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Facebook, IMDA start accelerator for data startups

It offers non-funding support like space in PIXEL, access to Regulatory Sandbox

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Facebook's latest Singapore office occupies some 260,000 sq ft across four floors in Marina One. It houses more than 1,000 employees from Facebook's Singapore and regional teams.

Singapore

FACEBOOK wants to help grow the region's startups and small businesses - and is putting action into words with its first accelerator programme for South-east Asian startups.

The social media giant launched the programme on Tuesday along with its new expanded office in Singapore.

Speaking at the launch, Dan Neary, vice-president for the Asia-Pacific, said: "We are expanding to better serve businesses and communities in Singapore and the Asia-Pacific."

He said Facebook will boost its support for businesses through diverse initiatives, which include digital literacy education; business training to help early-stage firms expand; and specialised programmes such as #SheMeansBusiness, which seeks to inspire and empower women entrepreneurs.

Facebook's new office at Marina One occupies about 260,000 sq ft of space across four floors. It will house more than 1,000 employees from Facebook's Singapore and regional teams.

It is also home to Facebook's first partner centre in Asia, where partners can immerse themselves in Facebook's company mission, vision and culture - and explore new growth opportunities for their business.

This marks Facebook's third and largest office in Singapore. It was in a 70,000 sq ft office in South Beach Tower (to which it moved in August 2015), and before that, a commercial building in 158 Cecil Street.

Its new accelerator programme - named Startup Station, Singapore - is targeted at data startups based in Singapore and South-east Asia. The programme is created in partnership with the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) and will kick off in February 2019.

It will offer startups complimentary coworking space in PIXEL, an IMDA-run innovation space in One-North, The Business Times has learnt.

Unlike conventional accelerators or incubators, Startup Station, Singapore will not invest in or take equity in the startups.

A Facebook spokesman told BT: "We look at investment from a resource perspective: we will give startups access to mentors within the Facebook network and externally, help them form connections with investors and provide them with access training, tools, and input."

Startups may also access the Regulatory Sandbox, which, facilitated by IMDA, allows them to develop new ideas through the use of data in a live environment.

The programme is looking at 8-12 startups for its first cohort. Growth-stage, data-driven startups with an established business model and data sets may apply by Dec 7, 2018.

Startup Station, Singapore is Facebook's first data innovation startup programme in Asia, and second in the world after France, where it is known as Start-up Garage.

Alvin Tan, head of public policy for South-east Asia at Facebook, said: "South-east Asia is home to some of the most exciting startups in the world ... we will be able to give startups the infrastructure and access they need to refine and scale their business models."

Facebook and IMDA added that the programme will empower startups to accelerate their businesses in "new and cutting-edge ways", while continuing to "keep people's trust, transparency and control over their data".

Yesterday's launch comes just days after Facebook reported the largest breach in its history, where hackers are believed to have gained access to nearly 50 million accounts by exploiting flaws in the social network's code.

Facebook said it has since fixed the vulnerability and implemented precautionary measures, and is in the midst of investigating the matter.

Addressing the breach at the launch event, Mr Neary said: "We apologise for that and think we can do better."