From lighting to fashion, there is money to be made in catering to once-ignored customers.
TOKYO/MANILA In Asia, entrepreneurs can “think about creating startups that are global from day one,” said Ernestine Fu, venture partner at the Alsop Louie Partners. “[That] is not possible in Silicon Valley.”
One reason for this is that some problems that startups aim to solve are common to the region. A business model or product that addresses such a challenge has a large, ready-made market at hand, potentially creating the next Asian unicorn.
Philippine startup Salt is a great example. Salt — short for “sustainable alternative lighting” — found itself in the spotlight when co-founder Aisa Mijeno shared the stage with former U.S. President Barack Obama and Alibaba Group Holding Chairman Jack Ma Yun at the 2015 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Manila.
The company makes lamps that use saltwater as the catalyst for a fuel cell, instead of the kerosene that fuels lamps across Southeast Asia in areas without electricity. Mijeno came up with the idea for a saltwater lamp after living with a remote tribe in Kalinga, in the northern Philippines. During her monthlong stay with the Butbut, Mijeno learned that people had to walk at least six hours to the nearest town to buy kerosene.
Enter Salt’s lamp, which, the company says, can last six months when used eight hours a day and maintained properly.
“We were trying to determine what the staple items in every household in the Philippines were, and we found out that there are actually three staple items: salt, water and rice. That’s the main reason we used salt water as the catalyst … to generate electricity,” Mijeno told the Nikkei Asian Review in an interview last year.
The company was founded in 2014 when it joined Ideaspace Foundation, an incubator that helps fund and develop innovations with commercial potential. Salt was selected by Ideaspace as one of the year’s top-10 projects and used its prize money to start working on a prototype. It has since delivered over a thousand lamps to remote communities in the Philippines, and partnered with a local manufacturer to begin mass production.
FASHION FOR THE FAITHFUL For Diajeng Lestari in Indonesia, the “problem” that needed addressing was helping Muslim women express their fashion sense while maintaining their modesty. This led her to create Hijup in 2011, a pioneering Islamic fashion website. The online shopping mall offers clothing and accessories aimed mainly at Muslim women.
Hijup is short for “hijab-up,” as in make up or dress up. The hijab is the headscarf worn by some Muslim women.
“We believe that we can bring something up to all Muslim women around the world,” the company’s website says. Muslim women, it says, “are not limited to do anything worthwhile, create something wonderful, and earn a lot of respect from others. They deserve to be happy … [in a] fashionable hijab.”
Originally published on www.asia.nikkei.com