Asia

Is the Asian tech boom about to bust?

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Media captionKarishma Vaswani on whether Asia is facing a tech bubble

The optimism at the Rise technology conference here in Hong Kong is palpable.

Hundreds of booths have been set up by start-ups hailing from all over Asia. And they're all after one thing: piquing an investor's interest to raise funds, so they can turn into the next Asian Facebook or Uber.

Asia has become the new playground for investors looking to find the next big start-up.

In the past 12 months, more than $30bn (£19bn) has been pumped into this sector - a jump of 45% on the year before, according to a recent report from the auditing group KPMG.

Pranoti Nagarkar is a young entrepreneur who has benefited from the interest in the Asian tech scene. She started her company Rotimatic in 2012 with only $20,000.

Just a few years later, she raised $11m from mainly Asian investors.

"It's crazy," she told me. "Initially you don't even have enough money to hire people, but then you win a business competition and you get funding and you can start building a small team."

Singapore-based Rotimatic uses modern technology to solve a traditional problem: making rotis - or Indian flatbreads - using a machine.

"People want to eat more healthily," Pranoti says, "and we have seen huge demand for our machines since we put up a video online about how it works."

Rotimatic is just one example of Asian technology start-ups that has recently been able to attract funding.

'Crazy valuations'

Analysts say there's been a flurry of hot money - mainly from increasingly wealthy Asian investors, many of whom have made fortunes on the Chinese stock market that's behind the boom.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Start-up entrepreneurs and major industry movers converged on Hong Kong for RISE

But with the recent turmoil in Chinese shares, some experts are now warning the sector is in for a nasty shock.

Peng Ong co-founded the popular US dating site match.com. He is one of the pioneers of the global tech boom.

He spends most of his time investing in companies in China - but now he's getting concerned.

"China's valuations have been pretty much on the high side," he told the BBC. "It leads me to believe that there's some kind of bubble going on - just like there was in the US."

Mr Ong is talking about the US dotcom bubble that burst in 2000. It was an age of hyperbole in the US tech sector, as investors fell in love with the idea of the internet, and pumped millions of dollars into start-ups - turning teenagers into tycoons overnight.

Now there are fears that the same thing is happening in Asia.

"I wouldn't call it a bubble," Rajesh Joshi, an Indian angel investor who is attending the Rise conference told me. "But I would certainly say there's some froth in the market."

Adding to those fears, China's stock market collapsed over the past few weeks. It dropped by 8.5% last Monday - the steepest fall in eight years. This despite government-backed measures to infuse confidence in the market.

Image caption Dave McClure is a prominent angel investor based in Silicon Valley

But some say it's time for a correction there.

"China's tech valuations in the past year look a lot like what happened in the US in the late 90s," US venture capitalist Dave McClure told me.

"There's a lot of private individuals in Beijing borrowing on margin to bet on the stock market, and lots of folks hoping for the next Alibaba or Xiaomi betting on start-ups - that's what's driving the crazy valuations."

That's not deterred the ambitions of young entrepreneurs who are trying to strike it big, though.

Hong Konger Jeffrey Liu and his partner Robert Pachter moved from the US, where they were living, and set up GuavaPass in Singapore.

They started the company by initially funding it themselves and were able to close their angel round within the second month of operations.

Their start-up currently offers customers access to premium fitness studios across three Asian cities - Singapore, Hong Kong and Bangkok - and they're planning on rolling out to additional cities across Asia, Australia and the Middle East.

"There's so much excitement and energy in the start-up scene here," Robert told me. "It's an awesome time to be an entrepreneur in Asia."

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