As Asia sees the light at the end of the Covid-19 tunnel, entrepreneurs, scientists, activists and young leaders on the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia 2021 list are hard at work realizing the new normal.
After the toughest year in their generation, these 300 Millennials and Gen-Zs have persevered to survive and even thrive despite long lockdowns, restricted travel and uncertainties on all fronts. Most continued to grow their businesses and adapt to the changes brought about by the pandemic, while a few have even dared to start their ventures in the middle of crisis, spotting opportunities where others see obstacles.
All in all, our listees this year came from 22 countries and territories, representing the diverse entrepreneurial ecosystem in the region.
Although funding dwindled in the past year due the pandemic, some 30 Under 30 Asia listers especially those based in India and China managed to bag a significant boost of cash. Out of the 300 entries, 17 startups managed to secure over $15 million in funding each. One of which, Razorpay, became the latest fintech unicorn to come out of India, valued at $3 billon. “The unicorn status is great, but we’re on a long journey here,” says Razorpay cofounder Harshil Mathur during a video call with Forbes.
With increased interest in Indian tech startups, and an influx of over $10 billion in funding in 2020 despite the pandemic, according to a report by Bain & Company, the country was the most represented on this year’s list – with 76 members in total.
Elsewhere in the region, there may not be as many unicorns and heavily-funded startups but there is no shortage of inspiring young stars and entrepreneurs who earned a spot on the list.
One name you might have heard of is Stella Bennett aka “Benee.” The Kiwi singer-songwriter has been making waves on social media, and her track “Supalonely” has racked up 2.3 billion streams and 211 million views on YouTube — a testimony to Gen-Z’s influence. In addition to writing music and taking on the social media world by storm, Benee is also working towards another goal. She has launched a women-run record label called Olive to support up-and-coming artists. “I’m always looking out for potential artists to work with.” she tells Forbes by email. “Keeping my label female-led is definitely something I’m going to continue with for this project.”
“Keeping my label female-led is definitely something I’m going to continue with for this project.”
Another one is Eleni Glouftsis, a trailblazer in Australian umpiring, who in 2017 became the first woman to umpire an Australian Football League match. Since then, she has officiated 40 games. In January, Glouftsis received the Medal of the Order of Australia, the country’s highest honor, for her service to the sport. She’s one example of many outstanding sportswomen highlighted as part of the list’s Entertainment & Sports category this year.
Rising to the challenges
Social entrepreneurs have also been working hard in the past year, tackling age-old issues as well as others brought about by the pandemic. From hygiene and sanitation to supporting marginalized communities across Asia-Pacific, this year’s cohort of good-doers is a reason to stay hopeful.
On the healthcare front, five teenagers from Afghanistan have been tackling the Covid-19 crisis in their country with innovative solutions. The Afghan Girls Robotic Team has developed a low-cost, lightweight ventilator to help treat patients diagnosed with the virus. After final testing, its release is expected to offset a shortage of ventilators in the country. Somaya Faruqi, 18, Elham Mansoori,17, Diana Wahabzada, 15, Florance Pouya, 15, and Ayda Hayderpoor are some of the youngest members on this year’s 30 Under 30 Asia list.
A prime example of resilience and adaptivity comes from Vishvesh Suriyanarayanan and Dylan Tan. As COVID-19 decimated the travel industry, Tan and Suriyanarayanan’s travel payments startup, Split, was on the verge of shutting down. After a pivot, the duo has since grown Split into a leading buy-now-pay-later provider in Malaysia for e-commerce and retail, allowing clients such as Dyson and Lego to accept interest-free instalment payments from customers. Since April 2020, they have signed up 300 brands and generated $4 million in sales for them. The company raised around $1 million so far.
Female entrepreneurs on the rise
Although funding for women-led startups remains significantly lower than their male counterparts in Asia and globally, there were some great examples of female entrepreneurs taking matters into their own hands and bootstrapping their businesses to success.
Australian duo Natalie Khoei and Shadi Kord met in 2012 and bonded over their love for fashion. The following year, they cofounded Meshki initially as a small e-commerce business to sell accessories that reflected their style, and grew it to a fully fledged e-commerce business in 2015. With each investing a mere $150 in the business initially, they now serve over 750,000 customers across the globe and run a team of 50 employees. The label’s popularity among celebrities including Jennifer Lopez and Ariana Grande as well as social media influencers gained them over 2 million followers on instagram where nearly 50% of their sales comes from.
In China, Chichi Hong, who is a vegetarian, founded Hey Maet last year to create plant-based foods. The startup’s products include a plant-based beef burger, chicken nuggets and soup dumplings. Her business has attracted investors including China’s Tiantu Capital, Silicon Valley-based UpHonest Capital and Shenzhen-listed food company Shuang Ta. Hong is using part of the funds to improve flavors and develop new products.
Selected from over 2,500 nominations and vetted by our team of reporters and a panel of A-list judges, the trailblazers on 30 Under 30 Asia list are unparalleled examples of determination, hard work and innovation.
Methodology and judging process
The Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list undergoes a rigorous process to put together. Starting with more than 2,500 online nominations, our team of researchers and fact-checkers select an initial shortlist of 500 semifinalists, who then get vetted by a lineup of A-list judges and industry experts. The final 300 get selected afterwards taking into consideration criteria such as demonstration of leadership, impact, potential of success and the embodiment of the entrepreneurial spirit synonymous with Forbes. Other factors like innovation, disruption—as well as size and growth of their ventures in some categories—play a role in making the final decision.
This year’s judges includes accomplished and acclaimed entrepreneurs and business leaders such as Mickey Mikitani, CEO of Rakuten; Roshni Nadar Malhotra, Executive Director & CEO of HCL Corporation and Trustee of Shiv Nadar Foundation; JP Gan, General Partner at INCE Capital; Kaifu Lee, CEO of Sinovation Ventures; Kishin RK, Founder and CEO of RB Capital Group; Nisa Leung, Managing Partner at Qiming Venture Partners; Kuok Meng Ru, CEO of BandLab Technologies; Nicole Warne, Founder of GaryPepperGirl; Jennifer Wai-Fun Liu, Founder and Chairwoman of The Coffee Academics; Anna Fang, CEO of ZhenFund and Patrick Grove, Cofounder and Group CEO of Catcha Group.
The birthday cutoff to make the 2021 list was December 31, 1990. All ages displayed are calculated as of December 31, 2020.
List and Project Editor: Rana Wehbe Watson
Assistant Editor: John Kang
Research and reporting: Megha Bahree, John Kang, Jeanhee Kim, Ruby Leung, Jihyun Park, James Simms, Yue Wang, Jennifer Wells and David Yin.
Jeremy Choh (Natalie Khoei and Shadi Kord), Muhammad Fadli (Martin Reyhan Suryohusodo and Joseph Alexander Ananto), Gayatri Ganju (Harshil Mathur), Jae-hyun Kim (Haseung Jeon, Munhwi Jeon, Seyeob Kim, and Howook Shin), Jocelyn Tam (Chichi Hong), Juliana Tan (Harsh Dalal), Kristina Valdez (Benee), Sonny Thakur (Rexy Josh Dorado), Jus Vun (Ryuichi Onose), Sarker Protick (Shomy Chowdhury and Rijve Arefin)
Art Director, Asia: Mirna Aprilla
Senior Photo Editor: Merrilee Barton
Design: Alicia Hallett-Chan, Nick Desantis
Project Manager: Justin Conklin
Associate Product Owner: Grant Tunkel
Data Management: Dmitri Slavinsky
Software Engineering: Scott Warner, Gus Faria
QA: Majd Alzoubi, Noor Al-Aqtash
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