My Take

Just where are Asia's game changers?

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 March, 2013, 5:09am

It is a deal that most of us can only dream of. You are only 17 and still in high school, but you've built a US$30 million business and a few tech giants are eyeing you up for a future job or deal.

But you and I are not Nick D'Aloisio, nor were we brainy enough to come up with an app like he did. We read about D'Aloisio when Yahoo snapped up his news-reading app, Summly, for an undisclosed sum. But even before that, he attracted the attention of investors like Li Ka-shing and Wendi Murdoch - when he was 15.

Until last week the youngest entrepreneur thought to have caught the eye of investors was Brian Wong, the whiz kid with a Hong Kong heritage, but who was born and raised in Canada. The 21-year-old was able to raise more than US$15 million for a company he founded in 2010.

There are a lot of young people under 20 everywhere who are hooked to their computer. But most of the ones we know are either enjoying their games or posting on Facebook. No wonder there aren't more people coming up with such apps and scooping up all those millions waiting for them out there.

Even more importantly, why are such geniuses emerging only in the West? China and India alone boast millions of computer nerds. And then there are other BRICS nations, Asian Tiger economies and Latin American countries. But game changers like Amazon, Google or a Facebook emerge only from the United States.

Forget the internet. When was the last time a revolutionary idea or product came from outside the West? Walkman from Sony was the last one to emerge from Asia, if memory serves us right.

As for businesses, be it Apple, Ikea, Wal-Mart or Starbucks, the developed countries seem to be the fountainhead of new ideas and new models. There are very successful ventures flourishing in other parts of the world. But most are using ideas that come from the West, or borrowing them and adopting it to suit local conditions.

Even in small enclaves like Hong Kong or Singapore, which are supposed to be the melting pots attracting talents from all over the globe, there seems to be a dearth of genuine game-changing ideas. Why? Guess we will need a genius to figure that out.

Alex Lo is on leave.