“Taiwanese people have the potential to build global companies.”
That’s Erica Liu – certified accountant, active member in Austin, Texas’s Taiwanese American community, and one of the co-founders of the up-and-coming accelerator whose name you’ll yell in your head every time, STEEP!.
Short for “Supporting Taiwanese Entrepreneurs Everywhere Project!”, STEEP! is an Austin-based accelerator and angel seed fund that hopes to change Taiwan’s startup scene. How? By highlighting unsung heroes of the Taiwan startup scene that have been successful and pairing that with industry specific mentorship.
Its mission is to elevate Taiwan’s budding startup scene onto a global stage. It’s the brainchild of Liu and her friend, seasoned entrepreneur and fellow co-founder, JD Chang. The idea for STEEP! rose from a conversation about personal identity and business aspirations. “We kept circling back to our unique Taiwanese heritage, startups, and business opportunities,” remembers Liu.
Sooner than later, Liu and Chang agreed they both shared passion to help Taiwanese companies, so they began organizing, combining their personal and professional connections to create the expansive network of mentors, investors, and resources that is now the foundation for STEEP!.
“Our combined involvements in Taiwanese American and startup communities allow us to facilitate tactical mentorships for teams at their varying stages of growth. Whereas our bicultural experiences in both Taiwan and the U.S. has allowed us to mobilize across borders and become cultural navigators between American and Taiwanese startup communities” says Liu.
A growing tech hub, Austin was a serendipitous place for the equally ambitious and curious duo to regularly interact with many Taiwanese startup teams that trek to the city and its annual South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Festival.
The two also learned that the community needed more help.
On a recent trip to Taiwan, Liu and Chang met with several early-stage startups to learn more about its wants and needs. They also visited many technical founders who may need additional executive business help and met with several early stage companies that could have benefited from earlier mentorship. Ultimately, Liu says, “we see a lot of potential for high growth if we can help fill in the holes.”
And fill in the holes they did. Compiling all their resources, Liu and Chang created STEEP!’s first Pillar Program (also known as the STEEP! SXSW Primer). STEEP! Pillar programs aim at helping four to six promising startups perfect crucial skills like sales and pitching. The cherry on top? For their first Pillar program, which will be launched this February, selected startups will receive the opportunity to demo their company during Austin’s annual SXSW Interactive festival.
So what makes a startup STEEP! worthy? In addition to looking for aspiration to enter the U.S. market, a clear product market fit, and user growth, Liu is also factoring in who is leading the company. “The founders are central to the team’s potential,” Liu insists. “Are they thinking about their problems in the right way? Do they ask for help at the right times? Do they have a clear value proposition? And are they able to create or defend their solution?”
Despite the existing cynicism towards these budding enterprises, Liu says that things are getting better in Taiwan. People are taking notice of Taiwan’s market potential: “The top of the funnel for startups has been expanded significantly from various government-led and private initiatives, with more mature companies such as Appier or Pinkoi leading the pack in terms of tackling big ideas and markets.”
However, if Taiwan doesn’t utilize its advantages in competitively priced engineering talent, it will lose them to the troubling talent drain that is currently plaguing the country.
Despite this, Liu concludes with a message of confidence and hope: “One of the most important lessons learned that we have encountered in starting STEEP! Is that the enthusiasm, perseverance and creativity of Taiwanese startups is astounding. We want to be a part of that conversation and process of elevating their work to global audiences.”
Ketagalan Media’s editor-in-chief Chieh-Ting Yeh is an advisor to STEEP!.
(Feature photo of Liu discussing her inspiration for starting STEEP! at the Austin BGBAT Commingle: Texas & Taiwan!, courtesy of Erica Liu)
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