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Startups get a fillip at one-north Festival

Gobi announces US$200m VC fund; oBike raises US$45m in funding; A*Star launches chatbot for SMEs with Startup-O

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A man showcases the capabilities of the Internet of Screens on Wednesday (Aug 16) at the Media Exploits showcase and conference, part of the One-North Festival.

Singapore

STARTUP activity was kicked up a notch on Wednesday, with the launch of the one-north Festival, a four-day celebration of entrepreneurship, innovation and research co-organised by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) and JTC.

First, venture capital firm Gobi Partners announced a new US$200 million fund for investing in Series B and C rounds of South-east Asian startups. Known as the Meranti Asean Growth Fund, it is said to be one of the largest of such funds in the region.

Gobi said on Wednesday that the fund will invest between US$5 million and US$20 million in each of about 15 growth-stage companies with a focus on artificial intelligence (AI), e-commerce, fintech and TaqwaTech (ventures serving the Muslim community).

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Thomas Tsao, co-founder of Gobi, noted a funding gap for growth-stage startups in the region; there are relatively more funds focused on early-stage and late-stage investing in South-east Asia, which makes Gobi's latest fund a "perfect vehicle at a perfect time", he said.

He added: "The joke is that it's easier to raise US$100 million than US$10 million, so expect more growth-stage funds to be set up."

Gobi, which counts Singapore crowdfunding platform Crowdo and tech company DeClout among its portfolio companies, has raised the first US$50 million of its latest fund. Its three initial limited partners are Malaysia Venture Capital Management Berhad, Korea's GS Shop and Indonesia's CKM.

On Wednesday, homegrown bike-sharing operator oBike announced that it has raised US$45 million in Series B funding. Its investors include California-based venture-capital firm Grishin Robotics, an un-named global-transportation platform and several family offices in South-east Asia.

oBike said this round of funding will enable it to "shift gears and become a global player" in bike-sharing. Since its launch in Singapore in January, it has grown its network to cover more than 10 markets; these include Australia, Germany, Malaysia, Netherlands, Taiwan, Thailand the UK.

Edward Chen, co-founder of oBike, said: "We aim to bring our success story in Singapore to other parts of the world with this round of funding. We hope to empower commuters globally with flexibility and convenience, while helping them reduce their carbon footprint."

oBike's funding comes at a time of intensifying competition among bike-sharing operators here. Last month, ofo said it had raised more than US$700 million in Series E funding; Mobike has said it will introduce a fleet of bikes designed for Singapore's roads.

Meanwhile, Negobot, a negotiation chatbot platform focused on serving Singapore's small and medium enterprises (SMEs), was launched on Wednesday.

This venture was created by ETPL, the commercialisation arm of A*Star, and Startup-O, a Singapore-based platform that offers startups access to entrepreneurial resources, go-to-market expertise and in-market access networks.

The launch of Negobot was staged at the one-north Festival as a "real-time venture creation" event.

In a closed-door setting, participants were given the opportunity to act as company directors and guide the Negobot team on stage through the making of key business decisions.

At the end of the event, each participant was gifted one share of the company, with the possibility of eventual equity ownership.

Anuj Jain, co-founder of Startup-O, told The Business Times that the current innovation process here, particularly with deep technologies, is "fragmented and very inefficient".

ETPL chief Philip Lim added: "The collaboration with Startup-O is a prime example of how ETPL works collaboratively with experienced entrepreneurs early in the startup formation process.

"As products are being developed based on market needs, business plans are also being shaped and the team is being formed. This is speed to market."

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