Startup accelerators resilient against Covid-19 pandemic as nature of business evolves

Startup accelerators in Southeast Asia are in a state of flux.

Thailand’s Dtac Accelerator, one of the longest-running in the region, discontinued accepting fresh applications for mentorship from startups last year, citing cashflow problems. Founded by Thailand’s third-largest telecom company DTAC, the programme had invested in and mentored 60 early-stage startups.

The move by Dtac echoed the termination of Southeast Asia’s first accelerator, the Singapore-based Joyful Frog Digital Innovation (JFDI), in 2016, after six years struggling to record profit. At the time, the news raised serious questions whether the cash-for-equity model was a good fit for accelerators in Southeas Asia. 

Many accelerator programmes did not accept new applications in 2020, while others received lower applications as startups suffered from travel restrictions and mandatory health protocols amid COVID-induced restrictions.

These misfortunes, though, seem to have had little impact on the overall growth of accelerators in the past five years. Sixty-two programmes were active in pandemic-marred 2020 generating 76 batches — only a tad lower than 66 programmes and 78 batches in the previous year, according to our latest report State of SE Asia Startup Accelerators (Startups are accepted and supported by accelerators in batches, also known as classes.)

The growth, however, has been disproportionately driven by activities in Singapore and, to a lesser extent, Indonesia. The two countries accounted for the most number of batches. 

This report also dwells on the evolving nature of the accelerators. New business models are being offered, blurring the lines between accelerators and incubators, early-stage VCs, corporate innovation consultants, or event organisers. The cash-for-equity model still remains the most prevalent, as the growth of successful early-stage startups continue to yield far bigger investment multiples compared to later-stage startups.

Competition among accelerators may also become fiercer as more major VC players are likely to join the acceleration game.

Accelerator programmes are also focussing on startups in new-age sectors. “Relative to five years ago, the accelerator programmes here have grown in diversity, with more targeted ones focused on emerging deep tech sectors such as agri-foodtech and medtech,” said Lim Seow Hui, startup development director at Enterprise Singapore, a statutory body set up by the country’s government, in an interview for the report.


Other highlights of this report, available exclusively to DealStreetAsia – Research & Analytics subscribers, include:

  • The top sectors that acceleration programmes are currently targeting.
  • The impact of COVID-19 on accelerator programmes.
  • The state of startup accelerators, including new programmes launched in 2020, in six Southeast Asian nations — Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Thailand.
  • Interviews with chiefs of some of the biggest accelerators in Southeast Asia.

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Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.

Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.