Not long ago, democracy seemed to be surging in the region. But in Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and elsewhere, it is in trouble.
After building artificial islands, China is using large fleets of ostensibly civilian boats to press other countries’ vessels out of disputed waters.
M Capital Management, a Singapore-based venture capital firm, announced today it has closed its debut fund, M Venture Partners (MVP), totaling $30.85 million USD. It plans to invest in 40 early-stage startups, primarily seed and pre-Series A, with an average initial check size of about $500,000.
M Capital Management was founded by Mayank Parekh, whose investment experience includes launching Grange Partners and leadership positions at Southern Capital Group and McKinsey & Company, and Joachim Ackermann, former managing director of Google Asia Pacific. Other senior team members include Dr. Tanuja Rajah, previously Entrepreneur First’s launch manager, and Chethana Ellepola, former research director at Acquity Stockbrokers.
MVP, a sector-agnostic fund, has already invested in 11 companies, including one, 3D Metal Forge, that recently went public on the Australian Securities Exchange.
Other portfolio companies include behavioral health coaching startup Naluri; AI-enabled lending and credit-as-a-service company Impact Credit Solutions; alternative investment fund aggregator XEN Capital; and Cipher Cancer Clinics, which is focused on making oncological care more affordable and accessible in India.
Parekh told TechCrunch that M Capital Management was launched because “we believe that the early-stage investing space in our region has substantial room for growth. A decade ago there were very few unicorns. This has changed substantially more recently, not only because of obvious advancements bringing online previously underserved or untapped populations, but also because they venture system has developed nicely in Singapore and, for that matter, across the region with support from institutional VCs at various stages of funding need, government agency support, the advent of local accelerators and rapidly growing network of angel investing bodies.”
Parekh added that he expects to see more unicorns and “soonicorns” (or companies expected to hit unicorn valuation in the near future) emerge.
As early-stage, sector-agnostic investors, Parekh said MVP’s focus is on founders, specifically those who have “pedigree professional experience and strong academic backgrounds.” For example, Naluri chief executive officer Azran Osman-Rani was previously founder of AirAsiaX, guiding it from launch to its 2013 initial public offering in six years.
MVP will focus mostly on Singapore-based startups because it invests primarily in B2B or B2B2C companies. “We need a fertile ground for our chosen startups to launch their business models with leading corporate or business partners,” said Parekh. “Singapore provides just that. It’s the hub for market leading institutions and it’s not uncommon to see them creating opportunities for new technology or disruptive ideas.”
Most of MVP’s portfolio companies have “regional or global aspirations, leveraging Singapore as the core launch platform,” he added. MVP has also already made investments in Malaysia and India, and is actively looking at companies in Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia.
The extradition is part of Washington’s efforts to crack down on what it has called widespread sanctions-evading activities by North Korean businessmen and diplomats around the world.
Data shows that American exporters continue to ship plastic waste overseas, often to poorer countries, even though most of the world has agreed to not accept it.
Raena was founded in 2019 to create personal care brands with top social media influencers. After several launches, however, the Singapore-based startup quickly noticed an interesting trend: customers were ordering batches of products from Raena every week and reselling them on social media and e-commerce platforms like Shopee and Tokopedia. Last year, the company decided to focus on those sellers, and pivoted to social commerce.
Today Raena announced it has raised a Series A of $9 million, co-led by Alpha Wave Incubation and Alpha JWC Ventures, with participation from AC Ventures and returning investors Beenext, Beenos and Strive. Its last funding announcement was a $1.82 million seed round announced in July 2019.
After interviewing people who were setting up online stores with products from Raena, the company’s team realized that sellers’ earnings potential was capped because they were paying retail prices for their inventory.
They also saw that the even though new C2C retail models, like social commerce, are gaining popularity, the beauty industry’s supply chain hasn’t kept up. Sellers usually need to order minimum quantities, which makes it harder for people to start their own businesses, Raena co-founder Sreejita Deb told TechCrunch,
“Basically, you have to block your capital upfront. It’s difficult for individual sellers or micro-enterpreneurs to work with the old supply chain and categories like beauty,” she said.
Raena decided to pivot to serve those entrepreneurs. The company provides a catalog that includes mostly Japanese and Korean skincare and beauty brands. For those brands, Raena represents a way to enter new markets like Indonesia, which the startup estimates has $20 billion market opportunity.
Raena resellers, who are mostly women between 18 to 34-years-old in Indonesia and Malaysia, pick what items they want to feature on their social media accounts. Most use TikTok or Instagram for promotion, and set up online stores on Shopee or Tokopedia. But they don’t have to carry inventory. When somebody buys a product from a Raena reseller, the reseller orders it from Raena, which ships it directly to the customer.
This drop-shipping model means resellers make higher margins. Since they don’t have to carry inventory, it also dramatically lowers the barrier to launching a small business. Even though Raena’s pivot to social commerce coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, Deb said it grew its revenue 50 times between January and December 2020. The platform now has more than 1,500 resellers, and claims a 60% seller retention rate after six months on the platform.
She attributes Raena’s growth to several factors, including the increase in online shopping during lockdowns and people looking for ways to earn additional income during the pandemic. While forced to stay at home, many people also began spending more time online, especially on the social media platforms that Raena resellers use.
Raena also benefited from its focus on skincare. Even though many retail categories, including color cosmetics, took a hit, skincare products proved resilient.
“We saw skincare had higher margins, and there are certain markets that are experts at formulating and producing skincare products, and demand for those products in other parts of the world,” she said, adding, “we’ve continued being a skincare company and because that is a category we had insight into, it was our first entry point into this social selling model as well. 90% of our sales are skincare. Our top-selling products are serums, toners, essences, which makes a lot of sense because people are in their homes and have more time to dedicate to their skincare routines.”
Social commerce, which allows people to earn a side income (or even a full-time income), by promoting products through social media, has taken off in several Asian markets. In China, for example, Pinduoduo has become a formidable rival to Alibaba through its group-selling model and focus on fresh produce. In India, Meesho resellers promote products through social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram.
Social commerce is also gaining traction in Southeast Asia, with gross merchandise value growing threefold during the first half of 2020, according to iKala.
Deb said one of the ways Raena is different from other social commerce companies is that most of its resellers are selling to customers they don’t know, instead of focusing on family and friends. Many already had TikTok or Instagram profiles focused on beauty and skincare, and had developed reputations for being knowledgeable about products.
As Raena develops, it plans to hire a tech team to build tools that will simplify the process of managing orders and also strike deals directly with manufacturers to increase profit margins for resellers. The funding will be used to increase its team from 15 to over 100 over the next three months, and it plans to enter more Southeast Asian markets.
A panel of judges found the online outlet, Malaysiakini, guilty of contempt of court for the comments about Malaysia’s judiciary.
LottieFiles, a platform for JSON-based Lottie animations, has raised a Series A of $9 million. The round was led by M12, Microsoft’s venture capital arm, with participation from returning investor 500 Startups.
Based in San Francisco and Kuala Lumpur, LottieFiles was founded in 2018. The platform includes Lottie creation, editing and testing tools, and a marketplace for animations. It now claims about one million users from 65,000 companies, including Airbnb, Google, TikTok, Disney and Netflix, and 300% year-over-year growth. The new funding brings its total raised to about $10 million.
Smaller than GIF or PNG graphics, Lottie animations also have the advantage of being scalable and interactive. It was introduced as an open-source library by Airbnb engineers six years ago and quickly became popular with app developers because Lottie files can be used across platforms without additional coding and edited after shipping.
LottieFiles co-founder and chief executive officer Kshitij Minglani told TechCrunch the startup originally started as a community for designers and developers, before adding tools, integrations and other resources. It launched its marketplace during the COVID-19 lockdown, with 70% of earnings going directly to creators, and also has a list of animators who are available for hire.
LottieFiles’ core platform and tools are currently pre-revenue, with plans to monetize later this year. “It’s not often a revolutionary format comes about and disrupts an entire industry, saving tons of precious design and development hours,” said Minglani. “We didn’t want to stunt the adoption of Lottie by monetizing early on.”
The new funding will be used on LottieFiles’ product roadmap, expanding its infrastructure and increasing its global user base.
Moderna, the biotech company behind one of the two mRNA-based vaccines currently being rolled out globally to stem the tide of COVID-19, has announced that it will purse development programs around three new vaccine candidates in 2021. These include potential vaccines for HIV, seasonal flu and the Nipah virus. Moderna’s development and clinical trial of its COVID-19 vaccine is among the fastest in history, and thus far its results have been very promising, buoying hopes for the efficacy of other preventative treatments being generated using this technology which is new to human clinical use.
An mRNA vaccine differs from typical, historical vaccines because it involves providing a person with just a set of instructions on how to build specific proteins that will trigger a body’s natural defenses. The mRNA instructions, which are temporary and do not affect a person’s actual DNA, simply prompt the body’s cells to produce proteins that mirror those used by a virus to attach to and infect cells. The independent proteins are then fought off by a person’s natural immune response, which provides a lasting lesson in how to fight off any future proteins that match that profile, including those which help viruses attach to and infect people.
Moderna’s new programs will target not only seasonal flu, but also a combinatory vaccine that could target both the regular flu and SARS-CoV-2, the virus that leads to COVID-19. The HIV candidate, which is developed in collaboration with both the AIDS Vaccine Initiative and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is expected to enter into Phase 1 trials this year, as will the flue face. Nipah virus is a highly lethal illness that can cause respiratory and neurological symptoms, and which is particularly a threat in India, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Singapore.
mRNA-based vaccines have long held potential for future vaccine development, in part because of their flexibility and programmability, and in part because they don’t use any active or dormant virus, which reduces their risks in terms of causing any direct infections up front. The COVID-19 pandemic spurred significant investment and regulatory/health and safety investment into the technology, paving the way for its use in other areas, including these new vaccine candidate trials by Moderna.
Top Glove, the world’s largest rubber glove maker, has enjoyed record profits in the pandemic, even as thousands of its low-paid workers in Malaysia suffer from a large outbreak of Covid-19.
Carsome, which bills itself as Southeast Asia’s largest e-commerce platform for used cars, announced it has closed a $30 million Series D. The funding was led by Asia Partners, with participation from returning investors Burda Principal Investments and Ondine Capital.
The startup claims that this is one of the largest “all-equity financings to-date in Southeast Asia’s online automotive industry.” Part of the Series D may be used for mergers and acquisitions to consolidate the company’s supply chain.
Founded five years ago in Malaysia, Carsome’s platform serves both C2C and B2C segments, and ensures quality by conducting inspections before vehicles are listed on its platform. It now has 1,000 employees and claims to transact 70,000 cars on an annualized basis, totaling $600 million.
In a press statement, co-founder and group chief executive officer Eric Cheng said that the company, which now also operates in Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore, doubled its monthly revenue over the past six months, compared to pre-pandemic levels. The company claims that this is partly because more people and businesses are buying their own cars for safety reasons.
While sales of new vehicles have plummeted around the world, used car sales, especially through e-commerce platforms, are recovering more quickly, according to Counterpoint Research. This largely because people want to avoid public transportation and ride-hailing, but also want cheaper options.
Other used car platforms in Southeast Asia include Carro, OLX Autos (formerly called BeliMobilGue) and Carmudi.
Web Summit announced today that it will revive RISE, one of Asia’s largest tech conferences, in March 2022, moving it to Kuala Lumpur after five years in Hong Kong. It also announced a new event, called Web Summit Tokyo, that will launch in 2022, too.
The flagship Web Summit event is currently taking place as an online conference.
In November 2019, Web Summit announced it was postponing RISE to 2021 amid the pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong. Of course, this year has seen a series of other major event cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Web Summit is planning for the 2022 edition of RISE to be in-person, and has signed a new partnership with Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation. In a press statement, Web Summit and RISE co-founder and chief executive officer Paddy Cosgrave said, “This is not a goodbye to Hong Kong. We hope to return to the city in the future with a brand new event.”
Web Summit Tokyo, which will take place in September 2022, as part of its global expansion, which will also include an event in Brazil Rio de Janeiro or Porto Alegre are currently being considered as the location.
Web Summit has already announced plans to hold its flagship event as an in-person conference in November 2021 in Lisbon, Portugal.
Food Market Hub co-founders Anthony See and Shayna Teh
Many restaurants still rely on spreadsheets to track their inventory of produce, meat and other ingredients. But using manual methods often results in food wastage and higher costs. Malaysia-based Food Market Hub is a cloud-based platform that connects food and beverage (F&B) outlets directly to suppliers, making it easier to communicate and manage orders. The startup announced today it has closed a Series A round of $4 million from Go-Ventures, the investment arm of Gojek, and SIG.
This brings Food Market Hub’s total funding to $4.7 million so far. Founded in 2017 by Anthony See and Shayna Teh, Food Market Hub is currently used by about 2,000 food and beverage outlets in Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The platform handles about $200 million in purchase orders on an annual basis and is used by well-known brands like Din Tai Fung, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Putien.
Food Market Hub automates purchasing and inventory tracking by connecting food and beverage outlets with central kitchens and suppliers. Orders can be placed through the platform or by email and WhatsApp. The platform also uses AI-based tech to forecast purchasing needs by analyzing past data.
Part of Food Market Hub’s Series A will be used to expand into Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam. Teh told TechCrunch that the company chose those three countries because they are the largest food and beverage markets in Southeast Asia, and share many similarities with Malaysia.
“The F&B sector does not use digitized procurement and inventory management solutions, which leads to inefficiency and significant added costs,” she said.
Several other startups focused on digitizing the food supply chain in those countries have also recently raised venture capital funding, including Thailand’s FreshKet, Indonesia’s Eden Farm and TaniHub, and Singapore-based Glife.
Teh said Food Market Hub doesn’t view those companies as competitors, because they focus on supplying produce and other ingredients to restaurants. Instead, Food Market Hub’s core business “is a communication platform that allows restaurants to communicate with and place orders to their existing suppliers,” she said.
“In fact, our customers will likely use our platform to place orders to these companies in the future,” she added.
Food Market Hub’s target clientele include restaurants that are growing into chains or franchises, which means manual purchase orders and inventory management quickly becomes inefficient. Before they started using Food Market Hub, many clients relied on Excel spreadsheets and notebooks to track inventory level and placed orders through phone calls, emails or WhatsApp, Teh said.
The company claims close to zero churn, with clients sticking to the platform unless their restaurant shuts down. Unfortunately, many food and beverage businesses have been forced to close because of the COVID-19 pandemic, including some of Food Market Hub’s customers. On the other hand, the pandemic underscored the importance of controlling inventory closely to manage costs.
“Restaurant owners and managers embraced technology at a much faster rate than ever before and we have been a beneficiary,” said Teh. “We have seen record demand for our products in recent months and are onboarding hundreds of outlets each month and expect this to only accelerate going forward.”
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi makes Hindus more equal than religious minorities, Muslims seek equality from the secular Constitution, not Shariah.
A former fund-raiser for President Trump admitted to a role in a covert campaign to influence the administration on behalf of Chinese and Malaysian interests.
Girls and young women from refugee camps in Bangladesh, promised to men they have never met, are undertaking the dangerous journey to Malaysia to join them.
In indictments against five Chinese nationals, the Justice Department described sophisticated attacks to hijack networks and extort universities, businesses and nonprofits.
Homage, a Singapore-based caregiving and telehealth company, has taken a major step in its global expansion plan. The startup announced today that it has received strategic investment from Infocom, the Japanese information and communications technology company that runs one of the largest healthcare IT businesses in the country. Infocom’s solutions are used by more than 13,000 healthcare facilities in Japan.
During an interview with TechCrunch that will air as part of Disrupt tomorrow, Homage co-founder and chief executive Gillian Tee said “Japan has one of the most ageing populations in the world, and the problem is that we need to start building infrastructure to enable people to be able to access the kind of care services that they need.” She added that Homage and Infocom’s missions align because the latter is also building a platform for caregivers in Japan, in a bid to help solve the shortage of carers in the country.
Homage raised a Series B earlier this year with the goal of entering new Asian markets. The company, which currently operates in Singapore and Malaysia, focuses on patients who need long-term rehabilitation or care services, especially elderly people. This makes it a good match for Japan, where more than one in five of its population is currently aged 65 or over. In the next decade, that number is expected to increase to about one in three, making the need for caregiving services especially acute.
The deal includes a regional partnership that will enable Homage to launch its services into Japan, and Infocom to expand its reach in Southeast Asia. Homage’s services include a caregiver-client matching platform and a home medical service that includes online consultations and house calls, while Infocom’s technology covers a wide range of verticals, including digital healthcare, radiology, pharmaceuticals, medical imaging and hospital information management.
In a statement about the strategic investment, Mototaka Kuboi, Infocom’s managing executive officer and head of its healthcare business division, said, “We see Homage as an ideal partner given the company’s unique cutting-edge technology and market leadership in the long-term care segment, and we aim to drive business growth not only in Homage’s core and rapidly growing market in Southeast Asia, but also regionally.”
The travel aggregator dubs the capital injection a “strong vote of confidence” in its strategy to adjust to what it couches as a ‘new normal’ for travel by retooling its focus on domestic and short hop excursions and activities. The funding round is led by an unnamed global financial institution. Traveloka also says “some” existing investors also participated (EV Growth being one it has named).
Prior to this latest raise, Traveloka had pulled in around $950M across five funding rounds since being founded back in 2012, according to Crunchbase. Back in 2017 it passed unicorn valuation after bagging $350 million from Expedia in exchange for a minority stake in the business. But, shortly afterwards, it lost one of its co-founders — who departed citing a clash of goals as the business switched to more of a commercial mindset, as he saw it.
Fast forward a few years and the pandemic is playing havoc with the travel industry as a whole. Since the pandemic landed to decimate ‘business as usual’ in the sector, Traveloka has responded by launching a number of initiatives in a bid to reassure and woo back customers — including flights that bundle COVID-19 tests; flexible open-date vouchers for hotels (aka, ‘Buy Now Stay Later’); online experiences; flash sale livestreams; and a big push around cleanliness with standardized hygiene protocols for vacation accommodation that can be booked via its platform.
Traveloka says the latest capital injection will be used not only to beef up its balance sheet but to boost efforts and deepen offerings in “select priority areas” — including building out what it describes as “a more robust and integrated Travel & Lifestyle portfolio” in key markets.
It also intends to expand financial services solutions it offers to ecosystem partners.
Commenting in a statement, Ferry Unardi, Traveloka co-founder and CEO, said: “Without a doubt, Traveloka has been profoundly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. We have experienced the lowest business rate that we have ever seen since our inception. However, we always believed that the company will prevail by rapidly adjusting our strategy, working with our industry and ecosystem partners, as well as continuing to innovate for our users, our ultimate focus.”
Per Ferry, Traveloka’s business in Vietnam is “approaching” steady pre-COVID-19 levels, while he says its Thailand business is “on its way” to surpassing 50%.
“Indonesia and Malaysia are still in the early stage, but they continue to demonstrate promising momentum with strong week-to-week improvement, especially in accommodation with the emergence of shorter distance staycation behavior,” he added. “We acknowledge that the sector may go through further turbulence as it navigates new waves, but we feel we are prepared to take on the challenge and emerge on the right side of it.”
“The travel industry is facing unprecedented times, including Traveloka,” added Willson Cuaca, managing partner of EV Growth, in another supporting statement. “The leadership team has taken difficult yet commendable measures including restructuring and optimization to minimize financial health risks. We are confident that the company will emerge even stronger after this crisis.”
The trial was the first of several related to the pilfering of billions from the 1MDB fund, a national scandal that led to the ouster of Mr. Najib’s party in 2018.
The deal settles charges against the Wall Street bank for its role in helping to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for a sovereign wealth fund that was used as a personal piggy bank.
The Chinese police are systematically collecting genomic data from tens of millions of people.
Independent journalism is on the defensive, from Hungary to Malaysia.
New York-based fintech startup Wahed (meaning ‘One’ in Arabic) describes itself as a digital Islamic investment platform and as the world’s first ‘halal robo adviser’. It’s now closed a $25 million investment round led by Saudi Aramco Entrepreneurship Ventures (also known as Wa’ed Ventures), a venture capital investment arm of oil giant Saudi Aramco.
Existing investors BECO and CueBall Capital participated, as well as Dubai Cultiv8, and Rasameel. The funds will be used to expand internationally, including developing the company’s subsidiary in Saudi Arabia. The platform is currently running in the US and UK, and has more than 100,000 clients globally. It plans to grow in the largest Muslim markets including Indonesia, Nigeria, India and the CIS. The three-year-old company has already received a license to operate in Saudi Arabia, and aims to get regulatory approval in 20 countries.
According to Crunchbase, Wahed has now raised a total of $40 million in funding since its 2015 founding by Junaid Wahedna.
Last October, Wahed launched in Malaysia after the Malaysian Securities Commission awarded the company the country’s first Islamic Robo Advisory license. The firm is also considering listing its Islamic ETF on the Saudi stock exchange
Ethical investment and Islamic finance is growing in popularity in Muslim countries so long as it is in line with Islamic ethics, so Wahed looks set to benefit.
Commenting on the investment, Junaid Wahedna, CEO of Wahed, said: “We’re excited to have the support of Aramco Ventures as we foray into the Saudi market. We consider Aramco a strategic long term partner in both the Kingdom and the rest of the world.”
Wassim Basrawi, Managing Director at Wa’ed Ventures, said: “We believe in Wahed’s mission to provide ethical investing. The company has taken the lead in delivering investment services to one of the world’s fastest-growing sectors – Islamic Finance. Wahed is also, in the true spirit of FinTech, helping to broaden the investment landscape. This latest funding round will enable Wahed to make Saudi their regional MENA hub and contribute towards a fast-growing FinTech ecosystem.”
Malaysia’s new government looks much like its scandal-stained old government. And under cover of the coronavirus, its opponents have been muzzled.
Riza Aziz was accused of laundering money from a government investment fund and using it to finance his films. He agreed to return assets worth more than $107 million.
At least three boats carrying Rohingya refugees have been adrift for more than two months. As of this week, rights groups that had been tracking the boats lost sight of them.
The Global Citizens concert ran for eight hours and included some of the world’s biggest names in entertainment. And the Israeli government said it would soon begin easing isolation restrictions.
Mr. Mahathir, who has towered over the country’s politics for decades, was cast aside by the king on Saturday. But some aren’t ready to count him out.