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Into Southeast Asia | 6 Gobi Portfolio Companies Join Alibaba's eFounders Fellowship Program and Commit to the Digital Economy of Developing Countr...


Gobi Partners has been focusing on investments into Southeast Asia since 2007, and officially entered the region in 2010. It is the first Chinese VC to do so. Currently, offices for the firm have been established in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, and a fully localized team has been hired. This "Venturing into Southeast Asia" is for Gobi Partners to share with readers observations on investment opportunities, VC trends, as well as news on investments and financing in Southeast Asia. 

37 Asian entrepreneurs from the eFounders Fellowship Program recently graduated in Hangzhou. The Program was an initiative by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the Alibaba Business School to help young entrepreneurs reach their full potential and to bridge the digital divide between different countries and regions. 

These 37 entrepeneurs come from seven Asian countries -- Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam -- and were selected from hundreds of applicants via a rigorous selection process. Their businesses cover a number of sectors, including mobile payments, tourism, big data, Fintech, logistics, and e-commerce, and they all have outstanding achievements to their name, and are founders or co-founders of platform-based companies in the above five sectors. 

From right to left: Thomas Tsao, Founding Partner of Gobi Partners; Faaez Fadhlillah, Co-Founder and CEO of Tripfez; Syphong Bui, Founder and CEO of OnOnPay; Co-founder and CMO of AVANA Yien Yee Soh; Co-founder and CFO Hann Liew; and Vice President of Gobi Partners (ASEAN), Kenneth Tan. 

Gobi Partners ASEAN successfully included 6 entrepreneurs in the Program, 4 of whom are part of their portfolio in Southeast Asia. They were: Tripfez Co-founder and CEO Faaez Fadhlillah, Jirnexu Co-founder and CFO Hann Liew, OnOnPay Founder and CEO Syphong Bui, and AVANA Co-founder and CMO Soh Yien Yee. Founding Partner of Gobi Partners, Thomas Tsao, and Vice President of Gobi Partners (ASEAN), Kenneth Tan, were invited to participate as consultants for the "eFounders Fellowship" Program. 

During the 11-day program, the 37 entrepreneurs picked up practical tips and gained unique insights into Alibaba's operations. They joined field visits and attended lectures, learning about the digital revolution that has swept China over the past 20 years. The "students" used Alibaba as a research model, met with local incubators and e-commerce business schools, and conducted field visits to analyze Alibaba's platform and their solutions ecosystem, including Taobao, Tmall, Alibaba, Cainiao, and AliPay. They also learned about recent industry trends and developments, such as new retail, rural e-commerce, and the rise of Internet celebrities, and how these trends have innovated and improved business ideas. 

Through networking and meetings, participants learned about the Alibaba Group's plans to support and develop China's digital economy. They also discussed how to apply the knowledge they learned during the Program to their own domestic markets. 

"The positive attitude and creativity of these young entrepreneurs, as well as their altruistic spirit in supporting sustainable development goals are encouraging," said Arlette Verploegh, coordinator of the UNCTAD Empretec Program. "Their stories are very inspiring, and are real-life examples, proving that the younger generation can utilize new technologies to create economic opportunities for their communities." 

Alibaba Group's Founder and Executive Chairman Jack Ma was appointed as a special adviser to UNCTAD in September 2016, and he took the time to share his own entrepreneurial experience with the 37 young entrepreneurs during the eFounders Fellowship Program. 

The entrepreneurs also experience the transforming impact of technology on Chinese society when they visited the "dream city" incubator in Zhejiang, which is soon to become China's Silicon Valley. They also visited Yiwu City, which is an important location node for wholesale trade in China, and the largest B2B offline market in the world. 

Upon graduation, the 37 Asian entrepreneurs formally joined Alibaba's Global eFounders Fellowship Program, and joined the ranks of 24 African entrepreneurs who graduated from the Program in 2017. UNCTAD and Alibaba also promised to ensure that all the participants would be given the opportunity to apply their new knowledge to their own communities. The two organizations will conduct a visit to survey their progress every three months with the support of local stakeholders, and will also create a digital ecosystem designed to achieve inclusive and sustainable growth worldwide. 

Relevant data shows that despite the fact that Southeast Asian countries are still considered as developing nations, its 650 million population is ready for rapid growth, due to the region's strong adaptability to the Internet and technology. Currently, only 3% of retail sales are completed online, but Temasek, the national wealth fund of Singapore, and an investor in Google, predicted in a recent report that by 2025, retail sales in the region may reach $200 B. Looking forward, Gobi Partners will continue to expand its investment portfolio in Southeast Asia, and help more outstanding entrepreneurs in the region realize their dreams. 

Gobi Partners had four portfolio companies that participated in the "eFounders Fellowship Program": 

Tripfez is an innovative online portal from Malaysia dedicated to meeting the special travel needs of Muslim tourists. The company reviews over 150,000 properties worldwide, making it a unique reference point and booking platform for Muslim tourists. 

OnOnPay is an e-wallet startup from Vietnam. Their target market is the unbanked. The company provides an app and website where users can go to top-up their prepaid mobile phone accounts for guaranteed rewards. 

Jirnexu is from Malaysia and is committed to providing end-to-end solutions for banks and insurance companies. They help these companies with digital customer acquisition and life-cycle management by providing comparison points for multiple verticals of financial products, such as loans, debit and credit cars, as well as mortgage loans. 

AVANA, from Malaysia, a social commerce platform that incorporates e-commerce with social media channels, transforms social media from a promotional platform to a trading platform, and links customers who have purchased a product with "similar" new products to discover. Simultaneously, it enables sellers to manage every aspect of their online business, such as sales, order collection, and transactions, through their integrated platform.