Although much of the focus on innovation in Asia has been on China and India (Fast Company included), the entire region has become a hub for intriguing startups. Our inaugural list features companies from Australia, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Pakistan, Singapore, South Korea, and New Zealand.
For connecting merchants to fashion’s supply chain—and winning the right to sell Disney-branded goods
Zilingo operates a business-to-business marketplace for the fashion industry, connecting 60,000 businesses and 6,000 factories worldwide—the merchants with the manufacturers with the raw-material suppliers. The company, which claims to generate more than $100 million in sales every month from Zilingo Shopping, its consumer-facing e-commerce site, which has dedicated versions for Indonesia, Singapore (Zilingo’s home base), Philippines, and Thailand, is focused on assisting the small- and medium-size players in the fashion ecosystem. Beyond the opportunity to find the vendors who can turn ideas into reality, it offers them data and analytics as well as financing options and cross-border selling solutions. This agglomeration of services enables the companies on Zilingo to do everything from demand forecasting to product development. Last year, the company also scored the license to Disney-branded goods, giving even the most micro-entrepreneur on its platform the opportunity to make character merchandise and sell it via Zilingo.
For enabling global brands such as Lego to sell in Korea via its popular e-commerce site
The so-called Amazon of South Korea actually does things that Amazon can’t: Place an order by midnight, for example, and Coupang can deliver it—boxless, for less waste—to a Korean family’s door by early the next morning, even fresh food. The ecommerce giant continues to expand its offerings. In January, it partnered with select U.S.-based brands, including California Baby, Carters, Downy, Gap, and Lego, to enable them to sell in Korea via Coupang. The company, led by CEO Bom Kim, has established warehouses and operational teams in the United States, to facilitate the effort, and it offers them counsel on Coupang’s advertising services so these brands can reach the Korean consumers who covet them.
3. Samsung Electronics
For cooking up a robotic chef
Samsung’s Bot Chef is a demonstration product by the home-appliance giant, an extra pair of (robotic) arms to stir the sauce or dress a salad. It wowed trade-show attendees for the past year, and though it’s not yet in production, it represents the company’s push to continue to improve its already dominant kitchen offerings, imbuing them with technological features and additional computer intelligence. Consumers have been promised a vision of relief from domestic drudgery via tech for decades, and Samsung is working to make that dream into reality. Its family hub refrigerators literally bring to life the idea of the digitized family bulletin board, letting families communicate with one another or watch content mirrored from a Samsung Galaxy device. All the while, the fridge offers “View Inside” tech so you’ll never be paralyzed at the store that you forgot to see if you still have enough yogurts for the week, and its built-in AI makes recommendations based on what you have on hand.
4. Organic Initiative
For debuting plastic-free, organic cotton hygiene products for girls
Organic Initiative (Oi) seeks to remove chemicals, plastics, synthetics, and toxins from feminine hygiene products. Last year, it expanded its line of certified organic cotton products to include OiGirl, a line of smaller products designed for girls who are just starting to menstruate and whose bodies may not be fully developed. In keeping with the company’s mission to make this the new standard for girls and women, the New Zealand-based company won the right to sell its products in some of the largest U.S. retailers, including Bed Bath & Beyond, CVS, and Walmart. Altogether, Oi is on sale in more than 12,000 retail locations in the United States.
For protecting storm-ravaged homes with its novel shrink-wrap
Stormseal is a polyethylene film that is then heat-shrinked to protect a damaged roof or building, weatherproofing it. Stormseal eliminates the flapping around that can occur with traditional tarpaulins, offering better protection against rain, wind, and other elements. In 2019, Stormseal expanded significantly, introducing additional versions of its technology to protect against flooding as well as protecting building materials during construction. The company also opened new training centers for installers in Perth, in Western Australia, as well as in the United States in Raleigh, North Carolina; Mukwonago, Wisconsin; and several locations in Florida.
6. iHandal Energy Solutions
For recycling wasted heat from buildings
iHandal captures lost heat from a commercial building, compresses it using its Heatfuse technology, then redirects it to help regulate the temperature of the building as appropriate. The Malaysian company has implemented its solution in a number of hotels and hospitals in Kuala Lumpur, as well as elsewhere in Southeast Asia, such as Ho Chi Minh City, Singapore, and Sri Lanka.
7. Apon Wellbeing
For giving Bangladeshi garment workers free health insurance if they grocery shop at work
Apon Wellbeing installs discount grocery stores inside factories, and when the workers shop there, they can ultimately secure health and life insurance. This novel structure brings together consumer goods companies like Unilever with fashion brands such as Tommy Hilfiger to improve the lives of factory workers and create more disposable income for them that doesn’t have to go to daily necessities. The Dhaka-based social enterprise operates in 13 factories and claims to have helped more than 23,000 families.
For assessing waste in restaurant kitchens
This Singaporean food-tech startup launched last year to help tackle the country’s stated goals toward zero waste. It’s developed a smart tracker called Insight, which uses sensors, image-recognition technology, and a scale to measure food waste in commercial kitchens. Insight works with any garbage can: Workers merely need to empty the unused food into Insight. Once it determines what’s being discarded and how much, it sends its data to the cloud so it can be analyzed. Chefs and kitchen managers can then discern how they can improve operations to reduce how much food is thrown away.
9. Airlift Technologies
For introducing app-based bus hailing to Pakistan
Airlift offers tech-enabled buses that run on set routes in both Lahore and Karachi, Pakistan. Riders prebook a seat via an app and board at their stop. It may sound straightforward enough to a Westerner but Pakistan lacks a significant public-transportation network, creating an opportunity for Airlift, which was hatched by a former INSEAD business school student who came home to build it. Last year, the startup raised more money than any Pakistani startup in history, $12 million. It claims that 47% of its ridership is women, and in February, it partnered with the mobile finance company Easypaisa to increase the convenience by offering digital payments.
10. Shiok Meats
For growing shrimp in a lab
Cultured protein represents the next frontier in creating alternatives to ranching and aquaculture. Amid one of the largest regions in terms of both seafood production and consumption, Singapore-based Shiok Meats is seeking to create cell-based shrimp, crab, and other edible crustaceans. The goal is to meet demand for seafood in a sustainable and ethical fashion. The startup, which launched in 2018, has been boosted by Ryan Bethencourt, founder of the clean-protein pet-food brand Wild Earth, as well as the prominent tech accelerator Y Combinator, which made Shiok the first cultured-meat startup to take part in the program. The company has successfully demonstrated its lab-grown shrimp, and it hopes to sell the product to restaurants later this year.
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