Updated: Aug 10, 2020
If it's not a stampede of international investors at Central Asia's tech doorsteps, then it could sound like one building up: from the Silicon Valley, through Geneva, Singapore, Tokyo, Beijing and Abu Dhabi eyes are slowly turning onto the region.
It would be a stretch to say this is a sustained, permanent, and large tendency. But we have noted two distinct highlights: the rising interest and its good quality.
Interest has been rising markedly over the past year with new arrivals (500 startups, Quest, I2BF, Plug and Play, Seedstars, TUZ) and positioning in starting blocks (ie European, Hong Kongese, and Tokyoite investors have asked us to keep an eye open for them). As a symbol, according to our sources, several Chinese giants such as Didi are imminently landing their big investing ambitions in the regions. Large Japanese trading houses are also ready to jump in to support their myriad of companies looking for growth globally.
What are the drivers? Returns of course, but also diversification, vision, strategic positioning, opportunism, fear of missing out (the US$7trillion New Silk Road investment is too attractive), and also curiosity -- the co-owner of a major centuries-old Swiss bank became our limited partner to learn more about the region's Fintech. Similarly, another of our Singapore-based investors asked us to keep an eye on the potential yuanisation of fintech in the region, given China decided months ago to channel all westwards land trade through Central Asia only.
The myriad of current and anteroom participants is testifying to the quality of money providers, regardless of check sizes. The following non-exhaustive table speaks for itself (we will keep building it).
500 Startups Georgia, Kazakhstan
Quest Ventures Kazakhstan
Tech Garden Ventures Kazakhstan
Plug and Play Kazakhstan
Monthly Ventures Kazakhstan
Sturgeon Capital Central Asia, Caucasus
Global Venture Alliance Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan
AV Ventures Central Asia
TUZ Ventures Central Asia, Caucasus
Smart Gate VC Armenia
International Organisations, Development financial institutions (DFIs):
UNDP Central Asia, Caucasus
ADB VenturesArmenia, Kazakhstan
USAID Central Asia, Caucasus
EBRD Central Asia, Caucasus
World Bank Central Asia, Caucasus
IDB Central Asia
OECD Central Asia, Caucasus
Intel Central Asia, Caucasus
Microsoft Central Asia, Caucasus
Google Central Asia, Caucasus
IBM Central Asia, Caucasus
Shell Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan
Huawei Central Asia
DiDi Central Asia
The above table displays long term ambitions, development & profit orientation, diverse geographical origins, and public/private sector interest. Now the big question is: how will Central Asia capitalize on this interest? What are locals planning to do to attract them permanently?
No doubt the likes of Kairat Kaliyev at AIFC and Pavel Koktyshev at Zerde in Kazakhstan, or Farkhod Ibragimov at ITP in Uzbekistan, or Avtandil Kasradze at GITA in Georgia are doing their best to create the best possible tech platform investment climates. But more could be done to permanently lure these institutions.
As we previously reported (see "An era of Unity") everyone also knows the government's omnipresence in the tech sector. Now maybe the time to create the perfect durable marriage between the two and invite as guests of honor these international investors.