The ORIGIN Conference highlighted investing as well as mergers and acquisitions in the Southeast Asian scene from the perspective of business leaders from Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia through the panel, “Navigating the Evolving Landscape of Investment and M&A in Southeast Asia.”

The panelists were Amy Zhao, Executive Director, Ocular Fund Lead of Openspace Ventures; Paramjit Singh, Chief Investment Officer of Malaysia’s largest venture capital fund, MAVCAP; and Rama Mamuaya, partner at DS/X Ventures. The discussion was moderated by Eudora Wang, Deputy Editor (Greater China) of DealStreetAsia.

Here’s a summary of the insights the speakers shared during the discussion.

Amy Zhao, Executive Director, Ocular Fund Lead, Openspace Ventures

On a broader level, there are three things (key trends across Southeast Asia) we are looking out for 2023 and 2024. One is Southeast Asia going global. I think it’s about time that SEA companies venture out of the region. Healthcare is a big opportunity for this.

Number two is consolidation. This is not necessarily specific to Southeast Asia, but given what happened in the past few years, there will be a few big players that will consolidate and acquire new ones. I think there will be opportunities as well as risks and pitfalls, but consolidation is bound to happen.

The third is the green economy. In Southeast Asia, many governments have been pushing hard for climate sustainability. There are efforts to advance sustainable agriculture including in Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines. There are lots of opportunities in the move towards the green economy.

The global economic outlook is not that rosy and this can affect the Southeast Asia region. Southeast Asia is not immune to economic turmoil, but hopefully, there’s more tailwind to facilitate investments because the region’s market is still structurally very attractive.

Given the current market conditions, if companies are doing well but capital is not abundant, it is better to double down or continue to support the “winners” or profitable investments. Also, focusing on investments that are already growing is a good strategy because a lot of companies tend to not do well at the early stage, but they somehow eventually figure out a pivot that allows them to perform better mid-stage. It would be a waste to miss out on investments like this.

Generally, as far as our fund is concerned, the investment destinations are usually 30% Singapore, 30% Indonesia, and the rest shared between Thailand, the Philippines, and Vietnam. In terms of the sectors to invest in, the top options for us are the green economy, healthcare, and SaaS. There are lots of opportunities but it is important to be careful in evaluating options and building relationships with governments.

Paramjit Singh, Chief Investment Officer, Malaysia Venture Capital Management (MAVCAP)

I think a lot of GPs, when you talk to them, they say that fundraising has been challenging. LPs, on the other hand, are taking a longer time to make decisions—and rightfully so. But that has not stopped a lot of the marquee names in Southeast Asia to continue raising funds. There has been a “flight to quality” in making investments, though. Investors now are more selective and more discerning in making investment decisions.

We have had the privilege of getting slightly better terms in this current market condition. Essentially, coming out of any form of crisis or any situation that is an outlier, that is usually a big opportunity to deploy. If you look at history, the best time to invest is usually after coming out of a tumultuous period like the time during the COVID pandemic. So, 2022 and 2023 was a good time for investment.

I think people also fail to see that the Southeast Asia ecosystem is actually quite new. It’s pretty nascent. It is also a consumption-driven economy, which is quite interesting. These make Southeast Asia a very attractive option for investments. Consumption-driven economies tend to be more sustainable, just like how many startups in Indonesia thrive by just focusing on the domestic market.

Investors always want to get something out of their investments. There’s this quid pro quo guiding principle, wherein investors give their money but the recipient should also offer something to guarantee investment success. Investors know that their investments can help countries in Southeast Asia develop, but at the end of the day, their goal is to get returns on their investments.

On the question of which countries are the best investment destinations, for us that would be Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia. Competition in Thailand and Indonesia is quite rough, though, because large corporate players already have a significant presence in these countries. Regarding what sectors to invest in, the favorite options are deep tech, semiconductors, and Industry 4.0-related developments. Also, the agricultural industry is highly attractive because of food security concerns.

Rama Mamuaya, Partner, DS/X Ventures

One of the key trends in investing is the switch to an investor market. Back then, startups can ask for crazy valuations. Because of “FOMO” or fear of missing out, the investors readily provide the funds. Now, things have changed quite significantly–venture capitalists are taking their time in terms of investing and they go through their choices meticulously.

Some companies still raise a lot of funds and use these funds to propel growth. They emphasize growth more and worry about financial fundamentals later on. This does not mean that these companies or their products are bad. They just need to learn to pivot to capital efficiency. In 2023, the investment climate has already normalized and companies cannot fundraise in the same way they did in 2022. They have to improve their ability to convert capital into earnings.

There’s almost $300 billion dollars in capital overhang globally. That money has to go somewhere. Maybe next year or two years from now, the startups founded in 2022 to 2023 will already be doing better, with stronger financial fundamentals that make them legit businesses that make tons of money. Then, they will have the option to focus on growth or be profitable.

Startups and entrepreneurs that are seeking funding should be able to prove that they can convert capital into earnings power while maintaining the cost structure and pursuing scalability. Those who think that investors are no longer interested in investing should realize that the money is still there. The money is just going to startups that are able to demonstrate capital efficiency.

Regional investors are looking for something more synergistic. They do not simply provide the money and expect a good return. They prefer to have a synergy of ecosystems between countries to boost investment success. There are big investment opportunities for those who want to focus on specific domestic markets like Indonesia. However, it will be interesting to see the investment situation in the next couple of years as businesses explore synergies between Southeast Asian countries and even other Asian countries.

I think healthcare is going to be one of the largest markets in Southeast Asia, especially in the consumer healthcare field. Agriculture is also a great choice given the support governments support to this sector.



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