Monday 19 January 2015

Start-ups have 'key role in smart nation drive'

They can develop new ideas and apps that can be used in initiative: Minister
By Grace Chng, Senior Correspondent, The Straits Times, 17 Jan 2015

THE importance of start-ups in Singapore's drive to become a smart nation was highlighted at an event showcasing 12 fledgling businesses.

Minister of Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said start-ups can develop new ideas and apps that can be used in the country's smart nation initiative.

The Government has provided funding and a platform for start-ups to emerge, he added.

He also called on the private sector to get involved "to ride on the platform to develop new services and apps".

Dr Yaacob was speaking to the media yesterday after hearing investment pitches from some of the 12 start-ups that completed a 100-day boot camp run by tech accelerator Joyful Frog Digital Incubator (JFDI).

About 100 investors attended the event at the Tab entertainment venue next to Orchard Hotel yesterday.

Later, when asked by the master of ceremonies Hian Goh what he thought of the pitching event, he said it was an "exciting and wonderful event".

"The Government wants to see more of such events, in line with Singapore's smart nation initiative," he added. The events would also go a long way in making Singapore not only a smart nation but also a hub for entrepreneurship, he added.

Of the pitches he heard, Dr Yaacob said he could identify with Geckolife, which is a safe social app for families, children and groups because he was "a family man". "The idea of knowing who your kids are interacting with is useful," he said.

He added that he was impressed with a few entrepreneurs who were "on the wrong side of 50".

"It's not about being young or old. Forget your age, do something exciting," he said.

This is the first time a Cabinet minister has attended an investment pitching event.

JFDI is the first accelerator to receive government funding from Infocomm Investment, a unit of the Infocomm Development Authority.

The unit's chief executive, Mr Alex Lin, told The Straits Times that the 12 start-ups were "investment ready". "They were clear about their business models, they had customers, some even had revenue. So, they are ready for funding," he said.

Initially, he said he feared that some of the companies would not make the cut because they were not razor sharp in their business model.

"Today, I saw that JFDI had polished them up and helped them with their business ideas. So, the accelerator model works. We hope to work with other accelerators," he added.

Venture capitalist William Klippgen said he was impressed with the start-ups, and he felt all of them would find investment.

Mr Lim Kuo-Yi, a venture partner at Monks Hill Ventures, said Singapore's start-up ecosystem has gained some maturity.

The 12 start-ups came from Singapore and countries such as Poland, India, Thailand and Australia. Their businesses focus on areas such as lifestyle, logistics and cyber security.

JFDI, which has been operating for about five years, invested about $25,000 in each start-up and provided more than $150,000 in kind. This included office space, mentoring and training.

In the boot camp, the start-ups learnt, among other things, to test their business assumptions with customers and, if necessary, refine their business model. They also learnt how to pitch to investors.

So far, 50 start-ups have graduated from JFDI's boot camp.

Many start-ups, such as enterprise search firm Silent Eight from Poland, has already signed up corporate customers in Singapore and hopes to get US$70 million (S$93 million) in revenue in three years. Its chief executive Martin Markiewicz, commenting on the boot camp, said: "We have had incredible support from mentors and made valuable connections in the industry."

He said JFDI's experience in helping start-ups offering business services - like building a partner network to sell software - was relevant in helping his firm shape its business. "With the best practices shared by the community, we've saved ourselves a year by not making the same mistakes."

JFDI co-founder Wong Meng Weng said the 12 start-ups came well-prepared for the boot camp.

The accelerator worked with them to validate their businesses through its pre-accelerator programmes. It paid off as many teams received investment offers even before the pitching session yesterday. Mr Wong said: "Our past success rate is usually over 50 per cent, in that more than half our teams raise seed funding in the $500,000 range. I expect this batch to beat that record handily."

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