W Power 2024

Forbes Asia 100 to Watch list: Honouring small ventures targetting underserved markets

Take a look at the list of some of the most innovative companies in the Asia-Pacific region, which features six young startups from India

Brian Carvalho
Published: Nov 21, 2023 01:14:52 PM IST
Updated: Nov 21, 2023 01:18:57 PM IST

StartupBlink’s ranking of the top Asia-Pacific cities in the ‘Global Startup Ecosystem Index 2023’ has China’s Beijing and Shanghai at No 1 and No 2 (their global ranks are six and seven, respectively), Bengaluru and New Delhi take the next two positions (eight and 13 globally), and Tokyo’s Yokohama area comes in at fifth (14th globally).  

China has seven cities in the top 20—the others are Shenzhen, Hangzhou, Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Nanjing. India follows with four, with the western cities of Mumbai (nine) and Pune (19) also making the cut (Pune climbed 12 spots to 78 in the global league). Other Asia-Pacific cities that figure include Singapore City (seven), Seoul (eight), Jakarta (10), Taipei City (16), Bangkok (18) and Kuala Lumpur (20). Nineteen of the cities feature in the global top 100.

Cut to the Forbes Asia 100 to Watch list of small companies and startups, typically those targeting underserved markets and/or applying new technologies, from generative AI (artificial intelligence) to blood-based cancer diagnostics. China rules the roost in tech innovation, with over a fourth of the companies on the list (26) belonging to mainland China (11) and Hong Kong (15).  
A distinct trend emerging from the Chinese dominance on the 100 to Watch list is the overwhelming presence of biotech and health care ventures. The mainland accounts for seven and Hong Kong six. Many of these are AI-driven biotech and drug discovery models. The Beijing-headquartered NeoX Biotech, for instance, is an AI-powered drug discovery platform focussed on, among other things, multi-specific drugs (which can address more than one disease); it had snared over $70 million in funding at last count. There’s also the Hangzhou-headquartered MindRank, a biotech firm using AI to improve the strike rate in drug discovery.  

The phrase ‘hotbed of innovation’ is a trite favourite in startup coverage, but this tired usage turns fresh and alive when it comes to Singapore. Singapore City has all of 20 startups on the 100 to Watch list, with enterprise technology, finance and biotech & health care the dominant sectors. World-class infrastructure, ample financing avenues, favourable taxation and a diverse and high-skilled talent base would be the key ingredients that spur innovation and also attract entrepreneurs from other countries. More, the China-US geopolitical standoff tilts the balance in favour of Singapore.
As it does for India. India’s relatively younger startup sector has six ventures on the 100 to Watch list, three of whose founders feature on the Forbes India cover this fortnight. Consider Kaleidofin, a Chennai-headquartered fintech platform that tailors financial solutions to under-banked customers, particularly women. Manu Balachandran met the woman behind this for-women venture, who explains to him the ‘by women, for women’ model. “We wanted to build for informal India, and for women in particular. In that, it is personal,” says Sucharita Mukherjee, CEO and co-founder. Don’t miss ‘For the Women, By the Women’.  

Also on the cover is Arun Vinayak, CEO of electric vehicle battery pack maker Exponent Energy: Its USP? Battery packs that can be fully charged within 15 minutes. “Nobody believed us when we said we would charge vehicles in 15 minutes,” Vinayak tells Rajiv Singh. He believes that fast charging is the best way to make the EV charging business profitable. 

Brian Carvalho
Editor, Forbes India
Email: Brian.Carvalho@nw18.com
Twitter ID: @Brianc_Ed

(This story appears in the 01 December, 2023 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)