founded in 2017 and is Asia’s first accelerator program solely focusing on startups leveraging AI technology. Represented in Hong Kong, their mission is to build the ecosystem that serves all Zeroth founders.

AI supports the resources and opportunities they need to succeed, whether in Asia or elsewhere.

Capital investments are made for visionary founders at the pre-seed and seed stage. Zeroth has been looking for innovations around AI comprising of computing, natural language, autonomous vehicles, agtech, human-machine interface technology, and ethical computing.

In an intense 3 months program, Zeroth not only provides monetary support through funding but also gives invaluable insights through speakers and mentors. Another advantage is the global network of investors, who will not only fund successful startups but also give tools.

9. GnB (Indonesia)

Next on our list is Indonesia’s first global accelerator GnB. It is a global network dedicated to progress and innovation that brings together the people, the funding, and the partners that drive business velocity. Founded in 2016, GnB is a collaborative program between Japanese IT company Infocom Corporation and Fenox Venture Capital from Silicon Valley but based in Indonesia.

Startups of all background with breakthrough ideas are encouraged to participate — Within the 3-month program, GnB will provide $50.000 in funding and also global mentorship with industry experts, leading founders, corporate partners, workshops with experts, network to investors and office space in downtown Jakarta.

10. SPRINT (Thailand)

Lastly, introducing SPRINT, Thailand’s first specialized accelerator for science and technology. Co-founded by SCG Chemicals, Houston Technology Center Asia, SASIN, KX and TCELS, their mission is to support Thailand innovation ventures to be able to become a new corporate with speed and effectiveness.

SPRINT is searching for startups at the early or seed-stage in industries like sustainability and green technology, industrial IoT and inspection, advanced materials as well as healthcare and medical devices.

In a 4-month accelerating program, successful startups will get the chance for 1-on-1 mentoring, networking with industry experts, access to co-working space and laboratories.

Diverse Startup Accelerator Programs to Support Promising Startups

To sum it up, startup accelerator programs can vary a lot in terms of backing, goals or industry as well as scale. Our list represents the diverse facets of Asia’s accelerator programs by compiling the top 10 unique accelerator programs located around different major cities in Asia all with different specialization from beauty to fintech. However, they all have one common goal, to fuel and accelerate sparking startups.

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