Some lucky startup founders and venture capitalists got the opportunity to speak to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Heng Swee Keat last Friday (May 29) via a video-conferencing call.
On Sunday (May 31), DPM Heng posted a photo from the video call meeting on his Facebook page.
In his caption, he acknowledged that the “start-up scene has been hard hit by Covid-19”.
Some start-ups have managed to adapt their business models to cater to new demands during this pandemic, such as converting their 3D printing capacity to manufacture swabs for diagnostic tests. But not all start-ups can readily do so.– DPM Heng Swee Keat
During the call, they chatted about the $285 million Special Situation Fund as part of the Fortitude Budget to support start-ups, outlook of the start-up industry and ended the call with strong spirits to remain agile, adapt, and innovate through this crisis.
Here are the individuals who chatted with our Minister over the video-conference meeting:
1. Henry Chan, Co-founder & CEO, ShopBack
ShopBack was born one night when co-founders Henry Chan and Joel Leong were bouncing entrepreneurial ideas back and forth in a car.
They noted that the shopping cashback model (rebates) in the US was doing well and there was a similar unicorn in China called Fanli as well. However, there wasn’t a Southeast Asian version of it.
They then roped in tech guru Bryan Chua, and after a week locked up in a hotel room, the trio conceived a prototype. After which, they left their full-time jobs at that time to launch ShopBack in 2014.
Despite an initial setback when their application for government funding was rejected, ShopBack eventually secured funding amounting to over US$1 million, led by Accel-X and East Ventures.
ShopBack has since seen phenomenal growth as they establish partnerships with over 3,000 merchants across the region including Taobao, Expedia, Shopee, ZALORA. Today, it has a team of over 500, and has launched in Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Taiwan, Thailand, Australia, Vietnam and most recently, Korea.
To date, they have awarded US$100 million in cashback to over 20 million users.
2. Anthony Chow, Co-Founder & CEO, Igloohome
Smart access solutions startup igloohome was conceived by Anthony Chow and another co-founder, Kelvin Ho.
Both co-founders are big fans of AirBnb and they were frequent hosts or guests at Airbnb houses.
They found that it was troublesome to pass keys to guests when they hosted. Since getting the keys from hosts when they were guests was always a big problem, they started developing solutions for it.
They launched the igloohome smart lock in Singapore in March 2016, which allows the easy management of homes, properties and infrastructure.
Subsequently, their Smart Keybox was launched in November 2016.
Their access solutions have been rolled out in properties in the USA and Asia to great customer reviews.
3. Huub van Esbroeck, Founder & CEO, Structo
The Structo journey began in 2012 in a small room at National University of Singapore (NUS) where Huub van Esbroeck and a few other engineers were attempting to build an “inkless printer” — a machine that used a laser to burn black marks onto paper and thus print without using ink or toner.
It worked only half the time (and caught fire the other half), so the group shifted their focus to 3-dimensional printing instead.
The engineers developed the first prototype of MSLA (Resin 3D printing) technology to demonstrate lightning-fast print speeds and scalability, and soon secured a seed round investment and officially founded Structo.
Over the next few years, the company set up offices in Singapore, USA, Canada and the UK. Structo has also developed into one of the world’s leading 3D printer solution providers.
Their solutions are generally tailored towards dental applications, but they have recently been printing face shields and nasal swabs due to the demand during Covid-19.
4. Jeffrey Tiong, Founder & CEO, PatSnap
The idea of PatSnap first came to Jeffrey Tiong during a stint at a medical device start-up in the US, where he handled intellectual property due diligence.
Two years later in 2007, he founded PatSnap, which launched the PatSnap Global Patent Analytics Database, an online service that makes patent search and analysis easy to understand and use by those who aren’t intellectual property experts.
Today, Jeffrey oversees six offices globally and about 800 staff. In addition, PatSnap announced the launch of a S$22 million research and development centre in Singapore.
One of his notable achievements was winning the title of EY Entrepreneur Of The Year 2018 Singapore.
5. Kelvin Lee, Co-Founder & CEO, Fundnel
Launched in 2016 by ex-JP Morgan banker Kelvin Lee and two of his colleagues, Fundnel is an online private investment platform that leverages technology and data and provides a network of over 10,000 investors and partners with unlimited access to privately owned companies.
This could mean investing in hyper-local businesses, such as coffee shops and cafes, that may have been overlooked by venture capitalists or private equity investors, or professionally managed private equity funds traditionally reserved for the super affluent due to their high-cost structures.
Today, Fundnel is in six countries across the Asia-Pacific and has completed 36 deals, raising more than US$1.8 billion.
6. Oliver Tan, Co-Founder & CEO, ViSenze
At the height of his professional career, Oliver Tan gave up on his corporate job at age 42 because he was inspired to make an impact in the world after seeing a quote from Steve Jobs.
He got in touch with his current co-founder whom he has known for 12 years at that time and they began looking at this technology that was being developed at the National University of Singapore.
They wanted to develop a really smart tool that understands the way we shop in the real world and bring that online. With that, it can accelerate the buying process as we then don’t have to spend hours in the mall to find a product.
This was how ViSenze, a visual search recognition company that is transforming commerce through Artificial Intelligence, was born.
Their platform enables Visual Shopping on any retail product and its clients include Rakuten, ASOS, Urban Outfitters and Zalora.
7. Dr Piers Ingram, Co-Founder and CEO, Hummingbird Bioscience
After a career in academia at Imperial College London, Dr Piers Ingram came to Singapore in 2010 to do an MBA.
He has always wanted to work at the interface between business and biopharma. Systems biology is a powerful tool for solving biological problems.
However, systems biology ideas had not gained much traction then so he decided to start a company to bring the power of system biology approaches to drug discovery.
With his co-founder Dr. Jerome Boyd-Kirkup who shared a similar philosophy, they set up Hummingbird Bioscience, a biotech company that does just that in 2014.
Today, Hummingbird develops precision therapeutic antibodies for patients and has facilities in Singapore and San Francisco.
8. Raghav Kapoor, Co-Founder And CEO, Smartkarma
Former financier, Raghav Kapoor, alongside two other co-founders wanted to make high-quality information accessible to all in the finance industry.
The three lads previously worked together at Aviate Global (Asia) prior to its acquisition by Religare Capital Markets in 2010, and saw the gap in the industry.
Putting their heads together in Raghav’s attic, they conceived the idea of Smartkarma. They then pooled together their savings and founded the company.
In 2016, Smartkarma was launched. A cloud-based platform, it connects independent investment research analysts to a host of finance professionals such as asset managers, hedge funds, boutiques investment and family offices.
With the established network, independent research analysts can curate and share research easily.
To add on, karma is a Sanskrit word that means action or work, so this platform is offering just that — smart work.
9. Dr Sandhya Sriram, Co-Founder & CEO, Shiok Meats
Born out of their desire to create an alternative to the unsustainable shrimp industry, Dr Sandhya Sriram and Dr Ka Yi Ling leveraged their backgrounds in biology and cell science to build Shiok Meats and craft the world’s first “clean shrimp.”
Today, Shiok Meats is a cell-based clean seafood and meat company, the first of its kind in Singapore and South-East Asia.
Instead of animals, the meats are harvested from cells. This way, their meats are clean, healthy, animal- and environment-friendly with the same taste, texture and with more nutrients.
Lats year, they completed a US$4.6 million seed round and the two ladies have their eyes set on disrupting the US$40 billion shrimp market.
10. Dr Sinuhe Arroyo, Founder & CEO, Taiger
Born and raised in Spain, Dr Sinuhe Arroyo taught himself programming at the age of 10 and has since then earned a PhD in Computer Science in Austria. He also has an MBA.
After his studies, he worked for a software vendor that he helped to take public and completed the acquisition of a target with funds raised.
Upon completing that project, he decided to take the research he had gathered during his PhD and build Taiger from a cow farm in the Austrian Alps.
Subsequently, Taiger was launched in 2009. It specialises in AI-powered Knowledge Work Automation such as chatbots, using computational semantics as well as natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning.
With that, they help their clients increase operational efficiency and expand operations to increase revenue.
11. So-Young Kang, Co-Founder & CEO, Gnowbe
So-Young and her team were looking for a solution that empowered people to take ownership of their learning experiences.
They wanted to replicate the powerful face-to-face transformative learning experience in digital form.
This led them to create Gnowbe in 2015 which connects skills with learning through facilitating ‘learn-by-doing’ and delivering engaging content for learners to constantly upskill and reskill themselves and improve productivity.
It is designed for mobile learners on-the-go and uses the smartphone to chat, text, take photos/videos and connect with others.
Today, So-Young is a regular speaker at events to share about how she built two start-ups, including Gnowbe.
Featured Image Credit: DPM Heng Swee Keat’s Facebook page