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Let’s face it, tech ecosystems across Central Asia, at times, look at private investors with mixed feelings.
No doubt, such investors are driving forces behind success stories such as Chocofamily by Ramil Mukhoryapov, Express24 by Akmal Paiziev, And Global by Anar Chinbaatar. Clearly, these investors have provided much-needed additional and/or alternative funding and such contributions should be highlighted and celebrated.
However, entrepreneurs also recount stories of facing greedy investors with the I-squeeze-you-out mentality (to be fair: one doesn’t erase overnight centuries of old economy practices). This has sapped founders and entrepreneurs’ morale and may have pushed many founders to embrace government programs, which may have converted some into semi-civil servants.
The good news is that mentalities across the region seem to evolve in the right direction. First, the idea of co-owning and holding shares or stakes is developing and replacing the old urge to own everything. A good example is the rise of a myriad of clubs where members of all walks of life get together, share information and analysis and co-invest.
In Kazakhstan, well-organized Marat Tolibayev is leading Activat, a very active group of investors; and Anuar Seifullin and Ruslan Rakymbay are driving forces behind QazAngels. In Uzbekistan, the eclectic and well-attended Book Cafe business club group is actively considering the tech sector. In Mongolia, Tsengel Chimeddorj is leading a legion of key investors who mean business.
A second sign of changing time is the professionalization of investment processes through the initiatives of several groups and individuals. Groups’ actions are becoming structural and impacting: In Uzbekistan, Timur Rahmanov is devoting a small share of the Abu-Dhabi Uzbek investment company he leads to the tech sector. The country is also working on a tech fund of funds and will soon deliver an investment team. In Kazakhstan, the partnership between Qaztech and Singapore’s Quest Ventures will have the predictable effect of thickening the ecosystem. Global investors like TUZ are turning to Central Asia to find untapped opportunities.
Individuals are also having a significant contribution: In Kyrgyzstan alone, the very effective Aziz Soltobaev has arguably been having a leading impact and is now followed by very serious and creative professionals such as Daniel Abdyldaev. In Mongolia, versatile Oko Davaasuren bridges the country with external investors. In Tashkent, Botir Arifdjanov, who returns home from successful ventures in the Middle East and Africa, is injecting a much-needed know-how to younger generations. Foreign participants also bring juice and a good example is US entrepreneur Faruq Hunter in Nur-Sultan.
In this post-COVID-19 era, one can predict government initiatives and programs will run out of budget or will reduce generous offerings. As a result, investors will play an even greater role. The fact that investors and entrepreneurs are more than ever likely to contemplate the same future is a potential recipe for success.