ASTANA – On the second day of the Digital Bridge Forum in Astana, foreign investors outlined the growing potential and emerging challenges in attracting capital for Kazakh entrepreneurs in a global venture market. The Oct.13 panel session gathered well-established venture companies to address Kazakhstan’s prospects.
The discussion was moderated by Adil Nurgozhin, the founding partner of Big Sky Capital, the Astana-based venture capital company.
Managing Partner at Quest Ventures James Tan provided statistics on the venture capital invested into Central Asia startups, noting that “for the last four years, the region has received only $150 million, which is a drop in the ocean.” With a focus on early-stage digital commerce investments, his Beijing-based company deploys funds across Asia.
In Tan’s view, having no back-up support, Central Asian startups head to Silicon Valley at some stage of their development. “The United States has nearly 49% of the world’s global venture capital market,” he noted.
Local limited partnerships (LP), in his opinion, should be interested in supporting the local funds, saying that “the companies focus not only on the startups themselves, but also on the interests of local LPs.”
When discussing the impact of artificial intelligence (AI), he emphasized that, above all, this innovation represents a tool to solve customers’ problems in a more efficient and impactful way.
“Based on an existing product, AI will allow you to create a much better user experience or set up a brand-new way of solving a customer problem. There is a lot of hype and excitement, because AI has been democratized to a large extent. For example, an average person can now use Chat GPT on their phone. That never happened before,” he said.
Director of the New Ventures at InDrive Nurken Rzaliyev highlighted their company’s strategic priority to diversify business.
The international ride-hailing service with more than 150 million downloads operates in 45 markets worldwide. It offers intercity transportation, freight and cargo services, as well as delivery services.
“Our goal is to help and build products for developing markets. When you operate only in one country, you gain a lot of risks, including devaluation, which happened many times in Kazakhstan. Sometimes, companies fall in love with their product so much that the revenue no longer matters, and it becomes harder to raise capital,” he said.
For Praveen Akkiraju, the managing director at Insight Partners, a global software investor with its headquarters in New York, it is the first visit to Kazakhstan and to the Eurasian region.
“I am honestly very impressed with the level of maturity of local entrepreneurs. The quality of the idea and the quality of its founders is really what has gone up. Innovations in Kazakhstan integrated into the technology transition will lead to a great reset,” he noted.
Oscar Ramos, the managing director at Orbit Startups, which focuses on emerging and frontier markets, said “we need to identify a trend before it is a trend.”
“In emerging markets, we have a lot of new managers, who might not even understand the long-term game. If it’s working, don’t touch it. When it’s not working, only then you need to touch it. You can’t solve all your problems with money, you need to use creativity,” he said.
“Entrepreneurs should get the most reward for the success of their ventures,” Ramos added.
During his speech at the opening of the Digital Bridge Forum on Oct. 12, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev outlined the importance of attracting international players to Kazakhstan’s venture capital market.
“We need their competence and high-quality expertise of projects. Domestic institutional investors, including the Baiterek national holding can become key partners. In addition, it is necessary to develop mechanisms and tools to ensure participation in venture funds of various financial institutions – second–tier banks, insurance companies, and microfinance organizations,” said the head of state.