Grab and GoTo IPOs could spawn more Southeast Asian startups, says venture capital firm

Key Points
  • Southeast Asia's blockbuster IPOs in 2021 could pave the way for more billion-dollar start-ups to emerge, according to venture capital firm 500 Startups.
  • Vishal Harnal said the public listings of Grab and GoTo would allow for more investment in smaller businesses.
  • The comments counter speculation that the newly-capitalized tech giants may squash competition.
Southeast Asia tech giants can create opportunities for unicorns to succeed: 500 Startups
Southeast Asia tech giants can create more unicorn companies: 500 Startups

SINGAPORE — The public listings for two of Southeast Asia's tech giants will likely pave the way for more high-growth businesses to emerge from the region, said venture capital firm 500 Startups.

Contrary to concerns that regional heavyweights may "gobble up" smaller start-ups and stymie innovation, Vishal Harnal told CNBC that "couldn't be further from the truth." Rather, he said, the initial public offerings of Grab and GoTo could boost the ecosystem and produce more billion-dollar start-ups.

Singapore-based ride-hailing company Grab announced in April that it would go public through a special purpose acquisition company merger valued at $39.6 billion —  the largest ever blank-check deal. Meanwhile, the newly-merged Indonesia on-demand platform GoTo Group confirmed to CNBC that it would go public this year.

"While there will be (mergers and acquisitions), while these companies will acquire smaller start-ups, they're going to invest in far more companies than they acquire, and it's going to lead to a lot more billion-dollar companies — or unicorns — being born as a result of that," Harnal told "Street Signs Asia" Monday.

They're going to invest in far more companies than they acquire, and it's going to lead to a lot more billion-dollar companies.
Vishal Harnal
managing partner, 500 Startups

That's because the founders of successful companies will have newfound liquidity to invest in the ecosystem, either actively or as angel investors — those who invest in early stage businesses. Meanwhile, staff who have seen their employers grow from seed funding to IPO may be more inclined to build their own companies.

Harnal likened the process to that which played out in China among its famous tech stocks known collectively as BAT – Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent.

A passenger takes a ride on a Gojek motorcycle taxi in Jakarta on May 24, 2018.
Bay Ismoyo | AFP | Getty Images

According to 500 Startups research, out of the nearly 150 active and former unicorns created in China, 40% were invested by BAT companies. In total, BAT companies have invested in 915 tech companies since going public.

In contrast, there was less than half that number of mergers and acquisitions, with just 14 occurring in companies worth more than $1 billion.

"We saw this happening in China with BAT – Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent. Now in Southeast Asia, we've got the equivalent, GSG – Grab, Sea and GoTo," Harnal said, referencing the Singapore-based internet giant Sea Group.

"The more money that companies like GSG spend in educating the ecosystem, in ensuring technology adoption, and investing in expanding the internet economy," he said. "The more inroads it creates for newer start-ups to build companies and leverage on those companies that now exist."