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If you’re a founder who’s active in the startup community, you would likely have heard of Antler.

But if you’ve never heard of them, Antler is a global early-stage venture capital firm that backs founders from day zero with pre-seed and seed capital. They also participate in follow-on funding of up to US$10 million for growth-stage startups at Series A and beyond.

Originally from Singapore, Antler is now present in 30 locations around the world, and ventured into Malaysia just last October. Since then, the local office successfully completed two cohorts and have backed more than 10 companies already.

The country head and associate partner in charge of investing in various stages of companies here is Frank Kang.

Frank himself has been a founder for the past 17 years, and has been in Malaysia for more than 10 years.

Recently, he posted on LinkedIn that his team is going to invest US$3 million into early-stage startups in Malaysia in the next six months. At US$600,000 per investment, this would support five companies.

The post also shared that this is open to startups that are in the pre-launch, pre-seed, and seed funding stages. That means it’s open to individuals who are still ideating, as well as companies with co-founders that are already building.

But how exactly will Antler be making these investments? What is their investment ethos? What kind of founder are they looking for?

We reached out to Frank to find out.

More than just funds

Explaining how Antler’s investments work, Frank said, “After spending time with founders during our residencies, we will first invest US$110K in selected startups—this is usually the company’s very first institutional capital.”

Over the next six to nine months, Antler will commit to providing follow-on funding and matching of the amount raised from external institutional investors to a certain cap.

Image Credit: Antler

Of course, financial investments aren’t the only way Antler can help build a venture.

Antler is also able to enhance entrepreneurs with substantial industry experience by providing access to a diverse global network of mentors and experts. 

They also help facilitate other funding opportunities by connecting startups with investors across various sectors, expanding financial support and partnership options. 

Their international presence provides a global perspective, crucial for scaling beyond regional boundaries.

Investing in strong founders

In terms of what kind of startups Antler looks for, they maintain a sector-agnostic approach but predominantly invest in technology-enabled solutions, leveraging their inherent scalability. 

“Our mission is to back the most driven founders, day zero to greatness,” Frank elaborated. “And so, we truly believe that exceptional talent can come from anywhere in the world and any sector they innovate for.”

He added, “It is critical for startups to have the right talent and skill sets within its founding team to build innovative solutions that can scale.”

Image Credit: Antler

The founding team should be experienced in launching from “zero to one”, be it across corporate or startup experience. This is because Frank believes it takes a different mindset and capability to build and launch something from scratch, and move quickly from there.

Solving problems that only startups can

Another thing Antler is looking for is “big problem statements”.

As Frank put it, there are thousands of problems out there, but only a few problems can be solved by startups.

“In the complex landscape of business challenges, startups have a unique capacity to tackle specific problems that larger, more established enterprises may overlook or find difficult to address,” he elaborated.

These problems that startups are adept at solving typically involve gaps in existing solutions, emerging trends that demand fresh perspectives, or unmet needs in rapidly evolving markets. 

Antler is also a proud partner of Khazanah’s Dana Impak, which is a cornerstone of Khazanah’s Advancing Malaysia strategy. Basically, it’s a fund that focuses on six key themes aligned with national challenges and opportunities.

Image Credit: Antler

These include Digital Society and Technology, Quality Health and Education for all, Decent Work and Social Mobility, Food and Energy Security, Building Climate Resilience, Competing in Global Markets, enhancing Malaysia’s position in international trade and investment.

So, these would be themes that Antler will emphasise on, too.

Frank added that meditech, manufacturing tech, logistics, Islamic financing, and renewable energy sectors hold strong potential in Malaysia’s startup scene.

At the core of it, Antler scouts and accepts solo founders and early-stage pre-formed teams into their Residency. 

“To give you a bit more information about our MY2 residency programme founder profiles, there were over 1,000 applications, and 70+ founders joined the programme,” Frank shared.

For solo founders coming into the residency, Antler would assess them based on similar aspects relating to founder profile and skillsets, as well as understanding their thought processes.

Values that they look for include:

  • Grit: The ability to persist through challenges without giving up
  • Drive: The ambition and inner drive to achieve big outcomes 
  • Spike: A strong attribute that sets your skills and experiences apart from the crowd 
Image Credit: Antler

For pre-formed teams/startups, Antler selects them based on criteria such as:

  • A talented founding team with complementary skill sets relevant for the business, 
  • execution capability based on founders’ prior experience,
  • a compelling problem-solution fit, 
  • market opportunity (big market size) potential,
  • execution capability based on founders’ prior experience, and 
  • scalability of the business. 

The desired qualities include resilience, creativity, and a willingness to take risks. 

“Valuing expertise in crucial domains such as technology, product development, marketing, sales, and business strategy, Antler expects prospective candidates to contribute collaboratively and positively to dynamic team environments,” Frank said.

Certain of uncertainty

As Frank said, investing in early-stage startups is like diving into uncharted waters filled with uncertainties.

“At Antler, our biggest challenge is the inherent risk—many startups are in the early stages, with unproven business models and markets that are yet to be validated,” he pointed out.

Without historical performance metrics, it’s challenging to gauge which startups have the potential to scale.

That’s why the team spent 10 weeks of their residency programme together with founders, scrutinising the team’s capabilities, market potential, and scalability of their ideas.

But despite these challenges, the potential for impactful innovation and substantial returns pushes Antler forward in their commitment to support and nurture promising startups through their early stages.

“Entrepreneurship is a lonely journey, during this long and lonely trip, your first backer and mentor could back you not only for the first time, but also the second, third, and until the end, always be with you,” Frank mused.

“That means so much for founders. And Antler wants to be an entrepreneur’s lifetime companion,” he added. “I was thinking that if I had Antler before, my 17 years of entrepreneurship would have been less lonely.”

  • Learn more about Antler here.
  • Read other articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.

Featured Image Credit: Antler

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(UEN 201431998C.)

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