Taiwan has brought Covid-19 under control and life has returned to something resembling normality. However, the slump in foreign investment projects has encouraged Invest Taipei to shift focus onto start-ups, and attracting disenchanted foreign firms from Hong Kong, says chief executive Robert Lo. 

Q: What’s life like now in Taipei?

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We don’t have a lockdown here. We can go shopping, go out and don’t need to work from home. 

As in many Asian countries, we like our employees working in the office as it facilitates better communication. 

Taiwan, however, has not opened its borders. No foreigners are allowed to enter the country, except for a few business people that need to fulfill contracts. 

Q: How has your focus shifted because of the crisis?

Our focus has shifted to start-up FDI. In the past we didn’t pay much attention to attracting small start-ups, even if they were established. 

We now pay lots of attention attracting foreign start-ups, particularly from Israel as well as Hong Kong. 

Lots of international entrepreneurs from the UK, Germany and France are willing to relocate their business into Taiwan.

In the past all their business operations could be easily done in Hong Kong [but this is changing because of China’s new national security law]. 

Many companies are looking to move their cyber security businesses to Taiwan and set up subsidiaries in Taipei. That’s a benefit for us.

Q: How are you looking to attract start-ups?

We changed our screening criteria and are now more friendly to foreign start-ups, providing subsidies and grants. 

We ask them to submit an application for a new project, and offer a start-up incentive matching fund focused on tech-oriented foreign start-ups.

In the first year we provide up to 1m New Taiwan dollars ($34,000) for the start-up to become operational. 

In the second year we provide 5m New Taiwan dollars ($170,000) to help them to launch their product, and can provide a further 5m New Taiwan dollars in the third year if it’s successful.

The Taipei city government wants to promote innovation and attract foreign start-ups to do R&D activity in the city. 

We also try to facilitate joint research product initiatives – which in a broader sense is co-innovation – as I firmly believe that if it’s successful, companies will be more likely to open overseas offices in our location.

Q: How have you reallocated your budget?

I decided to shift the budget onto e-learning courses. We haven't spent much money on marketing campaigns.

Q: What key lessons you have learnt?

We have put more effort into upgrading employees’ sales and marketing skills and encouraged staff to undertake internal training through online courses.

We can, for example, now easily invite site selection consultants via webinars. 

Another shift, because we don’t have any greenfield investment, is we have become better connected with existing investors already here in Taipei. 

We also provide more comprehensive aftercare services helping companies to integrate into the local supply chain. 

Of course, we have the US-China trade war, [which means companies] need to redistribute supply chains. 

We have an opportunity to integrate all existing foreign direct investment within our innovation ecosystem [in Taiwan] and be more collaborative with local suppliers.

Q: What will be the ‘new normal’ in investment promotion?

We still need to achieve our original [pre-crisis] goals. Unfortunately in many Asian countries, including Taiwan, we as Chinese people tend to rely on traditional ways of doing business. 

For example, it’s still mandatory for the first meeting to be face-to-face [and this still applies to] important foreign decision making.

I don’t think in the short term, foreign decision makers will be able to [sign off] on Taipei as their investment destination until they’re able to visit.

Robert (Yichung) Lo is the chief executive director of Invest Taipei.

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