THE BEST STARTUP CITIES IN ASIA: A GUIDE

Asia has many cities that can offer excellent conditions to startup founders, including massive growth markets, talent pools, and a low cost of living in many cases. The top ecosystems of the continent include some cities in developed nations, but mostly from highly-populated and fast-growing India and China (with 7 out of the top-10 ecosystems being from these two countries, including the top-4). In this article, we will present the 10 Best Startup Cities in Asia in 2020 (the scope includes cities from Central Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia and East Asia).

  1. Beijing, China
  2. Shanghai, China
  3. Bangalore, India
  4. New Delhi, India
  5. Tokyo, Japan
  6. Seoul, South Korea
  7. Mumbai, India
  8. Singapore City, Singapore
  9. Shenzhen, China
  10. Hong Kong, China

The Best Startup Cities in Asia

To find out which cities are the best places to run a startup, StartupBlink has analyzed startup ecosystems in 1,000 cities and 100 countries to publish its annual Global Startup Ecosystem Rankings Report 2020.

Best Startup Cities in Asia

In the report, Asia continues to fare well, with 18 countries in our top-100 rankings, including 5 in the top-30 countries club. The most represented sub-region is Southeast Asia with 7 countries in the rankings, although only one city in the regional top-10.

1. Beijing, China

Beijing, as the Chinese capital, is the country and continent’s startup powerhouse. It ranks 6th globally, the city is the home of many high quality startups (more than 30 unicorns), including well-known names like Xiaomi and ByteDance (developers of TikTok). The city has an impressive talent pool, and benefits from its closeness to China’s center of power.

2. Shanghai, China

Shanghai is China’s most populated city, a very important market within the country, and  with Beijing one of only two Asian cities in the global Top-10 (ranked 10). The city’s startups overperform in the quality factor of our rankings, with more than 15 unicorns based there, and is home to a large variety of coworking spaces nurture new startups in the city. 

3. Bangalore, India

Many consider Bangalore to be India’s version of Silicon Valley. The city is home to one India’s oldest and most prestigious technical universities, the Indian Institute of Science. Ranked 14th globally, the city is home to a plethora of coworking spaces, and has nurtured five Unicorns. It is a particularly strong ecosystem in the Software & Data and Social & Leisure verticals.

4. New Delhi, India

India’s capital city is the 4th highest ranked startup ecosystem in Asia, and ranks just 15th globally, after climbing 3 spots since last year. As all Indian cities, it has a long way to go in the Business score factor, but the ecosystem quantity and quality is very good, having even two Unicorns. The clear top vertical of the city is Software & Data.

5. Tokyo, Japan

Ranked 16th globally (after decreasing two spots since 2019), Tokyo is the only Japanese city in our Top-100 ranking. The city (and country) stands out for the very high Business score it has, significantly better than the rest of the ecosystems in Asia’s Top-5. It’s currently the home of 3 Unicorns, and it has 6 Pantheons (the highest number in this list), including Softbank, Toshiba and Rakuten. 

6. Seoul, South Korea

Much like Tokyo, Seoul is a city that scores very high on the Business aspect, explaining its rank of 21st globally. This business climate has made it possible for very large corporate conglomerates to emerge (the Chaebol), and more recently has inspired many entrepreneurs to create their own startups, including 7 current unicorns. Government initiatives that incentivize entrepreneurship, combined with world-class engineers with world famous work ethic have also contributed to the success of the ecosystem. 

7. Mumbai, India

The 3rd and last Indian city in Asia’s Top-10, Mumbai is also India’s most populous city and commercial capital. The city is ranked as the world’s 22nd startup ecosystem, benefiting from a high concentration of Angel and VC investment. As is the case with the other highly ranked Indian cities, Mumbai scores highly on the Quantity front, while it has grown some quality startups including 3 current Unicorns.  

8. Singapore City, Singapore

Singapore City ranks 26th globally for its startup ecosystem, strongly leveraging its top notch Business climate (highest Business score on this list) and Quality of their startups (2 Unicorns in a relatively small ecosystem). The city also boasts a highly educated talent pool, low taxes and multiple government initiatives, and the dominating vertical is Fintech by far.

9. Shenzhen, China

Globally, Shenzhen ranks as the 33rd best startup ecosystem, and its business scene in general has benefited since the 1980s when it was chosen as the country’s first special economic zone. More recently, it has become the Chinese home of many multinational tech companies, and has developed as a hub for startups in the country, even nurturing global giants such as Tencent (parent company of WeChat) and Huawei.

10. Hong Kong, China

The most “Western” of Asia’s cities, Hong Kong has long been an important financial and business hub, as well as a gateway to China. It’s ranked in our report as the world’s 36th best startup ecosystem, with a very good Quality score (it has one Unicorn). Although the top vertical in the city is Software & Data, it also has a significant concentration of Fintech startups.

The Asian Giants

Of the top 10 startup cities in Asia, only half of them are capital cities. This gives a perspective on the relative importance China and India have on the region, the only 2 countries that have non-capitals on the list. Not surprisingly, these are two of the countries with the fastest-growing economies in the last 3 decades. Nevertheless, it’s worth mentioning that Southeast Asia is a very interesting subregion, with 5 cities in the Top-100 (although only Singapore City made it to the Asian Top-10).


This list was compiled based on the results of Global Startup Ecosystem Rankings Report 2020 that ranked 1,000 cities and 100 countries worldwide. If your city was not included in this list yet but you want to find out the current status of your local startup ecosystem, download the Report for free here and start discovering.

Compiling the list for Asia was made simple with the help of the PRO account, and our Ecosystem Partners

If you want to check Best Startup Cities in Europe, check this article.

COVID-19 Innovation Report: HIEx by UNAIDS

At StartupBlink, together with Health Innovation Exchange (HIEx) by UNAIDS and the Moscow Agency of Innovations, we have launched the Coronavirus Innovation Map including more than 1,000 projects created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In this crisis-ridden environment, innovators have stepped up to help in the best way they know: solving problems. Organizations working in different areas have adapted solutions and forged alliances with the aim of defeating COVID-19 and its consequences.

Through modification of our proprietary algorithm, we ranked countries and cities by number and types of innovations, with extra points given for selected outstanding initiatives, identified as the Champions. The COVID-19 Innovation Report, showcases the rankings of the best performing 32 countries and 80 cities, as well as selected innovations for each of those countries.

Main Insights of the Report

At the country level, we see some similarities between the leaders of the COVID-19 Innovation rankings and our Global Ecosystem Rankings. The United States leads global COVID-19 innovation efforts, while Israel and Canada ranked 2nd and 3rd respectively (both beating their general rank by one spot).

In the Top-10, we see important successes from Belgium, Switzerland, Estonia, Italy and Ireland, where local entrepreneurs have undergone an impressive mobilization in the face of the pandemic. Outside of Europe and North America – which dominated the Top-10, we see 5 countries from the Asia Pacific region in the Top-20 (Singapore, China, Taiwan, South Korea and Australia), as well as Kenya (23rd) and Brazil (30th) as the best placed African and Latin American countries, respectively.

There is an urgent need to invest in innovation ecosystems to carry them through this crisis – Pradeep Kakkatil (UNAIDS Director of Innovation)

On a  city level, cities such as New York, Milan, Brussels and Barcelona, have been overperforming despite being badly hit by the pandemic. Cities largely unscathed like Taipei and Singapore, also hold strong positions. The Top-3 cities in the ranking are all from the United States: San Francisco, New York and Boston, while the 4th and 5th spots are held by Toronto (greatly overperforming in comparison to its Global Ecosystem Ranking) and Tel Aviv. The second half of the Top-10 is also dominated by American cities (Seattle 7th, San Diego 8th and Los Angeles 9th) while London features at 6th spot and Taipei at10th.

Conclusion

In our map and report, we can see that there has been an extraordinarily innovative response from Startups, Corporations, NGOs, Public Sector and other organizations around the world. And we believe that the cooperation and solutions developed during this pandemic, as well as the lessons learned, can be helpful in the fight against future global health crises. But the virus hasn’t been defeated yet, and as Pradeep Kakkatil (UNAIDS Director of Innovation) says about health systems, there is “an urgent need to invest in innovation ecosystems to carry them through this crisis”. StartupBlink is here to help.

COVID-19 Innovation

What is a startup? The definition

At StartupBlink, we have made it our mission to evaluate Startup Ecosystems around the world, considering closely the quantity and quality of startups, which is why it is crucial for us to have a clear definition for the term. 

In today’s world, the word “Startup” has entered everyday language due to hugely successful and influential technological companies. It’s a romanticized word (the story of college kids building world-changing technologies from a garage can be very inspiring), but it can also have negative connotations in a world ever more suspicious of Big Tech – are Amazon or Google still to be considered startups?

Defining “startup” 

Investopedia defines a startup as “a young company” established by one entrepreneur (or a group of them) with the aim of bringing a new product or service to market, which will be unique or better than previously existing ones. At StartupBlink, we believe that it is essential we have a deep understanding of startup characteristics in order to define exactly what they are.

What is a Startup

The 4 Key Characteristics of Startups 

  1. Small size, big impact

Emerging startups usually begin their journey with a small team (1 to 20 employees) working in the development of a minimum viable product (MVP) or a prototype of a product, service, or platform to see whether their idea indeed offers a value proposition to users, and has the potential of profitability. Generally, it is only after this stage, that the startup can actually gather more investors, customers and thus be able to grow.

It is agreed that a basic characteristic of a startup is that it is a small business, however, being small in size does not automatically make a company a startup. The ambition to generate a big impact, scale up and grow is another characteristic of startups, critically differentiating them from traditional SMEs. In order to be able to grow fast, a startup team should be much more flexible and adjust faster to change than regular businesses, allowing them to rapidly adapt to technological advancements, an increased number of competitors in the market, and of course, failures…

  1. High risk of failure 

“If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late”Reid Hoffman

Startups have a high risk of failing, especially due to the lack of resources and ambiguities in the business model. Eric Ries, an American entrepreneur and author of The Lean Startup, defines a startup as “a human institution designed to create a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty”.  

Uncertainties are one of the factors that lead to breakdowns. Nevertheless, it is a failure that should become a turning point to push startups forward. So, it is natural for startups to face and deal with failures to improve themselves. 

  1. Being a talent bank  

Attracting and hiring talented people with different backgrounds who are inclined to work hard and do not give up while facing difficulties should be seriously considered after establishing a startup. Thus, a startup team should consist of motivated employees, deeply identified with the culture of the company.

“We’re never in lack of money. We lack people with dreams, who can die for those dreams” – Jack Ma

The team members should feel that they create a positive impact on the work process and are among those that drag success to the company. With a strong organizational culture and supportive team, the startup founders can diminish the chance of breakdowns and increase the speed of growth.

  1. Use of non-traditional financing structures to achieve scale

Most early-stage startups (as well as many businesses) are Bootstrapped businesses, with founders (as well as friends and family) pitching in. And given that startups’ most valuable assets are usually non-tangible (ideas, team, patents, among others), and profitability is a long-term goal, the doors of traditional financial institutions remain closed until much later in the life-cycle of the company.

This reality has created non-traditional, high-risk and high-return financing structures for startups, including Angel Investing, Venture Capital and Venture Debt, in which besides funding, founders benefit significantly through the mentoring and advice that experienced investors can provide.

Yes, there are successful startups that never used any of these financing vehicles, deciding instead to use their own cash flows to finance growth. But for a company to receive this kind of funding means that at the very least, the startup shows potential of significant growth and impact.

What is and is not a “startup” for StartupBlink?

As specified in the Startup Ecosystem Rankings Report 2020, StartupBlink’s definition, besides considering the characteristics mentioned above, gives special emphasis to innovation as a fundamental term for startups. This innovation can be technological or a unique business model, depending on what startups aim at achieving in the long term. Therefore, service providers and local directories such as real estate listings will not be regarded as startups, and will not appear on our map. 

StartupBlink also reflects on what is not considered a startup. The most common case is, of course, the failure or bankruptcy of the startup. There are, nevertheless, positive reasons for which we stop considering a company a startup, the most common being the following three: becoming a Unicorn (reaching a value greater than $1b while still a private company), becoming a publicly traded company, or getting acquired by another entity (before reaching the $1b mark)

These success stories are deleted from our list of startups. Even so, they are crucial elements to determine the quality of a given startup ecosystem, and for this reason they are considered in a unique way in our map and rankings, as Exits, Unicorns or Pantheons.

Find out more about our the most innovative cities and countries around the world through our Startup Ecosystem Rankings Report 2020.


Tamara Aslanova and Ghers Fisman

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The PARTNERS OF STARTUPBLINK’S CORONAVIRUS INNOVATION MAP

In this article, we will be talking about our partners who have made the Coronavirus Innovation Map possible. If you are interested in becoming one of our partners please contact us.

The Coronavirus Innovation Map is a resource for innovators and solution-seekers during this pandemic. This is why it is critical for us to keep it free for everyone with full functionality. To sustain the great costs of project development, marketing, and data gathering without charging is with the help of our partners. We present the organization who made this project possible:

FOUNDING PARTNERS

The Health Innovation Exchange (HIEx) is a platform launched by UNAIDS that acts as a neutral facilitator and broker of innovative solutions for health, particularly in the global South. HIEx has been working with countries on analysis of health priorities and needs, curating tailored health innovative solutions to match the needs, and brokering investments to ensure the sustainability of their implementation.

Moscow Agency of Innovations brings together the efforts of corporations, cities, and startups to turn Moscow into the global capital of innovations. It helps startups fine-tune new products and bring them to the market. It helps corporations find teams to address technology challenges. It tests and implements innovative solutions in the city.

ECOSYSTEM PARTNERS

StartupBlink is working with dozens of municipalities and government corporations during the year as our ecosystem partners. They take part in our activities such as ecosystem promotion, mapping, and consulting as. Their support throughout the year has allowed us to support this project without monetizing it and we are humbled by their want to help during these challenging times. By teaming up it shows that they cannot only take care of their own ecosystem but are interested in global integration and data flow which is critical for global innovation.

INFORMATION PARTNERS

Aside from our Ecosystem Partners, we also have our information partners which help supply global unique data. We would want to thank them for the support.

Interested in becoming one of our partners? Please contact us.

The most innovative countries and cities in the time of covid-19

The Coronavirus Innovation Map launched together with Health Innovation Index (HIEx) by the UNAIDS and Moscow Agency of Innovations and other global information partners such as Crunchbase, Meetup, and SEMrush, now features hundreds of initiatives and solutions aiming to solve problems caused by the COVID-19 virus as well as to help people cope and adapt to life amid the global pandemic.  You can read more about the map here.

As we learn about new projects every day, we would like to acknowledge and celebrate the innovators in the most active locations on the coronavirus innovation scene. We are proud to release the first-ever global COVID-19 Innovation Ranking featuring the top cities and countries on the scene. 

The first run of the rankings reveals an interesting insight that some of the cities that have been badly hit by the crisis such as New York, Milan, Paris, London, Beijing, and Barcelona, are the ones that have been mostly over-performing in the charts. This is counterintuitive since those cities are in a major crisis, but still, manage to excel and innovate due to the needs they are facing.

As for the top 20 countries ranking, we see that specific countries in Europe such as Estonia, Switzerland, Italy, and Ireland are surprisingly over-performing in COVID-related innovation compared to their general rankings in our 2019 global ecosystem ranking report.  

Coronavirus Innovation – Cities Rankings

San Francisco takes the top spot on the list of most innovative cities for coronavirus just like in our Global Ecosystem Report. We see that this city continues to top the rankings regardless of the industry and it is inspiring to see that it also comes first in the world when it comes to COVID-19 related innovation.

San Francisco is followed by two other US cities, also on the podium: Boston and New York. Boston is historically known for having great health-related startups and that is shown as it takes the second spot in this rankings. In the previous rankings we have done, we see that Boston is always in the top 5 cities but never second. This shows its resilience and excellence in producing health-related startups and initiatives. New York, on the other hand, is known for its FinTech startups but we see that it takes third. Its response and adaptation to the effects of the Coronavirus crisis have been outstanding considering that it has been one of the worst-hit areas in the world and we think that this is exactly why they’re excelling.

Toronto is featured in the fourth spot which is a higher sport compared to what we see in our general rankings, showing that this Canadian city is over-performing in response to COVID-19. It is followed by Milan which is the biggest surprise for us in this rankings. It usually ranks relatively low in the other rankings we have done in the past. Considering how badly hit the Milan region was during the crisis, they’re doing incredibly well. Closing in the top 5 is London which is usually in our top 3 cities in previous rankings. This shows that although it s actively innovating in the time of this pandemic it is relatively underperforming considering its potential.

Seattle takes 6th place which is higher than it’s usual ranking. As another city that has been badly hit by the crisis, we see a trend of the worst-hit cities innovating when faced with adversity. Zurich for a long time has been on the radar for global innovation but it doesn’t rank this high in our Ecosystem Rankings. It has been doing great in the deep tech field and has is also playing an active role in global initiatives that try to combat the effects of the pandemic. Moscow is a giant ecosystem that has to build its own unique and special solutions in many cases. Being a megacity, it seems that it has been developing innovations that has to deal with COVID-19. Paris is another badly hit city and it joins other badly hit cities that are overperforming.

Tel Aviv, at 11th spot, is doing really well. Although it is currently underperforming considering that it usually ranks higher in previous rankings where it was always in the top 10. Taipei City, at 12th, is an example of how Taiwan is doing amazing work in dealing with this crisis. They are leading the way in public policy on the ways to deal and contain the crisis. Dublin is another city that is overperforming considering how it usually ranks in previous reports. Beijing is in 14th place and since the pandemic originated from China it is natural to see various innovations coming from here. We notice that a lot of these Chinese innovations are local solutions, similar to Moscow, nevertheless, they still have a global impact.

The three US cities in the second half of the rankings, Austin, Denver, and Washington usually are not in the top 20 of our previous rankings but due to the impact of the crisis in the USA these cities are doing substantially well. Barcelona is another city that has been badly hit and we see that it does not rank as high as it usually does. However, it is ranked higher than Madrid showing that most Spanish innovations during this time are coming from this city.

Closing up the top 20 cities are Vancouver and Tallin. Both cities are usually not in our previous rankings and it shows that both are doing great in the face of this pandemic.

The first run of the rankings reveals an interesting insight that some of the cities that have been badly hit by the pandemic such as New York, Milan, Paris, London, Beijing, and Barcelona, are the ones that have been mostly over-performing in the charts. This is counterintuitive since those cities are in a major crisis, but still, manage to excel and innovate due to the needs they are facing. Also noteworthy that some top cities, such as Miland and Zurich, both in the top ten, stand out on the global coronavirus innovation scene, with a much better position than in the global startup ecosystem rankings, an assessment in a more general startup and innovation context, also by StartupBlink. 

Coronavirus Innovation – Countries Rankings

The United States leads the global coronavirus innovation efforts, according to the rankings published by Coronavirus Innovation Map. While Canada takes the second spot, the rest of the top five spots are given to the relatively small nations of Estonia, Switzerland, and Israel. Also in the top ten are Ireland, Italy, the United Kingdom, France, and Spain. Although the top twenty list is dominated by Europe and North America, some of the most promising coronavirus innovations are also emerging in Asia (China, Taiwan, India, Philippines) and Australia, which appear in the second half of the top 20 rankings. 

Two countries to note which do not have cities in the city rankings are Germany and Australia at 14th and 15th place, respectively. In the case of Germany, we see that although no single city stands out it has various cities that are producing innovative solutions. Similar to Germany, Australia also has a variety of cities that have coronavirus-related initiatives and this variety places it in the top 20 countries.

As for the top 20 countries ranking, we see that specific countries in Europe such as Estonia, Switzerland, Italy, and Ireland are surprisingly over-performing in COVID-related innovation compared to their general rankings in our 2019 global ecosystem rankings report. We also see countries such as Poland, Portugal, and the Philippines performing better than usual since they are not typically in the top 20 in previous rankings.

Methodology

In its current form, the rankings consider the number of innovations in each city and country, with extra points given for selected outstanding initiatives, identified as the “champions”. Although StartupBlink has a broad experience in startup ecosystem research and rankings, this is only our early attempt to quantify innovation in the coronavirus context. The current COVID-19 Innovation Ranking methodology is not evergreen and we will continue adapting and innovating the algorithm as we gather more data.

The ranking will be updated regularly and you can influence it by submitting innovative projects related to COVID-19 here.

The world needs good news now. We hope that the rankings will energize and encourage the innovators around the world who will work even harder against the virus.

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