In his role overseeing Google’s startup support arm in Asia-Pacific, Mike Kim sees promising growth opportunities for AI startups in the region, thanks to government support for growing technology, a large pool of talent and a crowded population, among other factors.
Tthe impatience of Millennials and Gen Z in Asia is one of the many reasons why Mike Kim, Google’s head of Asia-Pacific startups, sees strong growth potential for AI startups in the region.
“Young people in Asia want things now,” Kim explains in a video interview via Google Meet. “AI gives people, at the push of a button, access to some of the best resources, whether in healthcare or finance. This is why people are so excited about this technology. »
Kim knows Asia’s need for speed all too well. He grew up in Silicon Valley and worked in the United States for about a decade at tech companies like LinkedIn and mobile game maker Zynga. Then, in late 2014, Kim, a Korean-American, moved to Seoul to join Woowa Brothers, South Korea’s leading food delivery startup, seeing first-hand the rapidly changing culture of the country. “We call it ‘ppalli-ppalli’ [culture] in Korea,” says Kim, which means “quick, quick” in Korean.
Two years later, Kim joined Google for Startups as Head of Asia-Pacific Partnerships. He was promoted to head of Google Startups for Asia-Pacific a year later and moved to Singapore, another vibrant start-up hub in Asia, where Google has its regional headquarters. In his role overseeing Google’s startup support arm in Asia Pacific, Kim sees promising growth opportunities for AI startups in the region, thanks to government support for the increasingly important technology. to a large pool of talent and a crowded population, among other factors.
Kim cites Seoul-based AI For Pet as an example of a fast-growing AI startup in Asia-Pacific. Founded just three years ago by Euna Hur, AI For Pet operates a smartphone app that can detect eye and skin diseases in cats and dogs using the phone’s camera and AI algorithms . The startup is working to expand its diagnostic capabilities to include gum disease and joint abnormalities.
“Do you want to go to the vet, stand in line and wait a few hours to – maybe in 24 hours – see why your dog is sick, or a quick one-minute photo of your dog at home and get answers ? said Kim. More than one million samples of imaging data, labeled by veterinary experts, were used to develop AI For Pet’s AI models, according to the startup.
AI For Pet has already raised several million dollars in funding from investors including the Industrial Bank of Korea, Korea Asset Investment Securities and POSTECH Holdings, an accelerator backed by Pohang University of Science and Technology, one of the best technology universities in south korea. Last year, startup graduated De Pont from Shinhan Square in Incheon, a startup support program supported by South Korea’s shinhan Financial Group, the Korean Ministry of SMEs and Startups, the city government of Incheon and Korean billionaire Seo Jung-jin’s drugmaker Celltrion. And earlier this month, AI For Pet graduated from Google’s Cloud Academy for Startups, a three-month program where startups receive mentorship and training in data analytics and machine learning, among other things.
Asia’s rapidly aging population is another reason why Kim is optimistic about AI startups. According to a 2019 United Nations report, the region is home to the seven fastest aging populations in the world: South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Macao, the Maldives, Thailand and Hong Kong. Japan already has the world’s oldest population, a title it has held since the mid-2000s.
By 2040, the Asia-Pacific region will be home to more than half of the world’s elderly population (aged 65+), according to research firm Euromonitor. “While Japan will remain the oldest country in the world with the highest proportion of 65 people by 2040, South Korea and Singapore will appear in the list of the five oldest countries, pushed by decades of low rates of fertility,” Euromonitor said in a report.
“When you have aging populations like Korea and Japan that need to lean towards more hardware and robotics, the technology or software inside the robot takes advantage of AI,” Kim says. “AI can support a business when there aren’t enough people to hire. So countries facing a massive demographic cliff are going to leverage AI even more because they need it. »
Latona in Japan helps businesses do just that. The Tokyo-based startup provides AI-powered hardware and software that helps automate and digitize processes. In December 2020, Latona launched an AI-based application called OMOTE-Bako that digitizes front-end and back-end processes for hotels and ryokans (traditional Japanese inns), such as reservations and check-in. Last year, the startup received around $10 million in investment from billionaire Masayoshi Fils SoftBank Corp. and Japanese asset manager Sparx Group.
Latona is led by CEO Kyoko Otawa, who co-founded the startup in 2018 after serving as a technology and finance consultant for IT consultancy Accenture and a consultant at billionaire Hiroshi Mikitani’s Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten. In 2020, Otawa was one of seven female founders in Asia to be invited to join Google for Startups’ Immersion: Women Founders program, which provides mentorship and networking opportunities. And in May, Latona graduated from Japan’s Google for Startups accelerator program, where the startup received training on Google products, like its machine-learning platform TensorFlow, mentorship from Googlers and business owners. industry experts, and networking opportunities.
Kim also sees a big opportunity in the growing fintech space, especially in India and Southeast Asia, where millions of people don’t use banks or other traditional institutions. “You can reinvent the way people bank and invest, and many can use AI technology to do that,” Kim says, citing the example of NIRA, based in the South Tech Hub. India, in Bangalore.
Founded in 2017 by Nupur Gupta and Rohit Sen, both formerly of Goldman Sachs, NIRA operates an app that provides small personal loans (up to 100,000 rupees, or $1,250). AI technology can be used, for example, to speed up credit scoring and loan underwriting. In 2019, the startup completed a mentorship program in India run by the American accelerator TechStars and graduated from the Google for Startups acceleration program in India.
Nearly a quarter of all Indian adults, or 230 million people, still do not have a bank account, according to World Bank data. “There is a huge unbanked population,” Kim says. “So in one sense it’s a great challenge, but in another sense it’s a great opportunity. »