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This Startup Wants to Create a Giving Economy for Women in Southeast Asia It currently has a pool of more than 3,000 SupaAgents spread across Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia. Of which, 60 per cent comprises of a female workforce

By Dipen Pradhan

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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With a right set of instruction and training, women workforce are creating ripples in the technology sector of Southeast Asia. Leading by example is the Malaysia-headquartered artificial intelligence (AI)-driven startup, Supahands, whose workforce comprises more than 60 per cent women, especially students, young professionals and mothers who are looking for flexible jobs to earn extra income or additional working experience.

The deeptech startup trains an individual to become its SupaAgents, who are crowdsourced workers responsible to execute projects while working from home.

The co-founders of Supahand, Mark Koh and Susian Yeap along with the team, have built a graph-based predictive routing algorithm, called DIANE, which stands for "digital innovation assistant for knowledge engineering."

This AI-driven recommendation engine has already found its use cases across businesses sectors such as cryptocurrency, real-estate, retail, e-commerce, and video streaming platforms. The project managers of Supahand are given access to DIANE to execute projects to SupaAgents. The type of tasks that SupaAgents perform vary from image annotation, data transcription, content moderation to data management, tagging, categorisation, etc.

The co-founders realised that a lot of their work could be easily done by someone else. So they started crowdsourcing individuals to become their SupaAgents, giving them the right set of instructions and training, while providing them with fair opportunities to earn from home—as long as they have access to internet and internet devices.

Supahands currently employs more than 3,000 SupaAgents spread across Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia. Of which, 60 per cent comprises of a female workforce. On an average, SupaAgents earn RM1,900 (US$456), which can go as high as RM4,000 (US$961) per month. Interestingly, while inviting application for crowdsourcing, there were more female applicants than male. The startup operates from Malaysia, and has clients from the US to New Zealand.

"We want to deliver the best in speed, scalability and quality to our clients. This means automating as many processes as possible while still maintaining the human touch that is necessary, especially when working with clients in the AI space," Yeap said, adding that the startup's unique and interesting challenges to date, however, is to scale a crowd of 3,000 microagents with the aid of technology.

Supahands Co-founders: (L to R) Susian Yeap & Mark Koh

Supahands AI Offering: Market & Challenges

AI has the potential to create a large productivity gains. At the enterprise-level, when implemented right, the technology can efficiently augment the work of people across spectrum for more innovative operations, processes, products, etc. AI adoption rate is already gaining traction in Malaysia and Vietnam, a recently published report by a research firm, CIO, noted.

"Companies like us exist in SEA because we can provide the human judgement that is required to train machines that come from a different region, culture and background. So while the services we offer are similar to our western counterparts, we see the need for all of us to exist," Yeap said.

Similar to what Supahands offers, there are companies such as Figure Eight and Mighty AI catering to the sector. But Supahands does not see them as direct competitors because "the requirements of AI companies are vast, and we see plenty of opportunities for us to complement each other," Yeap said.

Company's Latest Standing & Competition

So what makes Supahands' application unique? we asked. Yeap said, "People tend to underestimate the importance of using a well-balanced dataset to train a machine learning algorithm. Data doesn't lie, and that's true to a certain extent. But, sometimes, data doesn't always paint a complete representation of the world that we live in."

The startup is of the opinion that it is challenging to build computer vision-based products to consumers in every country as every country is built on different infrastructures. Citing an example of a self-driving car, Yeap said, "A car in the US has been trained to be driven with data based on US roads, but it will not be able to function in a country like Vietnam where there are more motorcycles on the road that may not necessarily follow standard traffic rules."

"With a core team of 40 employees, the startup now wants to expand its service offerings to clients from larger Asia Pacific countries," Yeap said.

In fact, Yeap and Koh have recently raised an undisclosed Series A funding to expand its reach to APAC region, including China, Japan and South Korea. The funding round was led by Southeast-and South Asia-focused social venture capital firm, Patamar Capital, which invested monies in the startup from its women fund it created in collaboration with Australian government two years ago.

Dipen Pradhan

Senior Correspondent, Entrepreneur Asia Pacific

Dipen is a senior correspondent for Entrepreneur, Asia Pacific edition. He joined Entrepreneur after a stint reporting on India's startup ecosystmem for Inc42 and, prior to that, more than four years covering human interest news on an array of issues for The Statesman. He is a graduate in Humanities & Social Sciences, with major in English and Journalism from Orient College, Tribhuvan University. You may write to him at dpradhan@entrepreneurapj.com

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