The world may be struggling to emerge from the global recession, but that's not deterring many young entrepreneurs in Asia. Throughout the region, ambitious businessmen and women are navigating the economic turmoil and trying to succeed with new business ideas. Most of the finalists in BusinessWeek's annual report of Asia's Best Young Entrepreneurs have had to start from scratch. Some even have to support a family.
Consider Indonesia's Roihatul Jannah, a mother of two who owns Helmiat Bonceng Bocah, a startup she founded in 2007 that makes a product for children who ride as extra passengers on motorcycles. Since lots of people in Indonesia depend on motorbikes to take their kids to school, the market, or other places, Jannah figured there would be demand for a product—similar to a child's car seat—designed to make that ride safer and more comfortable. Her idea seems to be meeting success: She already has six distributors and 20 marketing agents in Java and on several other Indonesian islands. "I am very proud, because Helmiat Bonceng Bocah can help many parents and children," says the 30-year-old Jannah.
While she tries to juggle family life and her startup, the challenge for other finalists is combining work and study after they have gone back to school. For instance, Taiwan-born Steve Chao, 33, is now a student at the London School of Economics even as he manages Qdero, a technology startup he founded in late 2008. Shanghai-based Qdero has created a range of mobile applications tailored for Chinese mobile users. "From Apple's iPhone sales figures, we can learn that it's possible for one mobile platform to satisfy the needs of a large cross-region mobile user base," writes Chao in an e-mail.
Envisioning Success Although Qdero is only 10 months old, it already has 14 employees, and Chao is looking ahead to using the company's Shanghai base to grow, taking advantage of the world's fair the city will host next year. Chao says he expects to see "great revenues starting in 2010, [and] our current focus would be to prepare and service the needs of visitors to the 2010 Shanghai World Expo."
Another angle Asian entrepreneurs are targeting is green technology. While much of the region lags behind the West when it comes to environmentally friendly technologies, some startups see openings in Asia. Antonius Feryanto was aware of Indonesia's rich natural resources in essential oils, such as nutmeg and citronella, and he realized that there was "an enterprising opportunity to harness them in an ethical way."
So the chemical engineer embarked on a steep learning curve to acquire the expertise necessary to develop a suitable production process to transform the raw materials into a commercial product. By 2006, the 30-year-old Feryanto and some associates had established Pavettia Atsiri Indonesia to produce the essential oils on an industrial scale. Since the business began trading, it has enjoyed considerable success as its production has increased tenfold, and the company enjoys a network of farmers.
Luckily for many of BusinessWeek's finalists, their region is showing some of the strongest signs of economic life. China's economy is on track to grow more than 8% this year, fueling a revival around the region. The Singapore economy grew an annualized 20% in the second quarter, and other parts of Southeast Asia as well as India, Taiwan, and South Korea are looking up, too. Even Japan is officially out of the recession, with gross domestic product increasing 0.6% in the second quarter.
For all the recent good news, though, there's no denying these are challenging times for Asian entrepreneurs. With the economic climate so uncertain, they need patience, innovative ideas, and entrepreneurial spirit. Click through our slide show of Asia's Best Young Entrepreneur nominees for 2009 and vote for your favorite.