Lightspeed swoops in on bright spots in S-E Asian startups

DESPITE the gloomy skies, US-headquartered Lightspeed Venture Partners is bullish on South-east Asian startups that can fill key "infrastructure gaps" amid the Covid-19 outbreak, the venture firm's partner Akshay Bhushan told The Business Times.

On Thursday, Lightspeed officially launched its Singapore office, which houses its South-east Asian operations. The firm recently raised US$4 billion in fresh capital to be deployed globally, including in South-east Asia.

Lightspeed has already backed several South-east Asian startups in recent years. Most notably, it invested in Grab's US$2 billion funding round in August 2018. It has also funded social commerce platform Chilibeli, B2B marketplace app Ula, fulfilment and shipping gateway company Shipper, as well as enterprise AI software provider NextBillion.ai.

"We invest across both consumer and enterprise tech. In most emerging markets, including South-east Asia, there is a lot of infrastructure that tends to be broken across sectors, and I think that there is a big opportunity for entrepreneurs to plug those gaps using technology," Mr Bhushan said.

Startups addressing such gaps include those tackling procurement and supply chain issues. This segment has grown more interesting as a result of "forced digital adoption" across South-east Asia with the Covid-19 pandemic, he noted.

Another pull factor for Lightspeed is the maturing of the region's tech talent pool, thanks to the first generation of billion-dollar startups here.

"Digital adoption is being driven by this first generation of Internet companies which have emerged, like Grab, Gojek and Tokopedia. When you have a set of these high-value companies, you also have talent in those companies, which have seen scale. We are starting to see some of that talent come out and build the next generation of companies," Mr Bhushan said.

Case in point: Lightspeed's portfolio company NextBillion.ai was founded earlier this year by former Grab executives. The firm expects more of such startups to emerge, set up by the alumni executives of the region's early tech firms.

Lightspeed's South-east Asian team comprises Mr Bhushan, fellow partner Bejul Somaia, vice-president Pinn Lawjindakul and senior investment associate Marsha Sugana.

Founded in 2000, Lightspeed has backed high-profile startups including US social media firm Snap, Chinese mobile commerce app PDD and Indian edtech startup Byju's. Over 70 per cent of its investments have been in early-stage firms, and it is usually the first institutional capital partner.

Many of Lightspeed's portfolio also have regional operations in SIngapore as part of South-east Asian expansion plans. These companies include Oyo Rooms, Snap, Yellow Messenger and Darwinbox.

Ravi Mhatre, founder and managing director of Lightspeed, said in a press statement that South-east Asia is "undoubtedly one of the fastest-growing innovation ecosystems globally".