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Blazing new trails in the tech world

These winning companies at the SiTF Awards share the story of their groundbreaking solutions and the cutting edge technologies behind them

‘There is a stereotype belief that artificial intelligence (AI) is more developed in the West. Hence, many clients tend to take Western companies more seriously. However, in our branch of AI, context affects accuracy tremendously.' - Daryl Neo (DC Frontiers)

‘We received a lot of feedback from customers saying that they really appreciate that the product works offline. Maintenance of the lock is minimal for them, and it's very easy for them to grant access to others when they're away from home.' - Anthony Chow (igloohome)

From left: FoodZaps' co-founders Chelsea Chan and Rina Loh and founder Winson Tan.

‘We are currently incorporated in several major countries around the world. Our plan is to continue establishing our presence in international markets and to build a strong customer base there.' - Lee Junxian (CashShield)

Roundtable participants:

Daryl Neo, CEO and co-founder, DC Frontiers (Gold Winner – Best Innovative Infocomm Product/ Solution: Artificial Intelligence/ Big Data)

Anthony Chow, CEO and co-founder, igloohome (Gold Winner – Best Innovative Infocomm Product/ Solution: Internet of Things)

Winson Tan, founder; Rina Loh, co-founder; FoodZaps (Gold Winner – Best Innovative Infocomm Product/ Solution: Digital Services)

Lee Junxian, co-founder and CFO, CashShield (Gold winner – Best Innovative Infocomm Product/ Solution: Cyber Security)

Moderator: Francis Kan

The Business Times: Briefly describe the unique features of your solution and what problems it addresses.

Daryl Neo (DC Frontiers): Handshakes SEER is an artificial intelligence engine that specialises in understanding English text and very accurately identifying corporate information and relationships.

SEER is able to achieve world leading accuracy due to a unique approach we have taken in honing its ability through deep learning. This accuracy lends itself well to the reliable extraction of intelligence from static sources such as archived documents and e-mail, as well as live sources such as the news and social media.

Anthony Chow (igloohome): The igloohome Smart Deadbolt 02 allows home owners to grant access to their visitors remotely via a mobile app.

Home owners can select the duration for which they want to give access, and then send a PIN code or bluetooth key over to the guest. Homeowners can also view the access logs of when each guest entered.

As the igloohome Smart Deadbolt 02 works offline, there are no concerns over WiFi connectivity or hacking. The technology behind our devices involves synchronisation and encryption, similar to that found in Internet banking tokens.

igloohome is a partner of Airbnb. After a reservation on Airbnb is confirmed, igloohome automatically sends the guest a personalised PIN code to enter the host's property. When the guest checks out, the PIN code is automatically deactivated.

Rina Loh (FoodZaps): FoodZaps is the world's first do-it-yourself (DIY) Android mobile point of sale (POS) system for cafes, restaurants and bars. Simply download from Google Play and F&B businesses can use the system to streamline orders management, inventory and reporting.

The app can be downloaded on a restaurant's mobile devices and connected to a Wi-Fi router, cash drawer or receipt printer.

The app can be used to customise menus, or track transactions for inventory and accounting purposes. Users can also receive auto-generated sales reports, or be alerted when stocks are running low.

Lee Junxian (CashShield): The traditional way of identifying and preventing cyber attacks using humans or manual reviews are no longer effective because hackers themselves are using machine learning to attack businesses.

CashShield is the world's first and only end-to-end fully machine automated fraud prevention solution that functions without the need for human intervention.

The system is powered by high-frequency trading algorithms, combined with real-time pattern recognition and passive biometric analytics.

Rather than simply providing risk scores, our system provides merchants with a real-time decision to accept or reject incoming transactions.

BT: How did the idea for your product come about?

Daryl Neo (DC Frontiers): We started out with the objective of automating the process of information extraction that powered our first product, the Handshakes Platform. I am glad to say that SEER has already taken over a significant amount of the manual work, allowing our colleagues to do higher value-adding work.

Along the way, we realised SEER could become a product in its own right. So we began commercialising its capabilities in information extraction and news surveillance.

Anthony Chow (igloohome): One of our co-founders was an Airbnb host prior to the formation of igloohome. He himself faced a lot of issues with the coordination of key exchanges with his guests and cleaners, especially when there were flight delays or when guests arrived in the wee hours of the morning.

As such, the co-founders wanted to come up with a solution that could allow people to grant access remotely, at whatever time was convenient to them.

Winson Tan (FoodZaps): It started in 2014, when I ordered a meal at an eatery and the food took ages to arrive. The waiter also brought me the wrong dish - twice. After speaking to the restaurant owner, I found that as they were a small establishment they could not afford technology to improve their processes. This made me wonder how I could create an efficient yet affordable menu ordering point of sales (POS) system that is scaleable and user friendly.

One of our co-founders, Chelsea Chan, experienced similar difficulties when she was running her own restaurant, Gion Dining.

She was shocked to learn that a basic tablet POS system retails at a whopping $120,000.

Lee Junxian (CashShield): As a student, our CEO and co-founder Justin Lie already saw the opportunities brought about by the advent of e-commerce and online payments, and he set up a cross border e-commerce business on eBay.

When his sites were attacked by fraudsters, he devised his own algorithms on whether to accept or reject a transaction, which would later develop into the more sophisticated CashShield system today.

BT: What were the challenges faced in getting the business off the ground, and how did you overcome them?

Daryl Neo (DC Frontiers): There is a stereotype belief that artificial intelligence (AI) is more developed in the West.

Hence, many clients tend to take Western companies more seriously. However, in our branch of AI, context affects accuracy tremendously.

For example, Western names and Asian names follow very different patterns and conventions.

An AI that handles Western names well may not handle Asian names as well. So we focus on training SEER on regional material, such as local news and other regional text sources.

Anthony Chow (igloohome): One of the challenges we faced at the beginning stemmed from the fact that our previous product required a WiFi connection to work.

While there were pros of having an online product, there were cons as well; for example when the WiFi was down the lock no longer responded.

So we decided to do R&D to come up with a product that could work offline, which eventually led to the igloohome Smart Deadbolt. This makes the lock more reliable, more secure and also more suitable for deployment in places that had little or no Internet connection.

Winson Tan (FoodZaps): One early challenge we had was transforming mindsets among business owners in Singapore and getting users to come on board in 2016.

Being used to legacy systems, it took enterprises a while to understand how FoodZaps works. After learning how to utilise the app, they were surprised at how nimble and seamless workflow and operations can be.

Lee Junxian (CashShield): CashShield started in 2008, but the Asian market for payments and e-commerce was too small to sustain the company's growth back then. As such, we saw the importance of looking beyond Asia, venturing into Europe and the US to clinch our first clients. That created another challenge, as technology brands from Asia were not well recognised by Western enterprises at that time.

To overcome this, we had to incorporate a Swiss entity and brand our product as Swiss technology to sell in Europe.

CashShield's technology was built ahead of its time - machine learning was still relatively unheard of 10 years ago - but this gave us time to build the most complex and relevant solution today, and contributed to our recent hyper-growth stage.

BT: What has been the response to the product and who are your key customers?

Daryl Neo (DC Frontiers): SEER has been in the market for less than a year, and most people who see it are amazed at what has become possible with AI.

We focus on corporate customers who have a need for real-time text analytics, mainly for surveillance and market intelligence, or archive information extraction, usually for the purpose of knowledge management and semantic searching.

Anthony Chow (igloohome): The response to the product has been very good.

We received a lot of feedback from customers saying that they really appreciate that the product works offline.

Maintenance of the lock is minimal for them, and it's very easy for them to grant access to others when they're away from home.

A lot of customers have also mentioned that our price point is much more affordable than other digital locks out there in the market, which may not have as many features as ours does.

Our key customers are home and property owners, and rental hosts. We have hardware distributors that support our sales across 20 countries globally and we are also official partners of major home sharing platforms such as Airbnb and Homeaway.

Winson Tan (FoodZaps): The response has been heartening, as users love the simplicity of the FoodZaps app to run an F&B business expertly and easily.

In Singapore, our customers include Cedele, Gu Thai Noodles Café, Hattendo Café and Chef Erich from Erich's Wuerstelstand. Currently, FoodZaps is also onboarding local F&B chain Five Group to replace their existing legacy point of sales system to the FoodZaps solution.

FoodZaps also has fans all over the globe. Without local support, the app is supporting 18 restaurants in Chile, and has more than 320 clients in places such as the US, UK, South Africa, Spain, Mexico, and South-east Asia.

FoodZaps' point of sales app is even being used on a food truck on a Caribbean Island.

Lee Junxian (CashShield): Our key customers are varied across different verticals, such as online games, airlines and travel, on-demand services, e-commerce, online ticketing, telcos, luxury goods and digital gift cards.

As the only full machine-automated solution in the world with the ability to deliver real-time decisions, companies are progressively switching over.

Several of our clients, such as gaming company Razer, have even become client advocates of CashShield. Since our inception, we have maintained a 100 per cent merchant retention rate.

BT: What is the next step in your company's growth?

Daryl Neo (DC Frontiers): Regionalisation with a focus on Asean+3 (China, Japan and South Korea) countries.

We plan to work with regional partners that have complementary capabilities and offerings.

Anthony Chow (igloohome): We are now expanding to different markets. We are already available in the US, parts of Asia-Pacific, the UK, Mexico, and we intend to go into new markets such as Europe. We plan to appoint distributors in the markets we enter, who can then help us scale faster.

At the same time, we are also looking at rolling out an even wider range of products - we'll be launching our new premium smart lock - the igloohome Smart Mortise - shortly, which is targeted at both residential and hotel projects.

We're also working on new products for commercial and new developments.

More details will be released in the coming months.

Rina Loh (FoodZaps): FoodZaps focuses on being a mobile POS leader and being strong in technology, we believe in partnerships with the F&B eco-system.

There are many cloud-based POS systems available in the market, but most of them cannot function without an Internet connection.

We are working closely with Samsung Asia on smart wearables for the F&B industry.

A waiter wearing a wearable can be alerted in real-time whenever a customer calls for service or the bill, or when a dish is ready to be served.

This will not just increase customers' satisfaction but also facilitate the orders workflow management and revolutionise the service quality in Singapore's F&B scene.

Together with Samsung Asia, FoodZaps recently powered the entire F&B area for Game Start 2017, the biggest gaming exhibition in Singapore, covering 6,000 sq metres at Suntec Singapore.

Lee Junxian (CashShield): We are currently incorporated in several major countries around the world. Our plan is to continue establishing our presence in international markets and to build a strong customer base there.

At the same time, we will also continue to identify new potential markets and strategically channel our resources to them.

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