Guest Post: Southeast Asia may see 700 startup exits in 2023-25

Southeast Asia (SEA) has a young and vibrant technology startup ecosystem. An ecosystem that is maturing at a rapid pace and with capital increasingly allocated to up and coming tech startups. With the rise of unicorns, foreign venture capital and corporates, Golden Gate Ventures in partnership with INSEAD felt it was time to revisit earlier research relating to the exit landscape. In the analysis, we’re taking a deeper look at the historical exits (strategic acquisitions, IPOs, and trade sales) and make a forecast of potential exits for the next 5 years.

“There is certainly no better time to be an entrepreneur in the thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem of Southeast Asia. Investors in Europe and the US are looking to increase their exposure to the funds in this region and those imminent exits will only increase their commitment. The growing interest of corporates in the startup space is certainly a development to watch; they may offer an additional exit avenue or fill funding gaps in certain countries.” ~ Claudia Zeisberger, Professor of Entrepreneurship & Family Enterprise at INSEAD.

We re-looked our previous predictions (Bamboo Report, Q3 2015) and found them to be generally in line (albeit slightly too conservative) with the actual exits between 2016–2018

With many recent developments in the past few years, such as the 2017 IPO of Sea Group on NYSE, Grab’s acquisition of Uber SEA in 2018, and the emergence of at least 6 new SEA unicorns since 2015, we decided to re-evaluate the SEA exit landscape, conduct a survey in collaboration with INSEAD to gauge GPs’ sentiments, and develop a new forecast.

Number of Exits by type

In this new forecast, we decided to employ a new methodology, leveraging past SEA exit data, as well as inputs from global benchmarks and results from INSEAD’s survey. We are estimating at least 700 anticipated startup exits between 2023–2025, and this is in line with the overall optimism that other GPs have according to the survey.

Among major drivers of future exits include: Unicorns becoming acquirer (example of Go-Jek* acquiring 7 other startups between 2017–2019), growing Corporate VCs investment (Toyota’s 1 billion investment into Grab was 2018’s largest CVC deal, globally), growing global PEs participation (highlighted by Warburg Pincus’s $4+ billion dedicated fund for SEA and China), and initiatives by various stock exchanges to support more startup listings sparked and inspired by Sea Group’s IPO in 2017.

Overall trends

  • In a maturing ecosystem, most exits are driven by regional tech giants. The large Chinese based tech corporates have been absent from the acquisition market (apart from Alibaba acquiring Lazada).
  • Secondaries will become a bigger trend, post-2022. Although there is currently very little to no public data about secondaries in Southeast Asia,
  • Large increase in exits after 2022 due to end of fund life for early venture funds (funds raised in 2010–2012).
  • An influx of fresh capital will help validate more business models and push more companies towards growth and pre-IPO stage.

Corporate venture capital and private equity creating more liquidity

Regional corporates have been increasingly more active in Southeast Asia. Countries like Indonesia, Thailand, and Singapore are the most active when it comes to corporates who have invested in startups. Over the last 8 years, we have seen the number for corporate venture capital (CVC) firms increase 5–fold. The number of investments has increased by 63% in the same period.

Left: No of CVCs in SEA. Right: No of investments made by CVCs in SEA

Not only regional corporates venture capital funds have increased their presence in Southeast Asia. North Asian corporates such as Hyundai and Mitsubishi, and global corporates such as Naspers, Hubert Burda Media, and Rakuten have stepped up their interest in the region.

Global Private Equity firms are known for their early investments in Southeast Asia. Although the increase in the number of investments hasn’t been as strong as the corporate venture funds, we did see an increase of 30% new investments over the last 8 years.

“SEA is exhibiting many of the strong investment themes and trends which have driven our China business over the last 25 years.” – Jeff Perlman, Managing Director of Warburg Pincus LLC (Source: Nikkei Asian Review)

Southeast Asian venture funds haven’t stayed silent. Over the last 12 months, a number of growth-stage venture funds have launched or announced to launch. A few examples are Asia Partners launched by Nick Nash, EV Growth (a partnership between East Ventures, SMDV, and YJ Capital), and Golden Gate Ventures in partnership with Hanwha Asset Management. Venture capital investments increased in 2018 with 311 announced deals, valued at US$5.2b, compared to 230 announced deals worth US$4.1b in 2017 (source: EY).

Key drivers

  • An increasing number of regional tech giants: Regional tech companies are increasingly acquiring companies to expand their market reach or product range (100% CAGR between 2015–2018).
  • Increase of liquidity across various stages of venture capital.
  • Continued support from regional and global stock exchanges. The region hasn’t seen many IPOs to date. With the increase of capital and validation of the market, Southeast Asia will see more companies ripe for an IPO.
  • The first cohort of institutional venture funds is at the end of their fund life. The first cohort will exit their portfolio in the next 2 years. 2010–2012 saw the first cohort of institutional venture funds that invested in Southeast Asia tech startups. These funds, in general, will get to the end of their fund life from 2020. The general partners for these funds will drive exits before closing the fund. This means a significant increase in M&A transactions, secondaries, and acqui’hires. Venture funds raised after 2014 will start driving exits from 2022 onwards, etc. Coming to the end of a fund life will be the first time in Southeast Asia and a key factor in the number of exits.

Survey results

In partnership with INSEAD, we surveyed ~10 GPs about the probability of a healthy exit landscape for startups in Southeast Asia.

~65% of respondents believe the probability of global benchmarks for exits can be somewhat applied to startups in Southeast Asia.

~54% of respondents believe that startups and stakeholders in Southeast Asia are insufficiently prepared for a possible downturn. One of the main reasons is founders and managers have no experience with or are not incentivized to believe there’ll be a downturn.

On the question: “What do you think are the most important factors affecting the exit landscape?”, the main answers were:

  • [+] More dry powder; Larger funds, & strategic players; High valuations make exit attractive.
  • [+] Unicorns becoming acquirers; Late-stage doing secondary sales; More inorganic growth; Emergence of regional consolidators.
  • [+] SEA’s GDP growth.
  • [+] Many startups maturing, thinking about IPOs; initiatives by exchanges.
  • [-] Growing competition; Stock markets don’t understand venture capital investments.

Conclusion

  • An increase in available venture capital funding will lead to more companies reaching the growth stage (with proven business models and scalability) and becoming acquisition targets for MNCs, tech corporates and private equity funds. The increase in late-stage funding from PE funds (30%) and CVCs (63%) will prove crucial for a viable exit landscape.
  • Golden Gate Ventures foresees M&A, trade sales and secondary sales as the major driver for exits in Southeast Asia. Currently, the strongest acquirers are local and regional tech giants as supposed to Chinese or global tech firms.
  • Regional and US stock exchanges remain positive about listing technology startups in the coming years. Institutional investors will need education about the Southeast Asian potential
  • Regional tech giants will continue to acquire startups to strengthen their platforms and extend their market reach.
  • A word of caution. The report doesn’t conclude if historical exits have shown good returns for VC funds and their limited partners. The current outlook for the ecosystem warrants reinvestments but the exits from the first cohort still need to happen at a large scale.

The author is a Partner at Golden Gate Ventures

This article was first published on medium.com