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Start-ups sprout up in Geylang

Geylang is quietly emerging as a haven for technology start-ups, despite being usually associated with Singapore's red-light district and other vice activities such as illegal gambling.

SINGAPORE: On Lorong 24a off Geylang Road, there are at least six companies operating out of these historic Peranakan-style shophouses.

One of them is The Co-Foundry, a venture accelerator. It houses several start-ups it has invested in, like Matchimi, which helps match people to part-time jobs, and Taidii, which develops sensor technology to help childcare operators in duties like attendance taking and provides them with business support.

The Co-Foundry's Project Lead Tan Toi Ngee says it boils down to convenience, and character. "Geylang is great. In fact, you have a seven-minute walk to two MRT stations -- one in Aljunied and one in Dakota. And of course, (there is) the very unique character of this area. It's very colourful, and it's really life as you see it. It's very inspirational for some of the start-ups to work in this area." 

Just next door, Viddsee -- an online portal for short films -- works out of this co-living space operated by entrepreneur Darius Cheung. Around the corner is travel start-up BeMyGuest occupies two floors of what was formerly a foreign workers' dormitory.

Rent is even cheaper than at Blk 71 at Ayer Rajah Crescent. Blk 71 is a seven-storey flatted factory building, where start-ups can utilise co-work spaces at concessionary rates. 

"Compared to a shophouse unit in the CBD area which is S$9 per square foot, ours is just S$1.60," said Mr Clement Wong, the founder and Chief Executive Officer of BeMyGuest. "It needed a bit of tender loving care, doing it up, but it's all team-building."

Most of the start-ups are concentrated on Lorong 24a off Geylang Road. Many say they have relocated from places like Blk 71 in Ayer Rajah Crescent, as they outgrew the space.

Still, some property analysts say this Geylang is unlikely to reach the levels of gentrification seen in other neighbourhoods like Tiong Bahru.

"In the Geylang area, there's competing uses for some of the shophouses, and there is not going to be new supply of shophouses that are now under construction. Therefore, for that area to be developed into a hotbed (for) startups incubators - I think that potential is fairly limited," said Mr Nicholas Mak, Executive Director, SLP International Property Consultants.

For now, the start-up edge is adding to the rough, arguably charming character of Geylang. 

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