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A Peek into Southern Taiwan’s Tech Scene
Visiting the Meet Greater South Show
If you want to see the video first, it is below:
Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the Meet Global South exhibition in the southern city of Kaohsiung.
This show is for showcasing tech opportunities and companies relating to Taiwan's southern regions.
In this vlog, I want to report on my experiences at the show, a few highlights, and some of the challenges southern Taiwan’s tech scene faces in the future.
About the Show
The show took place at the Kaohsiung Exhibition Center. While the Meet Taipei exhibition had been done for several years, this is the first time they did a show in Taiwan's south.
The show's overarching themes focused on 5G, AIOT and data intelligence. AIOT standing for "artificial intelligence of things".
The idea is that you use AI technology to achieve smoother human-machine interactions between people and their gadgets.
For instance, something like a sweeper robot that using various sensors and a data connection to find spots to clean - I guess would be an example of AIOT.
I have to admit however, it seems like only a few of these companies followed this overarching theme. In other booths you saw companies talking about the metaverse, augmented reality, and other random tech trending stuff.
On the left side of the exhibition floor, you had the larger booths. Big companies like AWS and Chunghwa Telecom rented out large spaces.
And like with the Taipei event, some organizations like the Taiwan Tech Arena rented out a large space and invited startups in their portfolio to take a slot.
On the right, you had various startups operating in various categories. Blockchain, Entertainment, Digital Content, and Regional Revitalization.
I want to go through some of my personal favorites in the exhibition - starting with those large companies.
China Steel (CSC Group, as it is called) was Taiwan's state-owned steel company, now publicly traded. It is still the world's 28th largest steel maker. The 11th outside of China.
They exhibited some of their robotics technology, which I think was pretty impressive. The company is a heavy user of automation, with FANUC robots a common sight at their facilities.
Two other large companies - Chunghwa Telecom and Taipower - came to the show. Chunghwa is another former state-owned company and they brought all the keywords.
The latter is the state utility. I will be frank in saying that I didn’t much understand what their booths were talking about or how they fit in the show’s themes since everything was in Chinese.
However, the big company everyone at the show was talking about did not attend at all. A few months ago, TSMC announced that they would be building their first facility in Kaohsiung at the site of a former refinery once owned by Taiwan's oil company CPC.
TSMC already has a sizable southern presence with its titanic facility in my hometown of Tainan. This would be the first time they are going to build anything in Kaohsiung, and naturally it was the talk of the town.
It was mentioned in all the keynotes given by the various government officials at the opening ceremony. And in fact I constantly overheard the company’s name in everyday conversation throughout my time in Kaohsiung.
Research and Government
The government had a sizable presence at the show. For instance, the Ministry of Economic Affairs caught my attention with a cool looking light box tech demo thing meant for virtual in-person conferencing. I watched the lady demonstrate it for a while.
However, my favorite booth to visit belonged to the Industrial Technology Research Institute or ITRI. They are most famous for spinning off TSMC and UMC. But after visiting their booth, I felt that the institution had a lot more to offer than that legacy.
For instance, they showed me this interesting oven. It is kind of like an improved air fryer capable of heating up food a variety of different ways so to create the best tasting result.
I tried their fried chicken example and it tasted great. I mean, fried food always tastes great. But anyway, I asked them what they were going to do with it. And the project manager told me that the team was going to try to transfer the technology to some Taiwanese companies. Those companies can then commercialize it and start selling it.
Another ITRI project I spoke to was AIdea, a startup that is kind of like a Taiwanese version of Kaggle. They help Taiwan's companies incorporate AI into their business by connecting them with data scientists in Taiwanese universities.
Management told me that their future business model would be to help provide more comprehensive AI services to Taiwan companies. The students doing the data science work would benefit by getting royalties from their top-performing models.
ITRI's role as an R&D factory that straddles both industry and pure science is pretty unique to me as an American. Can you imagine an American government institution that goes around spinning off startups and acquiring technology for transferring to private companies? Yeah, me neither.
About half of the show's floor was dedicated to booths for smaller startups. Much of the show though was driven by the big corporations. And I think that's because this is the first show of the type and word has not really gotten out to the city's smaller companies as of yet.
The area was rather short on tech startups in the traditional, Silicon Valley, venture funded definition. Most of the companies I had the opportunity to speak to in the startups section of the show were actually from Taipei, looking for sales opportunities in Kaohsiung.
That being said, there were a few highlights. I was surprised to learn about Kdan Mobile, based in Tainan. This company has a portfolio of mobile productivity apps like Kdan PDF Reader, NoteLedge, and others. They have 200 million downloads and 10 million active users globally.
This company recently closed a Series B round and was featured in TechCrunch. I have never heard of this company before, but it makes a lot of sense to me that they make mobile apps. It is an easy way for a company to go global.
And personally, I enjoyed speaking with two members of a company called Earthgen Technology. They are a team of 10 people also based in Tainan. They make a flying drone capable of autonomously applying pesticides and seeds to crop fields.
The two guys are graduates from NCKU, the local prestigious university. And the drone they build in their Tainan warehouse is quite large. It can be controlled by remote or run itself autonomously.
The small battery inside the drone runs for about 10 minutes, which does not feel all that long but they assured me was enough time considering the payload. The drone is currently being sold to farmers and the local government agency.
I have been thinking a lot about robotics technology lately and its applications in agriculture and other industrial sectors. Hopefully I can do a bigger video in the future.
Overall, the show was fun to visit and a good first start. It's a good thing that southern tech startups in Kaohsiung, Chiayi, and Tainan are getting their chance to gain more media prominence.
However, it is definitely a different type of show - more regional and difficult to understand. For instance, many of the people at the Meet Taipei show spoke English. At the Greater South show, everything was in Chinese. And sometimes even in the Taiwanese dialect, which to me might as well be Arabic.
In light of this, I think the focus on startups that can "go global" might be a bit too much of a jump. Ironically enough in a city with Taiwan's largest port, Kaohsiung is no gateway for technology companies. And unlike Tainan, the city doesn't host a university of national renown.
TSMC arriving might change that to some extent. The company is the pride of Taiwan. But there are already a lot of really big companies based in Kaohsiung.
Like the aforementioned CSC Group and ASE Group, the world's largest provider of semiconductor assembly services. Names alone won’t help establish a new industrial cluster to help the city move beyond its rust belt reputation.
More policy work needs to be done to help upgrade the area's technological and entrepreneurial profile. But this is a good start.