Asia’s Young Entrepreneurs

By Brian Bremner
Asia is home to the fastest-growing pack of economies on the planet, including China, India, and a resurgent Japan. Less appreciated is the growing and dynamic entrepreneurial class of young managers cropping up in the region who are starting to make their presence felt. This new generation is globally aware, extremely Internet savvy, and willing to pounce on a smart idea even if it means grueling hours and financial risk early on in life.

For the past month, BusinessWeek.com has set out to find the most interesting examples of this new breed. We asked readers to nominate standout young entrepreneurs. Our editors reviewed the nominations and narrowed the field to this group of 20 finalists. Take a look at them and their businesses, and at the end of the slide show, we’ll ask you to vote for the biz whiz you think shows the most promise. Browse through, cast your vote, and BusinessWeek.com will report the results.

Arif Ayub

http://www.softflux.com
Karachi, Pakistan
Age: 23

Ayub launched Softflux back in 2000 as a one-man operation. Today the IT solutions firm offers everything from Web development services to high-end management consulting to help companies boost their profitability and the productivity of their mobile networks. It has roughly 70 employees and development associates in Beijing, Dublin, Romania, London, and Silicon Valley. Softflux’ clients include a variety of Pakistani banks and pharmaceutical companies, and Ayub plans to expand the company’s operations globally in 2007 and boost annual revenues to $120 million by the end of the decade. He is also the founder of Saltflow, a private-equity firm specializing in tech investments.

Bellamy Benedetto Budiman

Founder & Designer: Neuro-Designs

http://www.neuro-designs.com/
Jakarta, Indonesia
Age: 23

Bellamy started Neuro-Designs back in high school when he realized he had a knack for design and started doing freelance assignments. Today, the firm handles Web, print, logo, and multimedia assignments, as well as design consulting, for various clients in Indonesia. It has formed alliances with other design firms, photographers, and printing companies to better serve its clients. Neuro-Designs is also an active supporter of Godote.com, an Indonesian design community.

Surya Budiman

Chief Technical Officer: PT Asia Lintas Media

http://www.asialintasmedia.com
PT. Asia Mobile View
http://www.asiamobileview.com
Jakarta, Indonesia
Age: 25

After studying data communication and software engineering in Australia at Queensland University of Technology, and doing a stint with an IT company in Singapore, Budiman decided to run his own show in early 2005. Result: PR Asia Lintas Media, a system integration and IT solutions outfit with special expertise in satellite communication networks. Budiman is also playing a big role in the development of another company called PT Asia Mobile View that is providing content services such as news, music, and video streaming to Indonesian cell phone users.

Sasikanth Chemalamudi

CEO: Habits

http://www.habits.in
Hyderabad, India
Age: 23

A graduate with honors from the Birla Institute of Technology & Science in Pilani, Chemalamudi turned down an offer from outsourcing powerhouse Infosys to pursue his passion for entrepreneurship. He co-launched Habits, a creative learning resources company that encourages more creative thinking with the aid of educational materials such as musicals, plays, and interactive games. Habits is also involved with projects in rural India to encourage self-employment.

Rama Krishna Gaddipati

Co-founder: Bridle Information & Technology Solutions

http://www.bridleit.com/index.htm
Tenali, India
Age: 24

Bridle is a mobile applications and services outfit—and that is a good space to occupy given the explosive growth of mobile telephony in India. And Bridle co-founder Gaddipati (the 2001 winner of the Intel CyberFiesta national software development contest) may already have a hit on his hands. The service is called SchoolMATE, and it is a comprehensive student analysis system that allows parents to monitor their child’s progress at school. The service feeds information on conduct, examinations, and report cards to subscribers, and employs technology such as mobile text messaging, the Web, and e-mail. The company has gained about 70,000 subscribers in Hyderabad and Vishakapatnam in India.

Dinesh Goel

Director: Blue Ribbon Industrial

http://www.geetanjaliwoollens.com (int’l marketing site)
Indore, India
Age: 24

A recent business school graduate from Thunderbird’s Garvin School of International Management, Goel took on a major operational role with his family-run, $10 million-a-year wool products business started by his father and uncle. It’s a tough business, and the price competition is fierce. Still, since signing on as a director and key executive in February, Goel has boosted production at the company’s two manufacturing facilities by 50%, and sales are improving. He is focusing on product innovation and also looking for retail tie-ups to get wool products directly to consumers faster.

Christian K-L Yau Heilesen

CEO & Founder: Funmobile

http://www.funmobile.com
Hong Kong
Age: 22

Heilesen hit the ground running when he arrived in Hong Kong in 2002 from his native Denmark. (He is of Danish and Chinese descent.) A year later he launched Funmobile, initially as a game developer supplying mobile phone companies with content for their WAP (wireless application protocol) portals. Funmobile has since expanded overseas to developing, licensing, and distributing games, music, graphics, news, and other services sold directly to mobile phone users in Australia, Belgium, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Britain, and the U.S. Today, the Funmobile group of companies employs about 185 employees and is global in reach.

Nguyen Minh Hieu

Director and Co-Founder: DreamViet

http://www.dreamviet.com
Hanoi, Vietnam
Age: 25

After spending about a year as a financial analyst for a U.S. investment firm in Vietnam, Hieu decided to strike out on his own and launched DreamViet. His vision is simply to create the best Internet company in Vietnam. The flagship product is an e-commerce research and technology guide Web site at http://www.aha.com.vn. It provides search tools to research and buy consumer electronics. DreamViet also provides Web site development advice and services for Vietnamese merchants.

Darshan Hiranandani

Director & Chief Executive Officer: Hircon International

http://www.hircon-me.com
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Age: 24

Darshan started working for Hiranandani Group, India’s leading real-estate group and the family business, while attending high school and college in India. His deal-making synapses started firing early, however. When he was 17 he launched a go-kart track called Hakone and a family entertainment center in Bombay. He currently serves as president of the Bombay operations of Hiranandani Group. On top of that, he led the conglomerate’s expansion into Dubai, where he founded Hircon International. That company is involved in helping develop the “23 Marina” Project, which, when completed in 2008, will be the world’s tallest residential tower. In the first two years of operations, Hircon has generated more than $100 million in revenues. In Bombay, Hiranandani has projects under way that involve 300 million square feet of new developments.

Mao Kankan

Chief System Architect & Chief Executive Officer: Majoy Entertainment

http://www.majoy.cn
Beijing
Age: 23

Chinese gamers’ appetite for cool, interactive games via personal computers is pretty much bottomless. But Kankan created Majoy Entertainment in 2005 to offer an entirely different gaming experience. In Majoy’s role-playing games, participants actually gather in the same physical location and use an array of wireless digital devices to interact in a virtual gaming environment. It sometimes gets rough. Players often try to “kill” each other with digital tools such as infra-red toy pistols.

Vikas Kedia

Founder & Partner: MobiTrail

http://www.mobitrail.com
Bombay, India
Age: 25

The next big platform shift in online gaming will be to mobile handsets, and Kedia thinks his company is positioned to capture that growth. This 25-year-old programmer based in Bombay is founder of MobiTrail, which develops and delivers games to mobile phone users. Its games and applications can run on networks using J2ME, Symbian, and BREW operating systems. The company is developing some hot games of its own and has such clients as Reliant Online Gaming in India and Hong Kong-based Mobile2win, as well as other international customers.

Atul Prakash Khekade

Co-Founder: Innovation Trip

http://www.innovationtrip.com
Bombay, India
Age: 24

Khekade launched his first business, a Web technology and software applications company, at 17, and has written a book on graphical user interfaces. Now the University of Mumbai-trained engineer and scholarship recipient is trying his hand at the business tourism market. Last year he co-founded Innovation Trip, which sets up U.S.-based workshop-and-trip combos for senior executives in the developing world interested in the latest best-business practices in the States

Kentaro Iemoto

President & CEO: Clara Online

http://www.clara.ad.jp
Tokyo and Nagoya, Japan
Age: 24

Iemoto has packed plenty of drama into 24 years. Consider: At 14 he was diagnosed with a brain tumor, underwent surgery, and spent several years in a wheelchair. He pulled through, and in junior high school, at 16, he launched Clara Online with $9,000 in seed money. Today he is a well-known figure in Japanese technology circles. Clara became the first player in Japan to offer Linux-based virtual private servers connected to broadband networks and leased out to clients. Iemoto now manages six data centers in Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, and Seoul from offices in Japan and Taiwan. It’s hard to imagine anything slowing him down, but a newborn baby has Iemoto thinking about work-family issues for his 38 employees. At Clara, they all have the option of taking annual child-care leave.

Victor Lang

Senior Partner: Global Futures Educational Consulting

http://www.gfecinc.com
http://www.imunhk.org
Hong Kong and Chicago
Age: 22

It’s your world—fix it! That’s the kind of youthful zeal driving Global Future Educational Consulting, which provides educational materials for those interested in learning about international conflict resolutions and diplomacy. The company’s core service is hosting simulated U.N. conferences where students role-play as ambassadors and debate the issues of the day. Hong Kong native Lang splits his time between Chicago (the company’s U.S. office) and Asia. This year and next, Global Future will host “model” U.N. confabs in Chicago, Hong Kong, and Bombay.

David Lee

Chairman & Co-Founder: Team & Concepts Limited

http://www.tnc.hk/index.eis
Hong Kong
Age: 25

Lee learned something about adversity early in life. To help the family’s strapped finances, he hawked oranges on the streets of Hong Kong at age 7. Tough times, though, spawned a burning desire to succeed. In 2003, Lee and friends launched TnC, an information technology service that offers an array of online services for event planners. The company manages membership databases and online registration, sends e-mails to conference participants, and provides companies with interactive editing tools to update their Web sites. Earlier this year, it rolled out a beta version of EditGrid, a spreadsheet service where users can upload and host a spreadsheet on the Web, share it with colleagues and friends, and collaborate with other users on the same spreadsheet in real time.

Ario Pratomo

Founder: PT. Unique Kargonize

General Sales and Service Agent (Cargo) for Etihad Crystal Cargo
http://www.crystalcargo.ae
Jakarta, Indonesia
Age: 23

Pratomo has been on the fast track since he graduated early from Edith Cowan University in Australia at the age of 20. While working at Speedmark Indonesia, a freight forwarding company, he helped design a new operating system to improve the speed of bookings and tracking shipments. He was then asked to create a service agent company called Unique Kargonize to sell cargo space for a unit of Etihad Airways, the Abu Dhabi-based carrier. He is a logistics whiz to watch.

Vishal Sampat

Founder: Convonix

http://www.convonix.com
Bombay, India
Age: 24

Sampat caught the entrepreneurial bug early in life. While still in his teens, he launched his first venture, a streaming online music radio service featuring Indian tunes. His latest venture, launched in 2001, is Convonix. It is an Internet marketing firm with more than 35 employees that helps clients enhance their online traffic and get better placement in search engine results. The company has also developed its own Web analytics and campaign management programs

Hendy Setiono

Founder: Baba Rafi Indonesia

http://www.babarafi.com

Jakarta, Indonesia

Age: 23
Baba Rafi Indonesia founder Setiono is a 23-year-old in a hurry. Back in 2003 he launched the Kebab Turki Baba Rafi fast-food chain, and it now has 65 outlets across 10 cities in Indonesia. Its kebab sandwiches, as well as chicken and beef burgers, are sold in a variety of restaurant formats from portable booths to shopping center outlets. His company is also branching out to franchise business consulting. Setiono is the recipient of the Indonesia Small Medium Business Entrepreneur Award (2006) sponsored by the government.

Eric Tsai

CEO: eriQoo.com

http://www.eriQoo.com

Tokyo

Age: 21
Talk about a global mindset. Tsai was born in Taiwan, attended high school in the U.S., and picked up a degree at Sophia University in Japan. (Yes, he’s fluent in Chinese, Japanese, and English.) He blitzed through both high school and college and managed to graduate two years ahead of schedule. Tsai was then hired as the youngest fixed-income analyst on the payroll at Credit Suisse. Now, Tsai (together with 10 former Sophia classmates) has just launched a beta version of a new portal called eriQoo.com, available in both Japanese and English. (The formal launch is in September.) Tsai hopes to establish it as the can’t-miss site for all sorts of industry, brand, and product popularity ranking data provided in a reader-friendly format. If it attracts enough traffic, Tsai thinks the online advertising will follow.

Divyank Turakhia

Co-Founder, President & Director: Directi Group

http://www.directi.com

Bombay, India

Age: 24

Turakhia tried his hand at Internet consulting in high school at age 14 and, two years later, launched Directi Group with $600 borrowed from his parents. In the first month of operations, the business managed to generate enough revenues to return the borrowed amount and get the company rolling. Today, the company is debt-free, has more than 1 million customers for its array of domain name registration, Web hosting, and site building services, and employs more than 250 people. It is one of the fastest-growing domain registration companies in the world. When Turakhia isn’t running the show, he pursues hobbies such as sky diving, paragliding, and flying airplanes.

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