Social startups are businesses that operate to enact change for good – and they’re sprouting up all over the APAC region. Hive Life gives you a rundown of nine notable ‘profit-for-a-purpose’ businesses on our radar. 

‘Profit for a purpose’ seems to be the ringing mission statement for many startups across the Asia Pacific these days. In everything from food to fashion to mental health, more entrepreneurs are looking to ground their businesses in roots that matter, whether it be for social or environmental good. Here are nine social startups to keep an eye on in 2020. 

Bring Me Home (Australia)

Having only launched in August 2018, Bring Me Home is a social startup that’s looking to dramatically reduce food waste in Australia – so far, they claim to have ‘rescued’ more than 2,500 kilograms of food. Users log on to the app, which then connects them with nearby cafes and restaurants that have quality unsold food. Customers who use the app to purchase their ‘mystery meal’ pay for as low as 30% of the original price, whilst points can be earned to keep track of how much food is ‘rescued’ by the user. According to their website, Bring Me Home has voided 10,000 kilograms of CO2 emissions.

The R Collective (Hong Kong)

The R Collective is another powerful social startup looking to reduce waste – this time, in the fashion industry. The negative impacts of fast fashion are massive, which is what this upcycled fashion brand is working to combat. As part of Redress, a Hong Kong-based charity working to reduce waste in fashion, The R Collective sources textile waste from luxury fashion brands, mills and manufacturers to create their sustainably made, chic designs through upcycling. With collection bins all over Hong Kong, Redress redistributes unwanted clothes to the less unfortunate, among several other initiatives that aim to restructure society’s relationship with what we wear. From educating emerging fashion designers on sustainability to holding the world’s largest sustainable fashion competition called ‘The Redress Design Award,’ the organisation does so much to raise awareness and inspire consumers to make more conscious choices when it comes to fashion. 

Social Startups to Watch Asia Pacific Bring Me Home The R Collective

Pak360 (Australia)

In the scramble to reduce waste in Melbourne, the unofficial coffee capital of the world, Pak360 wants to complete the circle from cup to compost by providing a transparent and cost-effective solution to food packaging. Created entirely with materials left over from food production, their eco-friendly products are made from tree-free and petroleum plastic-free materials, and are designed to feed right back into our own energy systems. A crucial player in significantly reducing waste streams from restaurants and offices in Australia, Pak360 offers an end-to-end solution that provides consumers with convenient and responsible waste management solutions via easy-to-spot collection points in local cafés, restaurants, offices and retail outlets.

Pak360 Social Startups to Watch Asia

Freedom Cups (Singapore)

Singapore-based startup Freedom Cups have been tipped by the Obama Foundation and Forbes 30 under 30, and they are adamant that their menstrual cups are the sanitary protection we should all be using in the future. Not only do they say that their cups are made from medical-grade silicone, but because they’re wash-and-reusable, they eliminate the vast amount of waste created by typical feminine hygiene products. This ‘profit-with-purpose’ business also works to make sustainable, clean period products more accessible to those in underprivileged communities, too. For every cup bought, Freedom Cups donates one to communities in countries like the Philippines, Cambodia, Nepal, Uganda and Kenya. 

HIKARI Lab (Japan)

HIKARI Lab is an online counselling firm responsible for a video game that’s addressing mental health stigma in Japan, where it’s not very common to seek professional help for issues like depression or anxiety. Repurposing a game developed by clinicians at New Zealand’s University of Auckland in the late 2000s, HIKARI Lab created an app called SPARX that has turned into a virtual haven for those struggling to cope, allowing them to play role-playing scenarios in a fantasy world designed to alleviate stress and serve as an outlet. Now, they’re working on a new game that aims to raise awareness of sexual minorities in universities called “問題多多的宿舍” (‘A Lot Of Problems In The Dormitory’), innovating methods that go beyond traditional therapy with technology created by mental health professionals. 

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Social Startups to Watch Asia Pacific Freedom Cups Hikari Lab

IG: @freedomcups 

Lidbot (Taiwan)

As one of the world’s first companies to digitalise the entire waste and recycling supply chain, Taiwanese startup Lidbot is leading the charge for smart waste collection. Their latest innovation integrates and optimises existing infrastructures, creating cleaner cities and improving public understanding of waste removal methods. Built with a fill level sensor, these citywide bins are able to track and record waste management data, providing information that can then be used to optimise waste and recycling systems, ensuring a collection only ever happens when needed. A true gamechanger, Lidbot could pave the way for more widespread adoption of smart technology in Asia’s cities.

Lidbot Social Startups to Watch in Asia

Wateroam (Singapore) 

Water is a basic right and yet, nearly 900 million people don’t have access to clean, drinkable sources. Wateroam is a Singapore-born social startup created by three university students who engineered a portable water filter to supply clean water to rural communities. Founded in 2014, the creators went through 15-20 iterations before they came up with their ingenious portable filter. The device looks a lot like a manual air pump and can be installed affordably anywhere since it doesn’t require electricity. Weighing in at 2.5 kilograms, the small but mighty contraption can pump out up to 200 litres of water per hour. So far, Wateroam filters have been installed everywhere from the Philippines to Nepal to Cambodia, giving clean water to about 70,000 people with a goal to hit three million in the next five years. 

V Cycle (Hong Kong)

Addressing detrimental problems on a social and ecological level, V Cycle is the startup that’s empowering the underprivileged and elderly by employing them. Tirelessly collecting plastic and cardboard from stores is how at least 1,800 elderly men and women make a living in Hong Kong, pushing heavily loaded carts around the city all day with stacks piled higher than their heads. Now, this social startup is putting them to work – but rather than delegating scavenging and other hard labour tasks, V Cycle is hiring them to sort through plastic and wood to create upcycled products like reusable bags, hats, umbrellas and more, tackling this city’s massive waste pollution problem while allowing the less fortunate to find fulfilment in their work and alleviating poverty. 

Social Startups to Watch Asia Pacific V Cycle Wateroam

LUÜNA Naturals (Hong Kong)

Period poverty is a global health crisis. With over 800 million women and girls around the world lacking menstrual hygiene education and essential sanitary products, access to trusted period-care products is frighteningly scarce. Enter LUÜNA Naturals, a female-led period care brand that’s smashing century-old stigmas and changing the way women and girls experience menstruation, one period cup at a time. Promising unwavering transparency and ethics, this Hong Kong-based company is trying to make up for the lack of education surrounding menstrual health and access to trusted period-care products by providing chemical-free sanitary products alongside regular talks and workshops. New products, more awareness and a different way of speaking about and visualising menstruation – this is a revolution we can get behind!

Luüna Naturals Social Startups to Watch Asia


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