Editor’s note: Produced by Meet, this is one of a series of articles about foreign entrepreneurs who hold the Taiwan Employment Gold Card and the stories behind their relocation to Taiwan.
Before moving to Taiwan, an Italian had gone through several stages of his life in China: he first went to Shanghai to study engineering, started a company that builds a platform for second hand goods trading, and later worked as an analyst for Chinaccelerator and SOSV, the venture capital firm that backs the program.
Marco Mirabella told Business Next that he visited Taiwan for the first time for work and the idea of relocation soon began to grow in his mind. “Taiwan is like a hidden gem in Asia,” he said, noting that it’s an island of impressive natural landscape, friendly people, and the best quality of life for expats.
Therefore, after returning to China, he asked to transfer to the team at the Mobile Only Accelerator (MOX) in Taipei, another accelerator operated by SOSV, and started his new life in Taiwan, which is no short of surprising turns of events.
Journey as a tech entrepreneur in Taiwan
In 2017, while working on business development and partnership expansion at MOX, he met two crypto curious entrepreneurs and a university professor, with whom he would later co-found Cartesi to build a Linux infrastructure for scalable decentralized apps. The startup, notably, has recently released Creepts, an app they claim to be the first fully decentralized game on Linux.
In the same year, Mirabella also met Kevin Yen of BigGo, CEO of a MOX portfolio company that he managed. In January 2020, BigGo’s search engine, which allows customers to compare prices of products from various sellers and enjoy cashback rewards, is ranked as the 31th most visited website in Taiwan.
He said he would make phone calls with Yen every week to discuss business strategies, and it was him who advised the CEO to break new ground by adding cash back feature to his price comparison website. This proved to be a success, with around two millions users in Taiwan now benefiting from this service every month.
It wasn’t surprising that Yen later offered him to work as the Chief Strategy Officer for BigGo. “He told me that ‘we need someone that does what you do,’” Mirabella recalled. In fact, the opportunity to transfer to a new position couldn’t have come more timely, as he had been struggling to contribute to the startup he co-founded in Taiwan.
Since the day he came on board, the Taiwanese company has been embracing a series of changes -- streamlining operations to expand to as many countries as possible, he said. The company has gained traction in Japan and Thailand, and now, they’re moving on to Indonesia and Italy.
“We are one of the few consumer-facing software companies going global from Taiwan,” he claimed, “and we are proud of that.”
As COVID-19 forces people to stay at home and shop online, BigGo has seen the number of its monthly users grow from 13 to 14.3M, Mirabella said. With greater efforts to expand into new markets, the company expects to “double or even triple the number.”
Besides growth, he is also keen on turning BigGo into a global company. He has been offering training sessions for employees in English and most recently, promoting a shift to remote work to attract foreign talent.
Encounter with a cohesive community for entrepreneurs
Mirabella came to Taiwan four years ago and since then, has been active in the startup space. He is also one of the early applicants for the Taiwan Employment Gold Card, a government initiative to attract highly-skilled foreign talent to Taiwan.
The card, valid for up to three years, puts together four crucial documents for foreigners to live and work in Taiwan: resident visa, Alien Resident Certificate (ARC; the card which proves the holder’s right to legally reside in Taiwan), multiple entry permit, and open work permit.
The government has identified several key areas, under which qualified foreigners can apply for the Gold Card, like Science & Technology, Economy, Finance, among others. They will be assessed under a set of specific requirements defined by the corresponding government agencies (such as the Ministry of Science & Technology and Ministry of Economic Affairs).
With experience of running a tech startup and endorsement from MOX and Taiwan Tech Arena (TTA), Mirabella said it wasn’t difficult for him to “prove that his skills benefit Taiwan” and apply for the gold card under the category of Technology.
He described the startup community in Taiwan as “small but cohesive.” Being part of the community means receiving support from not only organizations like TTA but effectively, everyone, he said. This is also the reason why he believes it may be easier to apply for the card from Taiwan.
In addition, he appreciates the National Development Council (NDC)’s efforts in building up a community for Gold Card holders by organizing meetups on a regular basis, where they share their experience of living and working in Taiwan and have direct conversation with policy makers. It’s also nice to meet people from various backgrounds, he said.
However, as an entrepreneur, he believes there are several issues that Taiwan should work on to enable the startup ecosystem to thrive. For example, the government should simplify the process of opening a company to attract foreign startups to come to Taiwan.
If they come to Taiwan in great numbers, he said, then investors will start to see Taiwan and the gap of early stage funding can possibly be filled. “It’s a chicken-egg problem.”
Taiwan has the potential to become a international hub for talent and startups, and it has been working toward unleashing it. Initiatives like the Taiwan Employment Gold Card and Entrepreneur Visa are both part of the efforts.
“At international startup events, I feel like I represent not only my company but Taiwan,” he said.
When asked why he decided to settle down in Taiwan, he said he usually turns the question around and asks “why not Taiwan.” Having stayed in Taiwan for four years, he now plans to stay for an indefinite period of time.