Innovative start-ups may not be the first thing that springs to mind when Central Asia is mentioned, but the region has in recent years been quietly carving itself a niche, especially Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The two countries now have start-up hubs, accelerators, and – crucially – an emerging venture capital ecosystem.
Kazakhstan’s capital Nur-Sultan has been leading the way in winning recognition in the global start-up world, with Startup Genome, a research and policy advisory organisation, awarding it a maximum 10 in its latest funding growth index, which measures growth of early-stage funding. According to Startup Genome, the average seed round of a start-up in Nur-Sultan is around 300,000 US dollars, a decent amount not too far short of the global average of 494,000 US dollars.
A turning point in the development of the Kazakhstan start-up ecosystem was the founding of the Astana Hub in 2018, an international IT and start-up one-stop-shop that already houses more than 500 IT companies, many of which are start-ups. Residents include the Barcelona-based delivery app Glovo and Polish cybersecurity firm WebTotem
In neighbouring Uzbekistan, the situation is much the same. The country’s start-up ecosystem in its early stages, but with help from government initiatives a start-up scene is slowly starting to emerge.
An IT park was opened in 2019 in the capital of Tashkent by government decree, after internet speeds shot up in the country in 2018 (from 110 Mb/s to 1.2 Gb/s per second) on, it is said, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s personal initiative.
There is interest from foreign investors too. In 2019, Georgia’s TBC Bank purchased a 51 per cent stake in the payment service provider Payme for 5.5 million US dollars, marking it the biggest equity investment ever for an Uzbek IT company.
The country’s ministry of innovation and development, together with the Centre for Advanced Technologies and Startup Factor, have also created the CAT science accelerator which has already seen 17 start-ups go through its programme.