When you think about the leading innovation hubs around the world, Singapore probably doesn’t come to mind as quickly as places like Silicon Valley, Israel or Shanghai. But this is starting to change. Andrew Wildblood, Telstra’s Country Managing Director for Singapore believes this is only the beginning of the country’s rise as an innovation hub for South East Asia.
One of the great things about working in technology in Singapore is the vibrant startup scene with several key conditions in place for the startup ecosystem to take off here. We have a diverse population, often well-educated, with ubiquitous internet access. The World Bank already ranks Singapore as the easiest place in the world to do business and the Government is committed to policies that go even further to encourage entrepreneurs, including investing in research institutions and startup grants, under the ‘Smart Nation’ vision.
Also Singapore shares some similarities with Israel in being a small country with limited natural resources, market size and population, and therefore really doesn’t have much choice other than pursuing economic opportunities through innovation and digital technology.
As new businesses and technologies have started to emerge in recent years, In Singapore, Telstra has ramped up our involvement in Singapore as part of our strategy to grow our business in Asia.
Through Telstra Ventures we invested in late stage, Singaporean headquartered startup Near in 2014, participating in their US$19 million Series B funding round. Near is now the largest location intelligence platform offering unique insights and data to the advertising industry. In addition to the Singaporean market, it is expanding in Australia, India and Japan with other markets on the way.
In 2015, we followed up with an investment in Singaporean-based enepath, which specialises in communication technology for the financial services sector. Given the consumption of communication services by financial institutions, this has turned out to be a great example of the benefits a large incumbent player like Telstra can gain from working with emerging tech companies, as we were able to leverage enepath’s expertise in services to trading rooms to quickly launch a new product solution called Telstra Trader Voice to offer our customers in the financial service industry.
To grow our network further, we recently made an investment in the Singapore-based Monk’s Hill Ventures Innovation Fund. A creation of successful entrepreneurs Peng Ong and Kuo-Yi Li and named after a Singaporean secondary school they both spent time at, Monk’s Hill is focused on mobile applications, cloud, security and IoT technologies across South East Asia, assessing up to 1,000 investment opportunities every year.
Of course it takes a lot of work to get a startup to the stage where someone like Telstra Ventures or Monk’s Hill might invest. This is where accelerators like Telstra’s muru-D program help.
We launched muru-D in Singapore last year to support startups from across the South East Asia. Through muru-D we provide a selected group of early stage startups access to some seed capital, office space and expert advice and mentors to take their ideas to the next level.
The first cohort of nine startups under muru-D Singapore graduated a couple of months ago and there was some great businesses in the mix. For example, sendhelper gives households on-demand access to pre-screened and insured cleaners, cooks, and laundromats through a simple and slick mobile app. The company is looking at expanding in South East Asia and Hong Kong and found muru-D very useful in helping them to effectively getting exposure to investors, media, and other key stakeholders in the region.
Philippines-based Stash also benefitted from the network of mentors who provided valuable insights, advice, and connections for the company to grow. Stash is a claims management platform for health insurance companies and doctors that is easy to use and lower risk of fraud.
For supporters of the startup scene in Singapore there was a lot to get excited about in muru-D’s first set of graduates. First, there was the passion and energy of a highly committed group of entrepreneurs. Second, there was the diversity of entrepreneurs it attracted, with people from Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam participating, as well as local Singaporeans. Finally, there was the global outlook of the group with everyone focused on how they could build a business that would succeed outside Singapore.
This last point is absolutely critical, because if Singapore is to become a leader in innovation, it is going to need its startups and entrepreneurs to take their products to the world. Some of the foundations are right and as I have described there are some fantastic entrepreneurs with disruptive technology emerging, now we will see if they will succeed at scale on a global level and how Telstra might be able to help.
Read more in our Ventures series