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Southeast Asia Funding at Its Lowest: What It Means for Startups and Investors

by Lucas Finis
Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia’s digital economy has been on a wild ride in recent years, with record-high funding levels in 2021 and a subsequent drop in 2023. According to a recent report by Temasek and Bain & Company, private funding to digital economy-related sectors in Southeast Asia has fallen to its lowest level in six years, with only $4 billion raised in the first half of 2023 compared to $27 billion in all of 2021. This decline affects all stages of startups, from seed to E+, and is happening across Southeast Asian markets. In this article, we’ll explore what this decline in funding means for startups and investors and what the future holds for the region’s digital economy.

What the Report Says

The e-Conomy SEA report paints a concerning picture of the funding landscape for Southeast Asian startups. It notes the funding drop aligns with higher global capital costs and problems across startup lifecycles. However, it also highlights that Southeast Asia funds have returned less capital than other regions, pressuring startups to show profitability and exit strategies. 

87% of surveyed investors said fundraising has become more difficult, while 64% have seen decreased deal flow and due diligence. 88% felt exits are also getting harder. Returns from Southeast Asia-focused funds significantly trail other regions, signaling challenges in generating investor returns.  

A key factor is rising interest rates that curtailed IPOs and listings on regional exchanges. Valuation discounts for startups seeking funding via acquisitions also widened. However, the report found “dry powder” levels rising despite investor caution, with $15.7 billion in uncalled regional PE/VC fund capital in 2022.


Implications for Startups

This funding pullback means Southeast Asian startups must get creative raising capital. With profitability and exits now central, founders need concrete plans to demonstrate growth potential.

Product- and user-focused bootstrapping may buy time, along with alternative sources like crowdfunding and grants. But eventually, external funding is needed to scale. This requires examining options beyond traditional VCs like corporate venture capital, PE, and even IPOs.

However, pursuing these later-stage options demands a clearer path to profitability and revenue metrics to back growth claims. The funding environment now rewards startups demonstrating business sustainability.

Implications for Investors

For investors, the decline in startup funding may necessitate rethinking strategies. With fewer deals occurring, the focus becomes startups with proven execution and profitability roadmaps.  

This could shift focus beyond early-stage VC to startups with established product-market fit. It also makes thorough due diligence even more vital to filter for resilience indicators like diverse revenue streams.  

Additionally, portfolio rebalancing may be prudent to improve liquidity via larger, later-stage startups closer to exit. This would allow recycling capital into new early-stage deals once stability returns.

Investors may also need to take a more hands-on role in nurturing top startups through the dry spell, providing value beyond capital. Extending the runway for leading firms could help weather the storm.

The Outlook 

While the startup winter may linger awhile, Southeast Asia retains fundamentals like youthful demographics and mobile-first populations that fueled past digital growth. Investors and founders who can adapt their strategies are poised to continue driving long-term success when conditions improve.

Though short-term uncertainty persists, resilience, creativity, and prudent management will distinguish market leaders on the other side. With smart navigation, Southeast Asia’s startup ecosystem can mature into an even more vibrant arena generating outsized innovation and returns over the next decade. The foundations remain strong for those playing the long game.

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