If you’re a regular at the world’s largest and most important technology conferences, you know a lot of them happen in the U.S. But don’t be surprised if you find yourself flying overseas for key conventions in coming years. Across Asia, tech industry pros and enthusiasts are finding increasing value in events that offer great opportunities for inspiration, networking, and fun.
Like their American counterparts, many of Asia’s conferences are geared toward connecting startups with potential investors, business partners, and mentors. They often follow a formula that includes pitch contests, hackathons, exhibitions, and discussion panels that focus on startup challenges. New events are popping up all the time, but a few major ones dominate the scene.
One of the largest conferences for startups across Asia is Echelon, organized by Singapore media company e27. This annual gathering draws contestants from a series of satellite competitions in nine countries, from Indonesia to Japan. e27 also hosts a smaller conference in Thailand called Echelon Ignite, which is coming up next month on September 5-6.
Tech in Asia, another tech industry media company, runs popular startup conferences in the region, including annual events in Singapore and Jakarta. According to Tech in Asia founder Willis Wee, the Singapore conference draws more international participants, but the Indonesia conference is larger. “Indonesia is a market that everyone seems interested in, and we are seeing a more international audience at this year’s conference than the last one,” he says.
beLAUNCH is a major annual Korean event. Though up to now it has heavily focused on that market, its scope is broadening. beLAUNCH Global Director Nathan Millard says the meeting is recruiting contestants from India, Japan, and elsewhere. On September 13, he’ll host beGLOBAL in Palo Alto—aiming to forge connections between Silicon Valley and Asia’s leading startups.
Techventure, sponsored by Singapore’s National Research Foundation, is one of Asia’s oldest annual startup conferences. Launched in 1996, it has really taken off in the last five years. Professor Teck Seng Low, CEO of the NRF, expects this year’s meeting attendance to exceed even last year’s 800 participants. The event largely attracts Singapore-based startups from government-sponsored incubators.
Other locally grown events include B Dash Camp in Japan. TechCrunch Disrupt, Seedstars, and other leading international startup competitions make regular appearances too, no doubt contributing to the region’s emergence as one of the world’s leading hotbeds of digital adoption.
Events that address the needs of large corporations and industry niches are another category growing in popularity. Singapore, which may be the conference capital of the world, hosts a disproportionate number of them, but many of the biggest take place in China. ChinaJoy, a mobile gaming exhibition, drew over 200,000 visitors to Shanghai in July, while Global Mobile Internet Conference in Beijing, which includes a major startup competition, drew 12,800 attendees in 2013.
“Unconferences” like BarCamp are also popular in Asia. These participant-driven meetings, characterized by their lack of pre-determined structure and programming, have appeared all across the region in recent years. Surprisingly, the world’s largest BarCamp took place earlier this year in Yangon, the capital of Myanmar, which only recently emerged from decades of geopolitical isolation and has an internet penetration rate in the low single digits.
Techonomy too is expanding its coverage of Asia’s tech scene, and intends to produce original content and facilitate high-level dialogue about how technology can help to improve the lives of people throughout the region. As adoption of digital tools soars and Asia becomes one of the world’s centers of innovation, an already vibrant discussion is likely to become even more interesting.
Will Greene is a technology researcher and entrepreneur based in Vietnam. You can find him on LinkedIn.