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Into the valley of giants: Singapore start-ups take a leaf from Silicon Valley

A group of 11 start-ups from Singapore recently visited Silicon Valley as part of TiEcon to seek funding from potential investors and hone their pitching skills. 

SINGAPORE: A total of 11 start-ups in Singapore recently visited Silicon Valley, as part of the entrepreneurship conference TiEcon. They were part of a delegation led by International Enterprise (IE) Singapore, which is supporting efforts by companies to scale up and internationalise.

The trade agency has set aside S$20 million this year to help companies in their business activities overseas in a programme called iMap, or the International Marketing Activities Programme. Under iMap, 50 per cent to 70 per cent of eligible core expenses of companies are subsidised by IE Singapore through trade associations and chambers of commerce.

TiEcon is one of more than 260 activities that will be supported under this programme this year.

One of the key objectives of TiEcon is for participants to seek funding from potential investors. Start-ups also learn how to improve their pitches, as well as network with mentors and explore opportunities to expand into new markets.

Companies first had to pitch their product ideas to IE Singapore, which then decided who would go for the trip. "What's important is always the unique selling point (USP), the value proposition of the idea. That's probably number one. The quality of the pitch, that's where the passion and the clarity is important,” said Mr Satvinder Singh, assistant CEO at IE Singapore.

He added that cherry-picking only the best was necessary "because we wanted to bring relevant ideas to the marketplace".

CONNECTING START-UPS WITH INVESTORS

One of the start-ups that made the cut is digital lock-maker, igloohome. Users of its products can unlock doors via PIN codes or through Bluetooth. The firm says such locks are useful for sharing economy services such as Airbnb. Home owners who are renting out their homes can simply set PIN codes to expire after a certain duration.

CEO and co-founder of igloohome Anthony Chow said the company wants to expand regionally and commercialise its digital locks. A segment at TiEcon called VC Connect was particularly eye-opening.

"Over a period of one hour, it's almost like speed dating, where you get to spend three minutes with each venture capitalist, and at the end of three minutes they sound a bell, and you move on to the next one. So over the period of one hour you speak to 20 venture capitalists from the Silicon Valley, and you instantly get a lot of ways to improve your pitch in a more concise and impactful manner," Mr Chow said.

Another start-up which participated in the TiEcon event is SoCash, which is building a platform to allow consumers to withdraw cash from third-party merchants such as cafes and grocery stores. It said being an early-stage start-up, it faces many challenges.

“Everyday is a challenge. Building a team in Singapore is hard, while we have all these big companies, it is very hard to compete with them in the market in terms of brand and salary. Raising funds is a challenge, our ecosystem is still young, but gaining traction,” said its Chief Operating Officer Bogdan Metehoiu. Still, SoCash said it welcomes the support from agencies such as IE Singapore and Spring Singapore.


Screenshot of SoCash

Prof Arcot Desai Narasimhalu, director of the Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, at the Singapore Management University, said trips like the one organised by IE Singapore are a good way for startups to connect with investors and glean insights from the community.

"They are very useful for companies to understand what the marketplace is like, what kind of funding is given to similar companies, and some of these investors may also be willing to invest through the friends in Singapore. They are all experienced investors, and some of them are entrepreneurs as well, so they can learn a lot."

Mr Singh added that there are plans to continue organising such trips for start-ups from Singapore. “They are looking for new funding, they are looking for new mentors, and they are looking for new markets. I think this was a good foray for the 11 start-ups that we brought to Silicon Valley, and we would probably want to continue that next year.”