Sleek, the corporate services platform that helps entrepreneurs launch and run new companies in Singapore and Hong Kong, has raised $4 million.
The new funding was led by SEEDS Capital, the investment arm of government agency Enterprise Singapore. Returning investors MI8 Limited and Pierre Lorinet also participated, along with Singapore Fintech Association co-founder Varun Mittal as part of Sequoia Capital’s scout program.
Sleek co-founder and chief growth officer Adrien Barthel told TechCrunch that the funding is part of Sleek’s seed round and brings the startup’s total raised so far to $7 million. It will start raising a Series A next year.
Founded three years ago by Barthel and Julien Labruyere, Sleek first began offering online corporate services, including company incorporation, compliance, digital accounting and tax filing, in Singapore before expanding into Hong Kong. Sleek now serves more than 3,000 companies, ranging from individual consultants to SMEs, startups and investment vehicles for funds, Barthel said.
Sleek is one of several cloud-based corporate services platforms focused on Singapore and/or Hong Kong, where regulations make it easier to incorporate companies and file taxes online, that have recently raised new venture capital funding. Others include Lanturn, Osome and Bluemeg. These startups were originally launched to reduce the amount of time and money spent on performing operational tasks, but the COVID-19 pandemic has increased demand for their services.
“We are happy to see other digital initiatives coming up around us,” Barthel told TechCrunch. “The market is wide enough for us to evolve on different positioning, and we’re only starting to see traditional firms looking at embracing the use of technology.”
While Sleek’s peers also offer secretarial, accounting and tax services, Barthel said his company’s vision “is to become the entrepreneur’s operating system, by going beyond that common service ground and building a range of services that are here to fit all entrepreneurs’ needs.”
For example, it recently released an electronic signature app called SleekSign that has digitized 145,000 signatures so far, added payroll services and launched a corporate insurance desk. Barthel said more product releases are planned for the end of this year and the first quarter of 2021.
In addition to growing its roster of services for entrepreneurs, Sleek also plans to expand into new markets where regulations also mesh well with its digital services.
“Our platform being common law friendly, we’re looking at such jurisdictions with attention, such as Australia, the United Kingdom and North America,’ said Barthel. “We are also closely looking at a few regional markets in Southeast Asia where regulatory frameworks are evolving and accepting progressively the use of technology for governance management and accounting.”
Four pro-democracy figures were ousted from the legislature, prompting 15 others to vow to resign in solidarity, as Beijing cracks down on one of the city’s few remaining venues for political opposition.
Based in Hong Kong, Coherent helps insurance providers go digital. With their services more relevant than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic, the startup announced it has raised $14 million in new funding. The Series A round, led by Cathay Innovation with participation from Franklin Templeton, will be used to grow Coherent’s client base in Asia, including insurers who want to add more digital services to their usual sales processes because of the pandemic.
Founded in 2018, Coherent’s platform, called Product Factory, allows insurance providers to digitize their backend operations by uploading Excel pricing models, which means their IT departments don’t need to write new code or re-haul their IT infrastructure.
The company also offers three tools for working with customers. Coherent Connect is a social media marketing campaign manager; Coherent Explainer is a sales tool for breaking down quotes; and Coherent Flow allows agents to sell policies to customers remotely with features like video chat and electronic signatures.
John Brisco, co-founder and chief executive officer of Coherent, told TechCrunch that the startup has worked with more than 30 insurers in 10 global markets during 2020.
Global premiums initially shrank, but research by Swiss Re predicts the insurance industry will recover by next year, led by demand in China.
Coherent will focus on China and emerging markets in Asia. The startup, which currently has about 120 employees, plans to increase the number of its tech and actuarial talent in Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai and Manila, and build new teams for Japan, the United States and Thailand.
Easyship, a logistics startup that allows e-commerce sellers to add multiple carriers to their stores, announced it has joined the Shopify Plus Technology Partner Program. Easyship is headquartered in Hong Kong and New York. Co-founder Tommaso Tamburnotti told TechCrunch it is the only shipping app in Asia for Shopify Plus, the e-commerce platform’s solution for large companies and high-volume shippers.
Founded in 2015 by Tamburnotti and Augustin Ceyrac, both veterans of Southeast Asia e-commerce giant Lazada, and former banker Paul Lugagne Delpon, Easyship’s platform is includes more than 250 shipping options from carriers including UPS, FedEx and DHL, pre-negotiated discounted rates and the automation of tasks like taxes and duty charges. So far, Easyship says it has served more than 100,000 clients.
According to a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), volumes of international postal packages dispatched have grown during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for things like electrical machinery, pharmaceutical products, mechanical appliances and accessories. At the same time, customs and movement restrictions, as well as a drop in air traffic, have created new challenges for cross-border sellers.
Tamburnotti told TechCrunch that COVID “has been a big shock to the logistics industry,” starting with manufacturers shutting down in China, which resulted in delays for many e-commerce consumer brands.
After factories in China reopened, however, Tamburnotti said there was a surge in production, and about an 80% increase in e-commerce orders worldwide. But the drop in the number of commercial passenger flights, which typically also carry small parcels, resulted longer delivery wait times, and additional courier fees.
In addition to its headquarters in Hong Kong and New York, Easyship also has offices in Singapore, London and Australia, and Tamburnotti said “being a truly global company helps us provide shipping solutions to our clients that need to reach their clients worldwide.”
Joshua Wong, one of Hong Kong’s most visible pro-democracy activists, suggested that the authorities had political motives for charging him, at a time when the coronavirus has made mask-wearing ubiquitous.
Green Monday Holdings, a manufacturer of plant-based pork substitute products and frozen meals and an operator of a chain of vegetarian-focused retail outlets and cafes, said it has raised $70 million in financing from investors including TPG’s The Rise Fund and the massive conglomerate Swire Pacific.
It’s one of the largest investments in a plant-based meat replacement company headquartered in Asia and comes as investments into companies developing alternatives to animal proteins continue to surge.
It’s also a huge infusion of cash for the business arm of what may be Hong Kong’s largest vegetarian advocacy group.
Born out of a social movement that started on Earth Day in Hong Kong on 2012 (and was inspired by the Meatless Monday campaign in the US), the Green Monday organization advocates for consumers to dedicate at least one day a week to going meatless.
Other investors in the round include, CPT Capital, Jefferies Group and Sino Group’s Ng Family Trust along with previous corporate and celebrity investors like Lee Kum Kee Health Products Happiness Capital, the singer Wang Leehom, James Cameron, and environmental activist Mary McCartney.
Green Monday Holdings, part of the Green Monday Group, operates two different lines of business under the OmniFoods and Green Common brands. OmniFoods makes pork alternatives and prepared frozen meals, while Green Common is a retailer and restaurant for plant-based products.
The company said it will use the money to expand into 10 new markets across Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and North America, add 20,000 new retail outlets for its products and launch new flagship stores for its Green Common retail locations in China and Singapore.
With the new financing, the company has added a key strategic partner in Swire Pacific.
“Our airline Cathay Pacific has been serving OmniPork onboard and we look forward to working together further to develop new menus to suit the taste of our passengers – many of whom have a deep interest in health, wellness and environmental sustainability,” said David Cogman, Development Director, Swire Pacific, in a statement. “We are also in discussion about working together on the retail front: we have a network of malls, hotels and food and beverage businesses in Hong Kong and on the Chinese mainland, as well as associated supply chain operations across the country. We are very excited about our partnership with David and Green Monday to develop new collaborations across our group companies, to make our shared vision a reality.”
Cosmose, a platform that tracks foot traffic in brick-and-mortar stores to help companies predict customer behavior, announced today it has raised a $15 million Series A. The round was by Tiga Investments, with participation from returning investors OTB Ventures and TDJ Pitango, who co-led Cosmose’s seed round last year. The company said its valuation is now more than $100 million.
The Series A will be used for product development and geographic expansion, starting with Southeast Asian markets this year, followed by the Middle East and India. Chief executive officer Miron Mironiuk, who founded Cosmose in 2014, said its goal is to break even and generate profit by 2021.
Cosmose has offices in Shanghai, Hong Kong, New York and Warsaw, where is software engineering team is based. Most of the stores its tech is currently use in are in China and Japan, and its clients include companies like Walmart, Marriott, Samsung, and LVMH.
As companies try to recover from the impact of COVID-19, Mironiuk said Cosmose’s platform has helped clients make decisions about when to reopen stores and what kind of inventory to stock, and how to increase revenue. For example, ‘some shops wanted to connect with customers who used to shop in their physical locations and encourage them to buy online,” he said. “Hotels in Japan were focused on promoting their in-house restaurants to local residents to make up for the lost revenue.” The company is also working with Boston Consulting Group on a report called “COVID-19 offline retail recovery traffic in China” for publication next week.
Mironiuk said that a PwC audit of the platform’s accuracy completed in December 2019 confirmed its ability to track customers within 1.6 meters of their location in a store, and that its data ecosystem now comprises of more than one billion smartphones and 360,000 stores. Cosmose’s plan is to grow that to two billion smartphones and 10 million stores by 2022.
The company offers three main products: Cosmose Analytics, which tracks customers’ movements inside brick-and-mortar stores; Cosmose AI, a data analytics and prediction platform to help retailers create marketing campaigns and increase sales; and Cosmose Media, for targeting online ads.
Cosmose does not require hardware installation, which means no regular maintenance is required after Cosmose maps a store, and helps it differentiate from rivals.
There are other companies that also analyze foot traffic in brick-and-mortar stores, including RetailNext and ShopperTrak, but being tracked might alarm customers who are concerned about their privacy. Mironiuk said all of the smartphone data Cosmose AI gathers is anonymized, so the company doesn’t know who shoppers are. The platform uses alphanumeric IDs called OMNIcookies, does not collect personal data like phone MAC addresses, mobile numbers, or email addresses, and follows data privacy laws in each of the countries it operates in. It also allows shoppers to opt-out of tracking.
In a press statement about the investment, Raymond Zage, the CEO and founder of Tiga Investments, said “I was attracted by the strong results Cosmose is already achieving for some of the world’s recognizable brands, while simultaneously ensuring user privacy is protected. Cosmose team is saving stores while enhancing consumer experience.”
Google and Facebook have withdrawn plans to build an undersea cable between the United States and Hong Kong after the Trump administration raised national security concerns about the proposal. On Thursday, the companies submitted a revised plan that bypasses Hong Kong but includes links to Taiwan and the Philippines that were part of the original proposal.
One of the original project’s partners, Hong Kong company Pacific Light Data Communication, has been dropped.
Federal law requires a license from the Federal Communications Commission to build an undersea cable connecting the United States with a foreign country. When Google and Facebook submitted their application for an undersea cable connecting the US to Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the Philippines, a committee of federal agencies led by the Justice Department recommended against approving the connection to Hong Kong, citing the “current national security environment.”
Like other accelerators, Brinc hasn’t let 2020 get in the way of its program for early-stage startups. The firm is known for focusing on food technology, health tech, clean energy, and hardware, and has a knack for finding some of the most interesting startups in those spaces. Today, we joined Brinc’s first online Demo Day to meet startups from its spring Hong Kong programs, as well as its hardware and IoT program in India.
Here are the startups in alphabetical order:
Based in Singapore, Aurora Food focuses on glycemic-lowering technology that can be used in ingredients for baked goods that are safe for diabetic people to eat because they release sugar more slowly. It wants to provide a healthier and tastier solution than current market offerings — sugar reduction compromises taste and artificial sweeteners can create health hazards. It plans to monetize through a B2B model by selling dessert mix to the likes of bakeries and confectionaries.
From Australia, iMAGsystems makes professional audiovisual equipment and software. AV systems can be difficult to set up, and iMAGsystems wants to solve headaches with its ‘AV over IP’ networking technology, which delivers audio and visual signals using a client’s existing cable infrastructure, and comes with software to monitor performance and prevent issues before they disrupt meetings and events. The company began shipping in 2017 and is working to launch an SaaS solution soon.
Part of Brinc’s India hardware and IoT program, Enlite Research takes a new approach to building management that uses bluetooth mesh (BLE mesh) systems and sensors to collect data, combined with AI-based software. Enlite’s goal is to reduce the cost of managing small and medium-sized commercial buildings while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
American startup Fybraworks Foodsis a new entrant in the substitute meat market, using fermentation and protein ingredients to replicate the taste and texture of meat. Its technology combines animal-free muscle proteins and umami flavor of mushroom, and the final products target both pet and human food ingredients.
Another startup from America, Laava Tech, is creating indoor LED grow lights for farmers that it says reduces energy consumption by up to 90%, while increasing crop yield at the same time. It uses control units that provide lights matching the photosynthetic process and sensors to collect data on plant conditions, which feed into its machine learning system.
Run by former Singaporean government R&D staff,MyrLabs’ flagship product is NaviStar, an indoor positioning system that enables robots to move around facilities with more flexibility instead of sticking to fixed paths. Its technology means that companies, including those in the logistics industry, can find new use cases for robots, increasing their productivity. It’s also working on a wearable for blind and visually impaired people.
Orbillion Bio, a food-tech startup that was part of a UC Berkeley accelerator program, uses “lab on a chip” technology to create to cultured meat products using a small tissue sample from heritage cattle breeds. The team of scientists and engineers works to find the optimal meat cell lines that are both nutritious and tasty, and will appeal to other agricultural and food companies.
Singaporean startup Shandi Global is developing technology that will enable it to manufacture plant-based meat substitutes that have amino acid and protein profiles that are similar to real meats, and thus have more flexible use cases than the current offerings of patties, nuggets and sausages. The company’s tech allows it to modify plants at a molecular level and offers meat alternatives at more affordable prices as it plans to supply to restaurants, online grocers and big-box retailers.
Based in France and the U.S., STYCKRtargets the parametric insurance market, which is currently restricted to natural catastrophes. Its end-to-end risk management platform enables clients to track physical goods and other assets as they make their way through the supply chain. Its platform consists of a small, self-powered device that is attached to goods and sends data to STYCKR’s SaaS risk-prediction and management SaaS platform.
Hong Kong startupSymphony has developed plug-and-play sensors that monitor vibrations from machines, sends data to cloud-based software that uses AI to analyze how they are performing, and visualize the data on an app with maintenance advice. This helps facilities predict potential issues before machines shutdown, resulting in expensive downtime.
Canadian startup TROES develops energy storage technology using lithium-ion (LiFePO4) technology. Its indoor, outdoor and container systems are modular, which means they can be customized to meet the needs of clients who include middle-market power distributors. The aim of TROES’ products is to increase the efficiency of power storage, which can result in lower utility bills and fewer shortages. It sees itself taking on power solution giants like Tesla, LG Chem, and BYD.
UpperMed, a med-tech startup based in Singapore, has developed a portable device called PD Care that makes it easier for peritoneal dialysis patients to conduct dialysis by themselves. PD Care gives patients more flexibility over where and when they need to change dialysis fluid. It automatically records its flow rate, transparency and volume, and syncs all data to an app. It starts with a to-consumer model selling devices and charging for its app, and plans to later target organizations by developing hospital management systems.
Another member of Brinc’s India program, Vacus Research takes a new approach to indoor positioning through the use of its patented “virtual radio fencing.” This allows for more precise tracking of people and objects within a space. Use cases include monitoring high-value assets, tracking occupancy, disaster management, and most recently, contact tracing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Z Imaging is an American startup that develops augmented reality tools, including its surgical navigation and robotics platform, to help doctors perform surgeries. Incubated at Harvard i-lab and backed by Y Combinator and Plug and Play, the startup focuses on ventriculostomy, a common surgical procedure to drain excess cerebrospinal fluid from the head. Its goal is to reduce the time it takes to perform ventriculostomies while improving safety and accuracy.
The food blogging community in China is booming, and many creators have been cashing in big time by touting food products to loyal followers, a business model that has lured investors.
This week, Hong Kong-based startup DayDayCook announced that it has raised $20 million to expand its multifunctional food platform, whose users mainly come from mainland China. The company founded by banker-turned food blogger and entrepreneur Norma Chu offers a bit of everything: an app featuring recipes and food videos, cooking classes in upscale malls, and a product line of its own branded food products sold online, which makes up 80% of its revenues.
London-based Talis Capital led the funding round, with participation from Hong Kong’s Ironfire Ventures. The eight-year-old startup has raised a total of $65 million to date from investors including Alibaba Entrepreneurs Fund, the e-commerce giant’s not-for-profit effort to support young entrepreneurs in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
The selling point of DayDayCook products is their carefully crafted brand stories. Users first consume the content put out by the startup across social channels, and then they become customers of DayDayCook’s ready-to-eat or to-cook food packs, kitchenware, and more.
“We really believe in the content-to-commerce model,” said Matus Maar, managing partner at Talis Capital.
He went on to explain that as content creation becomes easier thanks to an abundance of mobile editing tools, “even one person in rural China can make amazing content that creates a huge following.” He was referring to China’s reclusive influencer Li Ziqi who rose to stardom by posting videos on Youtube and domestic sites about her rural self-sufficiency.
“That goes hand in hand with people not wanting to see content that is super polished or comes out of mega agencies. People on the internet want to see authenticity. They want to see people doing real things,” suggested the investor.
While there is a legion of food influencers out there, not all are equipped to build a money-making venture. Matus believes DayDayCook has all the pieces in place: suppliers, distribution, logistics, and shipment. By developing its private label products, the startup is also able to sell at higher margins.
Chu said her company has amassed 2.3 million registered users on its own app. Its paid users, ordering through e-commerce channels like JD.com and Alibaba’s Tmall, grew 12 times year-over-year to 2.2 million.
DayDayCook’s content has a wider reach, garnering 60 million followers across microblogging platform Weibo, TikTok’s Chinese edition Douyin, Tencent’s video site, and more. That may not seem like a lot in the influencer era — Li Ziqi herself has nearly 12 million subscribers just on YouTube.