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Trendlines invests in Singapore medtech

The company is now part of i2Start and is collaborating with venture capital firm K2 Global.

From left: Mr Loh and Mr Rhodes point out that Trendlines has formed 'a number of important relationships in the last couple of years' and that the firm will invest in more medtech companies.

THE Trendlines Group has had a good start to 2018.

Trendlines is a Catalist-listed, Israel- and Singapore-based incubator of medical and agricultural technology startups.

The company's share price does not reflect that. The stock has more than halved from its issue price of 33 Singapore cents a share in November 2015 to 15 Singapore cents today. But through its partnerships, it has taken big steps to build up the medtech ecosystem in Singapore.

In January, Trendlines announced its participation in i2Start, a new initiative in Singapore that supports clinician or institutional researcher-led projects. i2Start provides projects with a grant of up to S$1.25 million each to spin off or commercialise their solutions, and is backed by the Singapore MIT Alliance Research Technology, National Health Innovation Centre and Spring Singapore.

In February, Trendlines announced its collaboration with Singapore-based venture capital firm K2 Global, and their joint appointment as one of nine co-investment partners under the Startup SG Equity programme. The latter, managed by Spring, aims to catalyse more than S$200 million worth of investments into tech startups based in Singapore over the next eight years.

These collaborations come after Trendlines said last year that it had inked a partnership with the National Healthcare Group (NHG) to build a pipeline of medtech startups and solutions for the global market. That marked its first collaboration with a healthcare institution in Singapore.

Steve Rhodes, co-chief of Trendlines, told The Business Times recently that the company has entered into "a number of important relationships in the last couple of years", and one of which is with German medical device company B Braun. The cornerstone investor in Trendlines' initial public offering is also an investor in its Singapore incubator, Trendlines Medical Singapore.

Mr Rhodes said: "Our relationship with B Braun has just blossomed. They participated in our private placement in October and have invested in three of our portfolio companies. There probably isn't a week that goes by that we're not talking to B Braun about some cooperation or another."

Another important partner of Trendlines is German healthcare and agriculture company Bayer, he added. In 2016, Bayer and Trendlines established the Bayer Trendlines Ag Innovation Fund - in which Bayer would invest US$10 million - to invest in early-stage agritech portfolio companies of Trendlines that could be of interest to Bayer.

Mr Rhodes said: "Our partnership with Bayer has been very productive and attracted deal flow. We have made one joint investment so far and we expect to make more soon."

Last June, Bayer and Trendlines announced that they would set up a new company, IBI-Ag, to research and develop a novel and environment-friendly pest management platform for crop protection.

This year, Trendlines intends to start up about 12 new companies across its global incubators, as well as cut operational costs and boost shareholder engagement. The group's "most valuable portfolio company" - a name it has kept secret - will also launch the sale of its medical device product, to which rights were sold to an unnamed buyer in 2014, said Mr Rhodes.

"Trendlines will be receiving royalties for this product, for which we are making plans to sell worldwide. We are building a high-volume manufacturing facility for the product and we hope to have additional announcements about that soon."

For Singapore, Eric Loh, chief of Trendlines Medical Singapore, said the firm will invest in more medtech companies - there are two investments in the pipeline - and develop new projects with local partners such as NHG.

"Our interactions with NHG have been encouraging," he added. "Their physicians are very forthcoming with the issues they face, several of which are relevant for the clinical markets globally. We see solutions out of Singapore, that will be relevant not just for the local context."

Mr Loh also said that Trendlines has a place in Singapore's medtech ecosystem. "Singapore has many clinicians with good ideas about how to solve problems. But they don't know how to run companies. So incubators like Trendlines Medical Singapore are useful for translating ideas and taking care of the running of companies."

While such partnerships have been more symbolic than fruitful so far - they have not amounted to much - they suggest that Trendlines is actively engaging and taking the lead to build up Singapore's medtech ecosystem, which is still relatively nascent and where commercialisation efforts of medtech solutions are still lacking.

For this reason, partnerships or ecosystem-building efforts in general could be a better metric by which to measure the performance of Trendlines - at least over the next few years.