Powerbank sharing and 'smart' helmets: Singapore start-ups aim for CES 2019 splash

Powerbank sharing and 'smart' helmets: Singapore start-ups aim for CES 2019 splash

Shareasy, the company behind the Brezze-branded powerbank rental boxes, and smart helmet device maker Whyre are among more than a dozen homegrown businesses heading to the annual consumer tech conference later in January.

Powerbank rental Brezze
Afraid your mobile device will run out of juice? That's the problem Shareasy CEO Jimmy Goh is hoping to address with his Brezze powerbank rental service. 

SINGAPORE: The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas has been a mainstay event of the consumer tech industry for years now, and the upcoming one in January is no different - with self-driving vehicles, artificial intelligence-infused everything and 5G set to be the main buzzwords.

Amid the buzz, a contingent of Singapore companies, including several first-time participants, will be showcasing their offerings at the tech event which starts on Jan 9.

More than a dozen firms will be flying the country’s flag this time round, including the likes of Razer, Creative Technology and Xmi, which will showcase their next innovations in gaming and audio tech.

There are also those making their debut, with Zimplistic, the company behind the automated flatbread-making machine Rotimatic that was mentioned by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day Rally in 2016, one of them.

READ: Eight years of stubbornness to give birth to their roti-maker

Then there are the lesser-known participants such as Shareasy with its powerbank rental business and Whyre  of the smart helmet innovation. Channel NewsAsia finds out what these two companies hope to get out of the trip.

POWERBANK SHARING, EASY BREZZE?

For Shareasy CEO Jimmy Goh, its Brezze powerbank sharing business model was something he stumbled upon.

In an interview with Channel NewsAsia ahead of CES, Mr Goh shared how he has been in the 3Cs business - cable, casing and chargers - for about 16 years. But in 2016, he started to explore alternatives to grow the company.

He knew automation was the way to go and was keen to create vending machines for electronics accessories, like those commonly seen at airports like Changi Airport today. It was a trip to China, with the aim of finding makers of these vending machines, that he chanced on the powerbank-sharing model and made him pivot from his original idea.

“We were at an exhibition in China and we saw the AnkerBox (made by Chinese accessories maker Anker),” Mr Goh recounted. He said he broached the idea of bringing AnkerBox to Singapore and other markets in partnership with Anker, but the company was not ready to expand overseas then.

He was smitten by the concept though, and has since ploughed in slightly more than S$1 million to make Brezze a viable business.

The premise was simple: Sign up retail partners who are willing to house Shareasy’s portable charging box at their shops, with consumers using the Brezze app to locate one of the boxes an unlock a powerbank with a scan of the QR code. These powerbanks come with USB Type-C, micro-USB and Apple’s Lightning connectors, which addresses the vast majority of mobile phones in the market today, the CEO said.

“(Brezze) is ideal for those who travel a lot, as they can get a battery pack at one point, say at a train station, and return it at their final destination,” Mr Goh explained.

NETWORKING, NETWORKING, NETWORKING

The company has a team of 14 in China working on developing the app as well as the software behind the charging box. The CEO hopes that, in time and with a critical user base, it will be able to track consumers’ movements as they use the powerbanks and with that, open up further opportunities such as serving ads or promotions via partnerships with retailers.

He acknowledged that the business is still in a nascent stage, as retailers and users are only slowly joining the platform.

In Singapore, the app has seen 14,000 downloads with about 2,000 to 3,000 active monthly users. For it to be sustainable, that figure needs to grow by about 100 times, the CEO estimated.

He also hoped to bring this model to other markets and create a “cross-border powerbank rental system”.

This is where CES comes in, as Mr Goh said the main intention of participating in the upcoming consumer tech trade show is to network and sign up interested partners and bring Brezze to other markets.

It has already inked deals with partners in places like Russia, Japan, Nigeria and the Netherlands, but the jetsetting CEO is not content.

“We still need more partners,” Mr Goh said.

READY, SET, RIDE

Fellow CES participant Whyre, while further back in the development curve, is no less confident it is able to crack open the market for “smart” motorcycle helmets - and improve road safety while at it.

The five-men start-up comprising mostly recent graduates of Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) bagged the top prize at last year’s SUTD 10K Business Innovation Competition with its Omni smart helmet. Not content to just leave it as that, the team led by CEO Tan Yi Shu decided to make a business out of their winning idea.

As it did so, it took on suggestions and feedback. Whyre eventually decided against developing a fully kitted out helmet after comments and wishlists it gathered from the local motorbike-riding community.

Instead, it worked on creating a two-piece heads-up display (HUD) attachment that would provide rear view, speedometer and real-time map navigation, shared Mr Glen Ong, chief business development officer for the year-old start-up.

Whyre smart helmet HUD 2
The Argon attachment at the front not just serves as a display device, but also houses a front-facing camera to record the ride. 

Chatting with Channel NewsAsia ahead of making their maiden trip to Las Vegas, Mr Ong said its Argon HUD has garnered positive interest, particularly after Whyre showcased its concept at the Singapore Bike Show in August last year.

Without an actual product to show for then, it clinched four deposits of S$149 each from riding enthusiasts, while there were also more than 500 who have registered their interest in the HUD when it does enter the market, he shared.

Argon has a projected retail price of US$679 (S$922), comparable with what another vendor Nuviz already has out in the market at US$699, he added.

A full “minimum viable product” was on show when this reporter visited the start-up at its SUTD base, and Mr Ong was keen to point out how Whyre was conscientious in taking on the feedback given.

Whyre smart helmet HUD
Whyre created a simplified turn-by-turn navigation system after speaking to motorbike riders on what they are looking for in a smart helmet, says Mr Glen Ong. (Photo: Whyre)

One example was the map navigation, with riders pointing out they don’t need the full map experience as seen on smartphones. Rather, what they wanted was a simplified turn-by-turn navigation layout that would only require split-second comprehension, he explained, adding this is part of the current prototype.

It also helps that its main corporate investor to date is local optical manufacturing experts Moveon Technologies, allowing it to tap on the latter’s know-how to refine Argon’s display, CEO Tan, who was at the same interview, chimed in. The backer has also put up S$250,000 to advance the start-up’s vision, he added.

CES 2019, then, would be the opportunity to introduce Argon to a wider audience for feedback ahead of plans to crowdfund the actual production before delivering the offering to backers by the middle of next year, Mr Ong said.

New Year, new hopes. It’s no surprise then that Singapore companies like Shareasy and Whyre are hoping to strike proverbial gold at the upcoming CES. If anything, Las Vegas - as a city built in a desert - proves that anything is, indeed, possible.

Source: CNA/kk

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