Many countries in Asia are amongst the fastest growing economies in the world, and Asian entrepreneurs are key in driving this growth. However, the idea of the entrepreneur is a fairly new concept across Asia. According to Elizabeth Thomson of ICS Trust, as recently as the 1980s and 1990s when she was living and working in Hong Kong, the word entrepreneurship wasn’t part of the local business vocabulary. Without drawing large generalisations across a continent, its fairly conservative, risk-averse culture only added to its lack of entrepreneurship. This absence of an ‘entrepreneurial tradition’ however, doesn’t seem to be holding young Asian entrepreneurs back, as more and more people are opting to start their own businesses.
In an article in the Financial Times, Emma Boyde discusses some of the obstacles that may be disproportionately faced by Asian entrepreneurs, such as cultural differences, lack of access to funding, and strong family ties which oblige the younger generation to join the family business. However, this does not need to be a barrier to entrepreneurship. A global study undertaken by HSBC shows that across Asia and the Middle East, one in three second-generation entrepreneurs have joined the family business (compared to just 15% of those in the United States and Western Europe) and that coming from a family business background typically increases both the average business turnover and personal wealth of an entrepreneur, compared to those from a non-family business background. This is true across Asia and the Middle East as well as the USA and Western Europe.
Asia is shifting away from family business to tech startups
A major trend in entrepreneurship in Asia is the tech-based start-up, which is clearly demonstrated in CNBC’s round-up of Asia’s richest entrepreneurs under 40, in which 9 of the 10 individuals are involved in internet software firms and social networks. Fintech is also booming, and one example of this is Paytm, a start-up founded by Vijay Shekhar Sharma in 2010 as a prepaid mobile recharge website. It was incubated in 2011 with around $20 million from the Mobility Fund backed by SAIF Partners and has since grown into a mobile commerce powerhouse in India, with over 100 million mobile wallets across the country, mainly used to buy goods in its marketplace. This year continues to see more growth, as it prepares to set up a payments bank.
The total net worth of the individuals featured on CNBC’s rich list is a whopping $19.3 billion, of which $11 billion belongs to Chinese nationals, proving that China’s recent efforts to support entrepreneurs has been effective. In a recent press conference Zhang Mao, head of China’s State Administration for Industry and Commerce, stated that more people are becoming entrepreneurial due to easier access and more government support, and that over 90% of new businesses in China are set up by individuals. China has promised to continue these business reforms by cutting bureaucracy in order to streamline processes such as applying for company names and trademarks.
With Asia’s economic prosperity fuelling even more growth, and cultural attitudes to entrepreneurship shifting, Asia and its entrepreneurs are becoming increasingly influential on a global scale.