Dec 18, 2012 · 2 minutes

While China and India continue to hog most of the attention when it comes to talk of business opportunities in Asia, things are brewing in Southeast Asia, too.

Golden Gate Ventures, an early stage fund focused on Southeast Asia, has announced three investments in the region and is heralding the dawn of exciting growth in a part of the world that accounts for more than half a billion people and is adding 650,000 new Internet users every month.

Golden Gate has invested in payments startup Coda Payments, online grocer RedMart, and order and inventory management software company TradeGecko, all of which are based in Singapore but serve the region.

Golden Gate founding partner Vinnie Lauria said that the firm was attracted to the companies because they are expanding the nascent ecommerce sector in the region. The investments help Golden Gate, which has offices in San Francisco and Singapore, bolster its attempt to position itself as a specialist in Southeast Asia with links to Silicon Valley.

In recent years, Southeast Asia has become of particular interest to investors who are looking for “the next China.” The markets in its disparate countries – including Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia – are huge and growing fast, but more importantly they’re coming online at warp speed. Once firmly entrenched in the SMS era, these emerging markets are taking to smartphones with alacrity. And for many Southeast Asians, smartphones represent their first point of entry to the Internet.

Indonesians, for instance, now view more than 630 million mobile pages per month – higher than anywhere else in the world. Indonesia, with 240 million people, is the fourth most populated country in the world, behind the US. And they are known as voracious consumers of everything social.

“Web 1.0 never happened here, but now you have the advantage of lessons learned and all these social platforms to execute on a sustainable and growing business,” says Golden Gate’s Lauria.

“Southeast Asia is brimming with smart, talented, and self-driven entrepreneurs,” he continues. “Mix that with double-digit growth in the region and the stage looks set for us to create a number of breakout successes over the next few years. It reminds me of what China was in the early 2000s.”

Among the investors clamoring for a chunk of the emerging markets in Southeast Asia is Germany’s notorious Rocket Internet, which is putting millions of dollars into the region. It has launched Pinterest, Zappos, and Amazon clones – Pinspire, Lazora, and Lazada – in several Southeast Asian markets as well as a new service, Food Panda. While feelings are mixed about Rocket’s presence in the region, it is training entrepreneurs and attempting to expand the tech talent pool.

Lauria welcomes Rocket’s presence in the region and says its has helped bring new Internet users up to speed on ecommerce. He would also welcome a “land grab,” saying a rising tide lifts all boats. “The region is well suited for more international folks to invest here. Serial entrepreneurs and investors can add a lot of value to the ecosystem by working alongside local startups.”

Lauria believes the consumer Internet markets in Southeast Asia are set to explode, with many Internet users being younger than 25 years old. Some of the biggest Internet opportunities, he says, are in serving basic needs: ecommerce, online payments, content portals, and localized entertainment.