Mon, Nov 28, 2011 - Page 11 News List

FEATURE: Startup companies forge ahead in Taiwan

Staff Writer, with CNA

At a coffee shop in Taipei on a Friday evening, the air was buzzing with excitement and conversation flowed freely among about 40 people, mostly in their 20s and 30s.

Before long, people were invited to speak.

“I am looking for someone who knows how to build iOS applications and is interested in developing educational apps for children,” said Wang Feng-cheng, the founder of an Internet startup that focuses on children’s education.

“My partner and I will be sitting over there, come and talk to us,” he said.

Hardly a conversation one would expect at a social gathering, but this is not a normal get--together. It is a monthly event aimed at encouraging young people to start their own Internet or technology companies. Such events have become popular in Taipei in recent years.

There are signs that a support network for startups in Taipei is also gradually taking shape.

It is estimated that Taiwan has about 2,000 Internet startups, up from just a handful a few years ago, according to the government-funded Institute for Information Industry’s Innovative DigiTech-Enabled Applications and Services Institute.

The rapid growth in Internet startups is no surprise, considering entrepreneurship is an integral part of Taiwan’s DNA — small and medium enterprises have long been the backbone of the national economy.

Some Internet startups are working on building a virtual currency exchange center enabling users to exchange credits from different online venues; others aim to create the ultimate online menu by bringing together all the restaurant menus in Taiwan; while still others help the undecided make up their mind by asking netizens to make the final choice for them.

For new college graduates in Taiwan, working in big companies and climbing the corporate ladder has long been considered the way to go, but an increasing number of people are turning away from this traditional career path.

They believe the future lies not in being stuck in a cubicle for years, but in building a million--dollar business and becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, before turning 30.

“Joining a startup offers one a broader view than working at a big company and doing specific tasks. A successful startup offers a fast track to greater wealth,” said Jamie Lin (林之晨), the host of the cafe get-together and one of the masterminds behind Taipei’s budding startup support network.

Lin co-founded appWorks Ventures, a company that help -incubate Internet startup companies.

He and three other co--founders provide counseling services, free office space, mentoring by successful entrepreneurs and networking opportunities with venture capitalists. In return, their company gets the first chance to acquire small stakes in promising new firms.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about the community,” Lin said when speaking about the purpose of a startup mixer.

As the road to entrepreneurship can be a lonely path, startups need to meet up frequently to exchange ideas and push one another along, Lin said.

The year-old program has produced three batches of startup entrepreneurs. The third only graduated from the program last month after presenting their projects to more than 700 entrepreneurs, electronics heavyweights and venture capitalists.

All of them started their companies during the program and some earned major sponsorship from investors after their presentation.

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