Taiwan courts tech start-ups to drive economic progress

TAIPEI, July 12

Companies such as electric motor scooter firm Gogoro could hold the key to Taiwan’s economic growth.

In just three years, the start-up, which counts Japan’s Panasonic Corp as a strategic partner and Cher Wang, the founder of local smartphone maker HTC Corp as a key investor, raised $150 million to develop the smartphone-synched bike, and a charging network for it. The Smartscooters went on sale last month, starting at around $4,100.

Gogoro’s success in creating a home-grown, innovative product is precisely what Taiwan’s government wants to foster as it seeks to reduce the export-driven economy’s reliance on the island’s world-class tech manufacturing sector.

These tech firms, which include HTC, the world’s biggest contract chip maker Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd and iPhone maker Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd, also give Taiwan an advantage over the many other countries seeking to nurture tech start-ups.

“We hope our policies can help a start-up at its most difficult stage — the beginning — so it can go the way of Gogoro,” said Jan Fang-guan, an official with the government planning agency, the National Development Council (NDC).

Tech manufacturing accounts for a third of all Taiwan’s industrial output, but two years ago, the NDC recognised growth in this sector was plateauing as firms lose out to cheaper, Chinese rivals.

In June, exports shrank by the most in more than two years — and for the fifth consecutive month — as shipments of tech goods and demand from major trading partner China fell sharply.