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Saloni Malhotra among Asia's best young entrepreneurs

By Sonal Rupani and Eva Woo,
Last updated on: January 14, 2008 15:17 IST
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The results are in. Late last year, readers were asked to choose from among 25 finalists in our annual competition to find the best entrepreneur age 30 or under in the Asia-Pacific region.

We selected the final 25 from a longer list of suggestions submitted by readers and editors and then asked readers to vote online.

This year's top vote getter is Nguyen Minh Tri, a 25-year-old from Vietnam who has started two companies, My World and Viet Tech. He has a bachelor's degree in computer engineering from the University of Portland in Oregon and worked in Silicon Valley as a programmer for Serena Software. "Entrepreneurship is not my career, it's my passion," he says.

Opportunities in Outsourcing

Nguyen has capitalized on his knowledge of the U.S. and Vietnam by locating Viet Tech's offices both in Portland and Ho Chi Minh City. The company is a software developer and outsourcing specialist that focuses on small and medium businesses. Nguyen's other company, My World, is a Web 2.0 venture that bills itself as the leading social and educational utility in Vietnam, offering users the chance to share news, blogs, photos, music, and other content in both Vietnamese and English.

"At a young age, I was inspired and motivated by business and technology," Nguyen says. "It was my natural aspiration to become an entrepreneur."

The fast-growing Vietnamese economy provides entrepreneurs like Nguyen with ample opportunities, especially as would-be outsourcers look for lower-cost alternatives to India.

The rise of the Indian currency against the dollar and increasing wages in Bangalore and other Indian IT hotspots provide an opening for companies such as Viet Tech. "With a young, talented labor pool, Vietnam is attracting worldwide attention in the high-tech market," Nguyen says.

The runner-up in the competition is Saloni Malhotra,

founder and CEO of DesiCrew Solutions. A graduate of Bharati Vidyapeeth's College of Engineering in Pune, near Mumbai, Malhotra launched her company last February.

Like Nguyen, she is trying to build an outsourcing business by leveraging low-cost workers. She describes DesiCrew as "a non-urban, socially motivated" business-process outsourcing company. India has plenty of so-called BPOs, but DesiCrew is different, she says, because it focuses on tapping the workforce in India's small towns and rural areas.

"DesiCrew's biggest challenge has been to convince clients about the productivity of rural areas," says Malhotra.

Malhotra says that it's too early to declare her experiment a success. It remains difficult, for instance, to train rural workers for the kind of jobs DesiCrew is offering.

"We are an adolescent company and have a long way to go," she says. But so far she's enjoying the ride. Being an entrepreneur "feels like a big responsibility combined with a lot of fun," she says. "Every day is a new challenge with new problems to be solved."

Local Web 2.0

Winning third place in the competition is Ari Sudradjat, the founder of PT Braincode Solution in Jakarta. Braincode provides mobile games, wallpapers, screen savers, and other services to Indonesian telecom operators and prides itself on having more local content than its rivals.

"Being an entrepreneur in Indonesia is challenging, but there are many advantages as well," says Sudradjat. "There is a lot of good talent that is not expensive, operational costs are not big, and there are not many competitors. But the challenges are bureaucracy, kickbacks, and software piracy."

Rounding out the top four is Hong Kong's Leon Ho, the entrepreneur behind Stepcase, a Web 2.0 company. Ho describes Stepcase as a "productivity solution company" that attracts more than 1 million visitors per month. One of its sites, called Lifehack, is a popular blog that delivers self-help news and other ideas on "lifehacks," or tricks that people can use to boost their productivity.

Stepcase Apps, currently under development, will be an online software platform for helping people get more organized. "Stepcase is a rare opportunity for me, as it fits all my passions--productivity, Web, software development, and startup," he says. "I started the blog because I wanted to share what I have learned on productivity."

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