Southeast Asia used to be an almost mystical place to me, until I began to directly experience its charm and to tap into the vast opportunities the region offers to today?s technology-savvy entrepreneurs. A place with diverse ethnic charms that is set amid modern amenities, Southeast Asia is a rapidly transforming and liberalizing region with huge potential for ventures in business, technology, and science.
I consider myself very fortunate to be amongst this generation of highly mobile professionals. As a computer scientist by training and an entrepreneur by vocation, I have made many trips to Southeast Asia from my home in China. Most have been short-term study or working trips, but they?ve come along frequently enough for me to be able to grasp much of what the region has to offer.
It all started on my first exploration trip to Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore. That first trip, which took place in 1996, was an eye-opener for me. The sleepy lands that my parents had described to me as a boy had clearly transformed themselves into intriguing paragons of fast-developing high-tech malls. As a young computer science graduate looking for both adventure and business opportunities, I immediately saw that my dream to set up an international technology consultancy could become a reality. This realization led to many return trips to the region over the years.
My strongest impression is of Singapore--an ultramodern garden city set in a strategic position at the southernmost tip of the Malay Peninsula. Despite its small size, it stands out prominently. I am fascinated by Singapore?s cleanliness, well-maintained modern infrastructure, facilities, and very efficient public service system. All these and its firm practice of meritocracy make it a rare gem in the region for business ventures. Furthermore, the government?s open commitment and involvement in the development of science and technology is a great assurance for business investors and collaborators alike. What attracts me most is the ease of conducting business in a system that is almost fully transparent. In Singapore, business really means business.
Already a regional hotbed for technology, the next thing to watch for in Singapore is biotechnology and science. The government and perceptive businesspeople are already putting their best bets on this most buoyant sector. But there is room for everyone--scientists, engineers, businesspeople, software developers, solutions providers, biotech suppliers, and even educators--and, of course, I am also eyeing the development with vested interest! With the perfect environment, there is certainly much to look forward to. Singaporeans prove to me to be a most hardworking lot, with engineers and scientists often clocking more than 12 hours a day. It really is "thumbs up" to them!
On my several visits and stays in Singapore, I have mingled freely with the people, integrating with the local culture most casually and easily. Perhaps it is due to the fact that being ethnic Chinese, I share a common heritage with more than half of the population. However, I have seen Caucasians and Indians assimilating into the local culture just as well. Singaporeans are largely bilingual: Almost all educated Singaporeans speak Mandarin and English fluently. Hence, there are no language barriers to international visitors.
My other fascination is with Malaysia, a rapidly evolving and very promising economy north of Singapore. What strikes me there are the enormous national investment in innovation and the associated schemes in helping local as well as international companies reach new technology frontiers. Malaysia?s global partnering opportunities in information technology are most alluring, at least from my own professional perspective. Closely connected to these is the massive development of the country?s new generation education programs, where business opportunities for information technology developers and e-solutions providers abound. Malaysia's private education industries, which include renowned stakeholders such as Monash University in Australia and the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, are highly e-enabled. Again, a wealth of opportunities exists here for entrepreneurs, technologists, educators, scientists, and engineers.
Personally, I have had the privilege to watch several international collaborative ventures in information technology development flourish. So far, my own dealings with Malaysian technopreneurs and their expatriate partners have been extremely promising. Not only has my contact with these individuals improved my own business focus for the region, it has also enhanced my understanding of the people and the culture of the country. This is because invariably, after the business session is over, my local host would take me around to favorite entertainment spots and eating places to savor the local cuisines and enjoy the cultural shows. I have even picked up quite a smatter of Malay and some local dialects during my visits there!
Speaking of hospitality, I should say that few in the region can beat the Thais in this regard. Thailand has a special human charm that no visitor can miss. Life is hectic, all the same, but Thais always find time for their guests. Thailand appears to me as a wonderful place in which to work and conduct business. With a huge market potential, there are a lot of untapped areas in technology and science. Doing business with the gracious Thais is one of my wishes; however, I have told myself that I must wait a while for the economy there to pick up before making the plunge.
The same holds for Indonesia, once my most favored destination for exploration. Business opportunities there were so very promising until a few years ago when the nation went into the doldrums, and it still wobbles under tremendous internal instability. There are opportunities for technology ventures, to be sure, but I believe there is, perhaps, a more auspicious time to enter that particular market.