China’s tech investors turn from India to Indonesia

Chinese venture capital investors are shifting their focus to Indonesia after India closed its doors to them, helping to create a 55 per cent surge in tech investment in south-east Asia’s biggest economy in the first half of 2020.

Shunwei Capital, launched by the founders of mobile phone maker Xiaomi, and BAce Capital, which is backed by the fintech giant Ant Group, both said they were pivoting from India to Indonesia.

Tuck Lye Koh, co-founder of Shunwei, which runs funds worth about $3bn, said it is planning to seal more deals in Indonesia, and that it is “not making new investments in India for now” and would focus instead on managing its existing portfolio companies.

One person familiar with BAce Capital’s plans also confirmed the switch, but added that the firm would be less active in Indonesia, since the market is less developed. Another leading Chinese venture capitalist added that Indonesia was the only market in south-east Asia that warranted serious attention now that India is shut.

Chinese VC and tech investors powered a tech boom in India, investing in many of the country’s leading start-ups, including payments company Paytm, meal delivery company Zomato and Byju’s, an education platform.

But in April New Delhi unveiled sweeping rules targeting opportunistic Chinese takeovers, spooking investors and cutting off crucial funding for tech start-ups. Zomato, for instance, is yet to receive $100m in funding from Ant. Last week, India blacklisted 43 more Chinese apps.

Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country, already boasts the largest number of billion-dollar start-ups in south-east Asia, while global tech companies from Facebook to PayPal to Google have invested there this year.

According to an annual report on south-east Asia’s digital economy by Google, Temasek and Bain & Company, investments in the country’s tech sector in the first half of 2020 totalled $2.8bn, a 55 per cent increase on the same period in 2019.

Indonesia’s investment in internet sector

Stephanie Davis, managing director of Google’s south-east Asia and south Asia business, said south-east Asia is yet to follow India in applying more stringent investment regulations. “The Chinese remain very important investors . . . particularly in the ecommerce space,” she said.

The swell of interest from both US and Chinese investors has catapulted Indonesia ahead of its peers including Vietnam and Thailand in terms of valuations and fundraising levels. “You’re now seeing some fundraising rounds that are Silicon Valley-esque in size,” said Beau Seil, co-founder of south-east Asian venture capital firm Patamar Capital. “Valuations [of start-ups] have also gone up significantly in Indonesia,” he added.

In one example this month, south-east Asian technology company Grab this month led a $100m Series B round in local fintech company LinkAja.

Some founders in Indonesia are even trying to replicate the business models of Indian companies. BukuWarung, founded last year, has sought to fill the same role for small businesses as Bangalore-based KhataBook, a Series B-funded bookkeeping platform that was valued at close to $300m in only 18 months.

But one Chinese venture capitalist said they looked at BukuWarung but found it was already fully valued. “It is hard to justify some of the valuations for some of these companies — especially those that are modelling themselves on an Indian business. There is too much capital chasing too few quality start-ups,” the person said.

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