Note: This article is written by Jill SHEN from TechNode.

Founders from some of the most promising unicorn companies in Asia on Thursday shared their experiences and insights about dealing with challenges and achieving success at BEYOND EXPO 2024, one of the largest tech events in the region.

Below are highlights from the pioneering entrepreneurs in conversation with CGTN anchor Zheng Junfeng at the expo’s Founder Forum session. The transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.

1. Carl Pei, CEO of Nothing Technology 

We started a new company called Nothing about three and a half years ago. We felt that the consumer tech industry got boring, and we needed to do something different. We saw an opportunity to focus on a specific target user segment.

Our new product is called Nothing Phone 2a. The main difference is the industrial design of the hardware, as well as the software. Many people feel that Android is a bit ugly and difficult to use. So we wanted to elevate that experience.

This might sound naive, but I believe we have a chance to challenge Apple and Samsung. Based on where we are today and where we can go, there is much more we can do.

The most exciting part is that we all sit on the dawn of the new tech era: AI is coming. When we were younger, Nokia and Blackberry were the biggest brands. Then the smartphones came and they gradually shuffled away. Now AI is here, so there will be a lot of reshuffling and changes in the industry.

Although we do not have as many resources as the bigger companies, this move has been replayed in the past. When the new tech cycle comes, the more innovative, smaller companies will come on top.

2.  Burt Guo, CEO and chief scientist of Aerofugia Technology

We are a startup making electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (eVTOL). It is battery-powered and less noisy compared with traditional helicopters while getting more redundancy for emergencies in the sky.

There will be three to five years to commercialize this technology as we will have two things to do. The first thing is to get the type certification for our products from the CAAC (Civil Aviation Administration of China) and secondly, we should prepare for operations.

I believe the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area will probably be the first region in China where we can put our products into the market because many passengers need new forms of public transportation. For example, a taxi from here [Macao] to Shenzhen will take one to two hours, but an eVTOl will take only around 15 minutes.

3. Wen Shuhao, co-founder and chairman of XtalPi

XtalPi was founded at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2015. It is an innovative research and development platform based on quantum physics, powered by artificial intelligence (AI), and driven by robotics.

XtalPi’s goal is to accelerate drug discovery and market entry using AI technology.

In drug development, AI plays a crucial role through powerful computational capabilities and algorithms. While traditional medicinal chemists might only imagine a few hundred molecular structures, AI can explore possibilities in chemical space up to 10^60, a number greater than the stars in the universe. AI enables rapid and extensive molecular design and screening, surpassing human capabilities.

XtalPi can now analyze protein structures in just a few months, a task that used to take 10 to 20 years in the past. The combination of AI design capabilities and robotic automation significantly shortens the drug discovery process for molecular compounds. Additionally, AI application during clinical trials also helps reduce the time required from 5-10 years to 2-3 years.

4.  Reeve Kwan, co-founder of GoGoX

We started the company 11 years ago in Hong Kong with five co-founders and then expanded to Singapore, Korea, Vietnam, and 300 cities in mainland China. Since we operate in so many different countries, the challenges vary in each market, but we create value by providing simple logistics services to users powered by information technologies.

Usually, we build a custom software system for small and medium-sized companies — our main clients — allowing them to fully leverage our supply of transport services, ranging from motorcyclists to container trucks.

In some cities, you can use drones to deliver (goods). We have explored indoor robots, but the bottom line is to improve the efficiency on the delivery side. For example, in China, express companies and couriers have to call you and make sure you are home, and ask if they should leave it on the doorsteps or anywhere. These problems apply everywhere. By implementing these robots, we hope to reduce time wastage for the couriers.

5.  Kamarul A Muhamed, founder and Group CEO of Aerodyne

We are based in Malaysia and have operations in many countries. We solve industrial problems with drones, ranging from dangerous problems to labor issues. One of the main issues we are dealing with is logistics issues. Since much of the work for gas companies is offshore, using our drone could save more than 60% of the cost than using helicopters.

Integrating advanced sensors into drones also allows us to see and predict problems with agriculture in particular seasons. Meanwhile, it took three to five years to complete inspection activities for mining, but now we can do that with drones as quickly as five minutes.

6. Fredrik Hjelm, CEO and Co-founder of Voi

In six years we have around 110,000 e-scooters and e-bikes in more than 100 cities in Europe, and we are profitable. Our technology is quite similar to aircraft technology, but we have a smaller vehicle on the ground.

We develop our IoT (Internet of Things) technologies in the eastern Chinese city of Changzhou, neighboring Shanghai, and we do many things with our bikes, including data analytics and machine learning.

We have swappable batteries in our bikes and scooters, as well as people driving around for swapping the batteries. With battery technologies making progress now, they can run three to four days before we swap them. We aim to expand our fleet to 1 million, which may take a few years, but I am confident we will get there.