taipeiTaiwan, a poster-child of East Asian manufacturing success, tries to climb the ladder of product innovation; photo by /luca

By David Schainker

There’s a lot of talk around the world these days about “Innovation Ecosystems.” These are places like Silicon Valley where successful, world-changing companies live and thrive in a community. Companies big and small develop successful, industry-changing products that mold society and the technology landscape, ideally bringing convenience and wonder to the average consumer – and a handsome profit to the company, of course.

In Taiwan, local entrepreneurs and government alike are trying to build such an Innovation Ecosystem. They aren’t trying to make another Silicon Valley, but an ecosystem even a fraction as successful as The Valley would be a huge win for Taiwanese innovation, helping them climb up the leadership ladder in Asia. Currently, Taiwan meanders the course, as any Chinese system does, to find a way – 水到渠成. The overall tone among attendees at The American Institute in Taiwan’s recent dual-panel session, “Building a World-Class Innovation Ecosystem in Taiwan”, Taiwan seems to have half-finished foundations, and currently lacks “home-run” potential to foster a prosperous “Innovation Ecosystem”.

The panel focused on Taiwan’s business draw, specifically for software entrepreneurship. Taiwan’s OEM, hardware, and firmware manufacturers are already well-known: Foxconn, Asus, HTC, and Acer are names in everyone’s pockets or desks these days. But for all Taiwan has done for firmware and OEM’s, they think they should make a play for software, too. The economic benefits are certainly worth pursuing.

I walked into the panel with the impression Taiwan is a good place to build a startup. But most of the panelists commented Taiwan lacks the human capital, policy, and ability to change and encourage real innovative entrepreneurship. To summarize the only government representative on the panel, “We’ve made big changes that help local businesses already – and we are continuing to adjust the laws. Please contact this other committee and tell them in detail which laws should be changed. Keep your wording in mind – the more specific the better.” Less than encouraging…

So, what, if anything, is holding Taiwan back? How do startups adapt to Taiwan’s business and regulatory environment? Can your company be successful in Taiwan?

I’ll be addressing all these questions in a four-part series on entrepreneurship in Taiwan. The first part of the series will be an informal case study of Taiwan/Silicon Valley-based startup PicCollage, including a Q&A with their cofounder, John Fan. Part two will discuss Taiwan’s regulatory and education environments, their pros and cons, as well as perceived/subjective assessments of both. Part three focuses on the nitty-gritty of running your own business in Taiwan – a place where you often feel you can’t, but really you can. Finally, part four presents a big-picture of Taiwan’s future outlook as a tech leader in Asia, or should I say, Southeast Asia.

DavidSchainkerDavid Schainker is an entrepreneur whose business is based in Taipei, Taiwan. He specializes in Web and Mobile applications, as well as Energy Storage Consulting. He moved to Asia to independently learn Chinese and collaborate with local businesses.