Payfazz invests $30M in Xfers as the two Southeast Asian fintechs form Fazz Financial Group

Payfazz and Xfers, two startups that want to increase financial inclusion in Southeast Asia, announced today they have joined forces to create a new holding entity called Fazz Financial Group. As part of the deal, Payfazz, an agent-based financial services network in Indonesia, invested $30 million into payments infrastructure provider Xfers.

Based in Singapore, Xfers will serve as the B2B and Southeast Asia arm of Fazz Financial Group, while Payfazz, which already uses Xfers’ payments infrastructure, will continue expanding in Indonesia. The two companies will retain their names while working together under the new holding entity.

Both Payfazz and Xfers are Y Combinator alums, and want to make financial services accessible to more Southeast Asians, even if they don’t have a bank account. Xfers co-founder Tianwei Liu told TechCrunch in an email he and Payfazz co-founder Hendra Kwik began talking about joining forces in early 2020 because of their startups’ shared goals.

“This is also coupled with the fact that last year, the COVID-19 pandemic has driven a significant increase in demand for digital payments and financial services across Indonesian rural areas, creating a huge growth opportunity for us,” Liu added.

Kwik will serve as Fazz Financial Group’s group CEO, while Liu will be the financial entity’s deputy CEO. Both will continue serving as CEOs of their respective companies. Fazz Financial Group also appointed as its chief financial officer Robert Polana, who previously held the same role at booking platform Tiket.com.

In Indonesia, Payfazz has built a network of 250,000 financial agents to reach people in rural areas where many banks don’t operate branches. Customers deposit cash with agents, and that balance can used to pay phone, electricity and other bills.

Payfazz, which announced a $53 million Series B in July from investors including Tiger Global and Y Combinator, also offers loans and payment services for offline retailers. As part of Fazz Financial Group, it will continue to build its agent banking network.

Payfazz uses payment infrastructure developed by Xfers to accept digital payments. Originally launched six years ago with an API for bank transfers, Xfers has since expanded its portfolio of software to include payment acceptance for businesses, tools for disbursing and transferring funds and a cryptocurrency wallet. In 2020, Xfers obtained a Major Payment Institution license for e-money issuance from the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

Xfers will continue to serve clients in Indonesia and Singapore with its payments infrastructure, which enables them to accept bank transfers, e-wallet funds and payments through convenience stores and agent banking networks (like Payfazz). Xfers says it has access to more than 10 million underbanked consumers in Indonesia through its work with agent banking services, and also plans to expand into Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam.

Fazz Financial Group plans to launch two new products later this year: a zero-integration payment solution for Singapore-based merchants and a single-integration solution that will connect local payment methods across Southeast Asia.

Liu said that, unlike the United States, Southeast Asia “has a fragmented local payments landscape, even within each country,” meaning that consumers often use several payment methods. Creating a single-integration for payment methods in Southeast Asia gives brands a growth channel when entering new countries, allowing them to scale up more quickly, he added.

“The COVID-19 pandemic lockdown has also driven a big surge in online sales and transactions across Southeast Asia, so there is a huge need for online payments by businesses and merchants across the region,” Liu said. “The zero-integration and single-integration solution will help businesses and merchants start accepting online payments quickly and easily with a simple integration within minutes, without any need to deal with complex regulation/license handling and technology development.”

#asia, #financial-inclusion, #fintech, #fundings-exits, #indonesia, #payfazz, #payments, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #xfers

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Singapore-based Raena gets $9M Series A for its pivot to skincare and beauty-focused social commerce

A photo of social commerce startup Raena’s team. From left to right: chief operating officer Guo Xing Lim, chief executive officer Sreejita Deb and chief commercial officer Widelia Liu

Raena’s team, from left to right: chief operating officer Guo Xing Lim, chief executive officer Sreejita Deb and chief commercial officer Widelia Liu

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.

#asia, #e-commerce, #indonesia, #malaysia, #personal-care, #raena, #singapore, #skincare, #social-commerce, #southeast-asia, #tc

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Rainmaking launches Motion Ventures to boost innovation in the maritime industry

A new fund has launched, with backing from the Singaporean government, to support tech innovation for the maritime industry. Called Motion Ventures, it is targeting $30 million SGD (about $22.8 million USD) and has completed its first close, with Wilhelmsen, one of the world’s largest maritime networks, and logistics company HHLA as anchor investors.

Motion Ventures was launched by Rainmaking, the venture building and investment firm that runs accelerator program Startupbootcamp, and will jointly invest in startups with SEEDS Capital, the investment arm of government agency Enterprise Singapore.

SEEDS Capital announced in June 2020 that it plans to invest $50 million SGD in maritime startups, with the goal of creating more resilient supply chains and fixing issues underscored by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shaun Hon, general partner at Motion Ventures and director at Rainmaking, told TechCrunch that the fund plans to invest in around 20 early-stage startups focused on AI, machine learning and automation, with check sizes ranging between $500,000 SGD to $2 million SGD.

“We’ve got our eyes on some of the maritime value chain’s biggest challenges including decarbonization, supply chain resilience and improving safety. In most cases, the technology to address the industry’s issues already exists, but the missing link is figuring out how to apply these solutions in the corporate context,” Hon said.

“That’s what Motion Ventures aims to address,” he added. “If we can bring a consortium of industry adopters together to connect with entrepreneurs early in the process, we’re setting everyone up with the best chance to succeed.”

In addition to capital, Motion Ventures plans to partner startups with well-established maritime firms like Wilhelmsen to help them commercialize and integrate their technology into supply chains. For mentorship, Motion Ventures’ startups will also have access to Ocean Ventures Alliance, which was launched by Rainmaking in November 2020, and now includes more than 40 maritime value chain industry leaders.

#asia, #fundings-exits, #logistics, #maritime, #motion-ventures, #rainmaking, #seeds-capital, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #supply-chain, #tc

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Plant-based food startup Next Gen lands $10M seed round from investors including Temasek

Singapore is quickly turning into a hub for food-tech startups, partly because of government initiatives supporting the development of meat alternatives. One of the newest entrants is Next Gen, which will launch its plant-based “chicken” brand, called TiNDLE, in Singaporean restaurants next month. The company announced today that it has raised $10 million in seed funding from investors including Temasek, K3 Ventures, EDB New Ventures (an investment arm of the Singapore Economic Development Board), NX-Food, FEBE Ventures and Blue Horizon.

Next Gen claims this is the largest seed round ever raised by a plant-based food tech company, based on data from PitchBook. This is the first time the startup has taken external investment, and the funding exceeded its original target of $7 million. Next Gen was launched last October by Timo Recker and Andre Menezes, with $2.2 million of founder capital.

Next Gen’s first product is called TiNDLE Thy, an alternative to chicken thighs. Its ingredients include water, soy, wheat, oat fiber, coconut oil and methylcellulose, a culinary binder, but the key to its chicken-like flavor is a proprietary blend of plant-based fats, like sunflower oil, and natural flavors that allows it to cook like chicken meat.

Menezes, Next Gen’s chief operating officer, told TechCrunch that the company’s goal is to be the global leader in plant-based chicken, the way Impossible and Beyond are known for their burgers.

“Consumers and chefs want texture in chicken, the taste and aroma, and that is largely related to chicken fat, which is why we started with thighs instead of breasts,” said Menezes. “We created a chicken fat made from a blend, called Lipi, to emulate the smell, aroma and browning when you cook.”

Both Recker and Menezes have years of experience in the food industry. Recker founded German-based LikeMeat, a plant-based meat producer acquired by the LIVEKINDLY Collective last year. Menezes’ food career started in Brazil at one of the world’s largest poultry exporters. He began working with plant-based meat after serving as general manager of Country Foods, a Singaporean importer and distributor that focuses on innovative, sustainable products.

“It was clear to me after I was inside the meat industry for so long that it was not going to be a sustainable business in the long run,” Menezes said.

Over the past few years, more consumers have started to feel the same way, and began looking for alternatives to animal products. UBS expects the global plant-based protein market to increase at a compounded annual growth rate of more than 30%, reaching about $50 billion by 2025, as more people, even those who aren’t vegans or vegetarians, seek healthier, humane sources of protein.

Millennial and Gen Z consumers, in particular, are willing to reduce their consumption of meat, eggs and dairy products as they become more aware of the environmental impact of industrial livestock production, said Menezes. “They understand the sustainability angle of it, and the health aspect, like the cholesterol or nutritional values, depending on what product you are talking about.”

Low in sodium and saturated fat, TiNDLE Thy has received the Healthier Choice Symbol, which is administered by Singapore’s Health Promotion Board. Next Gen’s new funding will be used to launch TiNDLE Thy, starting in popular Singaporean restaurants like Three Buns Quayside, the Prive Group, 28 HongKong Street, Bayswater Kitchen and The Goodburger.

Over the next year or two, Next Gen plans to raise its Series A round, launch more brands and products, and expand in its target markets: the United States (where it is currently recruiting a growth director to build a distribution network), China, Brazil and Europe. After working with restaurant partners, Next Gen also plans to make its products available to home cooks.

“The reason we started with chefs is because they are very hard to crack, and if chefs are happy with the product, then we’re very sure customers will be, too,” said Menezes.

#asia, #food, #foodtech, #fundings-exits, #next-gen, #plant-based-food, #plant-based-meat, #recent-funding, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #temasek, #tindle

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ErudiFi raises $5 million Series A to give students in Southeast Asia more education financing options

Based in Singapore, ErudiFi wants to help more students in Southeast Asia stay in school by giving them affordable financing options. The startup announced today it has raised a $5 million Series A, co-led by Monk’s Hill Ventures and Qualgro.

ErudiFi currently works with more than 50 universities and vocational schools in Indonesia and the Philippines. Co-founder and chief executive officer Naga Tan told TechCrunch that students in those countries have limited financing options, and often rely on friends or family, or informal payday lenders that charge high interest rates.

To provide more accessible financing options, ErudiFi partners with accredited universities and schools to offer subsidized installment plans, using tech to scale up while keeping costs down. Interest rates and repayment terms vary between institutions, but can be as low as 0%, with loans payable in 12 to 24 months.

By providing their students with affordable financing plans, ErudiFi can increase retention rates at schools, helping them keep students who would otherwise be forced to drop out because of financial issues.

Tan said ErudiFi’s value proposition for educational institutions is “being able to offer a data-driven financing solution that helps with student recruitment and retention. Students also greatly benefit because our product is one of the few, if not the only, affordable financing option they have access to.”

In a press statement, Peng T. Ong, co-founder and managing partner of Monk’s Hill Ventures, said, “Access to affordable tertiary education remains a huge pain point in Southeast Asia where the cost is nearly double then the average GDP per capita. ErudiFi is tackling an underserved market that is plagued with high-interest rates by traditional financial institutions and limited reach from peer-to-peer lending companies.”

ErudiFi’s Series A will be used on hiring for its product and engineering teams and to expand in Indonesia and the Philippines.

#asia, #education, #erudifi, #finance, #fintech, #fundings-exits, #indonesia, #philippines, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

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Bot MD, an AI-based chatbot for doctors, raises $5 million for expansion into more Asian markets

Time is critical for healthcare providers, especially in the middle of the pandemic. Singapore-based Bot MD helps save time with an AI-based chatbot that lets doctors look up important information from their smartphones, instead of needing to call a hospital operator or access its intranet. The startup announced today it has raised a $5 million Series A led by Monk’s Hill Venture.

Other backers include SeaX, XA Network and SG Innovate, and angel investors Yoh-Chie Lu, Jean-Luc Butel and Steve Blank. Bot MD was also part of Y Combinator’s summer 2018 batch.

The funding will be used to expand in the Asia-Pacific region, including Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia, and to add new features in response to demand from hospitals and healthcare organizations during COVID-19. Bot MD’s AI assistant currently supports English, with plans to release Bahasa Indonesian and Spanish later this year. It is currently used by about 13,000 doctors at organizations including Changi General Hospital,  National University Health System, National University Cancer Institute of Singapore, Tan Tock Seng Hospital, Singapore General Hospital, Parkway Radiology and the National Kidney Transplant Institute.

Co-founder and chief executive officer Dorothea Koh told TechCrunch that Bot MD integrates hospital information usually stored in multiple systems and makes it easier to access.

A smartphone with Bot MDs medical AI assistant for doctors displayed on it

Image Credits: Bot MD

Without Bot MD, doctors may need to dial a hospital operator to find which staffers are on call and get their contact information. If they want drug information, that means another call to the pharmacy. If they need to see updated guidelines and clinical protocols, that often entails finding a computer that is connected to the hospital’s intranet.

“A lot of what Bot MD does is to integrate the content that they need into a single interface that is searchable 24/7,” said Koh.

For example, during COVID-19, Bot MD introduced a new feature that takes healthcare providers to a form pre-filled with their information when they type “record temperature” into the chatbot. Many were accessing their organization’s intranet twice a day to log their temperature and Koh said being able to use the form through Bot MD has significantly improved compliance.

The time it takes to onboard Bot MD varies depending on the information systems and amount of content it needs to integrate, but Koh said its proprietary natural language processing chat engine makes training its AI relatively quick. For example, Changi General Hospital, a recent client, was onboarded in less than ten days.

Bot MD plans to add new clinical apps to its platform, including ones for electronic medical records (EMR), billing and scheduling integrations, clinical alerts and chronic disease monitoring.

#bot-md, #chatbot, #doctors, #health, #healthcare, #hospitals, #monks-hill-venture, #recent-funding, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

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Digital securities platform iSTOX closes $50 million Series A to make private equity accessible to more investors

Oi Yee Choo, chief commercial officer of digital securities platform iSTOX

Oi Yee Choo, chief commercial officer of digital securities platform iSTOX

iSTOX, a digital securities platform that wants to make private equity investment more accessible, has added new investors from Japan to its Series A round, bringing its total to $50 million. Two of its new backers are the government-owned Development Bank of Japan and JIC Venture Growth Investments, the venture capital arm of Japan Investment Corporation, a state-backed investment fund.

Other participants included Juroku Bank and Mobile Internet Capital, along with returning investors Singapore Exchange, Tokai Tokyo Financial Holdings and Hanwha Asset Management.

Founded in 2017 and owned by blockchain infrastructure firm ICHX, iSTOX’s goal is to open private capital opportunities, including startups, hedge funds and private debt, that are usually limited to a small group of high-net-worth individuals to more institutional and accredited investors. (It also serves accredited investors outside of Singapore, as long as they meet the country’s standards by holding the equivalent amount in assets and income.) iSTOX’s allows users to make investments as small as SGD $100 (about USD $75.50) and says it is able to keep fees low by using blockchain technology for smart contracts and to hold digital securities, which makes the issuance process more effective and less costly.

iSTOX’s Series A round was first announced in September 2019, when the company said it had raised an undisclosed amount from Thai investment bank Kiatnakin Phatra Financial Group while participating in the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) FinTech Regulatory Sandbox. The Singaporean government has been especially supportive of blockchain technology, launching initiatives to commercialize its use in fintech, data security, logistics and other sectors.

iSTOX completed the sandbox program in February 2020, and was approved by the MAS for the issuance, custody and trading of digitized securities. The new funding will be used for geographical expansion, including in China, where it already has an agreement in the city of Chongqing, and Europe and and Australia, where it is currently working on issuance deals. iSTOX also plans to add new investment products, including private issuances that investors can subscribe to in “bite-size portions.”

In a press statement, iSTOX chief commercial officer Oi Yee Choo said, “Capital markets are transforming rapidly because of advancements in technology. The regulator MAS and our institutional investors have been far-sighted and progressive, and they support the change wholeheartedly.”

The company is among several Asia-based fintech platforms that want to democratize the process of investing. For retail investors, there are apps like Bibit, Syfe, Stashaway, Kristal.ai and Grab Financial’s investment products.

Since iSTOX works with accredited and institutional investors, however, its most direct competitors include the recently-launched DBS Digital Exchange, which is also based in Singapore. iSTOX’s advantage is that it offers more kinds of assets. Right now, it facilitates the issuance of funds and bonds, but this year, it will start issuing private equity and structured products as well. The company’s securities are also fully digitized, which means they are created on the blockchain, instead of being recorded on the blockchain after they are issued, which means iSTOX is able to offer faster settlement times.

#asia, #blockchain, #digital-securities, #fintech, #fundings-exits, #investing, #istox, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

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Zipmex, which aspires to build the Asia Pacific region’s largest digital assets exchange, raises $6 million led by Jump Capital

Zipmex, a digital assets exchange headquartered in Singapore, announced today it has raised $6 million in funding led by Jump Capital. The startup, which plans to become a digital assets bank, says the round exceeded its initial target of $4 million. Along with earlier funding, it brings the total Zipmex has raised so far to $10.9 million.

The exchange is regulated in Singapore, Australia and Indonesia, and licensed in Thailand. It focuses on investors new to cryptocurrency with educational features, as well as high net-worth individuals, and says it has transacted over $600 million in gross transaction volume since launching at the end of 2019.

The funding will be used on hiring and to add more product offerings. In addition to its cryptocurrency exchange, Zipmex’s services also include ZipUp, its interest-bearing accounts, and its own ERC-20 token ZMT.

Zipmex’s goal is to become the largest digital exchange in the Asia Pacific, where interest in cryptocurrency investing and blockchain technology is increasing quickly. For example, DBG Group Holdings, Southeast Asia’s largest lender, recently launched a crypto exchange, though it is currently open only to professional investors.

But Zipmex is also up against a roster of competitors, including regional exchanges like BitKub in Thailand and Swyftx in Australia, as well as players like Luno, Coinbase and Binance which are targeting growth in the Asia Pacific region.

Zipmex chief executive officer Marcus Lim said the company’s ambition to become a digital assets bank sets it apart from other exchanges. “We currently offer customers to invest and earn interest on their digital assets,” he told TechCrunch. “In the future, we are planning to roll out payments and lending and the investment into securitized tokens.”

Other cryptocurrency startups that Jump Capital, an American venture capital firm, has invested in include BitGo and TradingView. Its parent company, trading firm Jump Trading, powers Robinhood’s crypto trades.

#apps, #asia, #australia, #cryptocurrency, #digital-assets, #digital-currency-exchange, #fundings-exits, #indonesia, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #thailand, #zipmex

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Moderna is developing three new mRNA-based vaccines for seasonal flu, HIV and Nipah virus

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.

#aids, #bangladesh, #biotech, #health, #hiv, #india, #malaysia, #medical-research, #medicine, #moderna, #singapore, #tc, #vaccination, #vaccine, #vaccines, #virus

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How Singapore Has Kept the Coronavirus Off Campus

Singapore’s three major universities have reported zero cases. Their secret: technology, tough penalties and students willing to comply.

#colleges-and-universities, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #disease-rates, #mobile-applications, #nanyang-technological-university, #national-university-of-singapore, #politics-and-government, #quarantines, #singapore, #singapore-management-university

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COVID-19 contact-tracing data is fair game for police, Singapore says

Close-up image of a hand holding a palm-sized electronic device.

Enlarge / A user in Singaapore holding the TraceTogether device that can be used for COVID-19 contact tracing in lieu of a smartphone app. (credit: Roslan Rahman | AFP | Getty Images)

The government of Singapore said this week it has used data gathered for COVID-19 mitigation purposes in criminal investigations, sparking privacy concerns about contact tracing both in Singapore and elsewhere in the world.

Singapore’s contract-tracing app, TraceTogether, has been adopted by nearly 80 percent of the country’s population, according to The Guardian, and Singaporeans are required to use it to enter certain gathering places such as shopping malls.

TraceTogether’s privacy statement originally read, “Data will only be used for Covid-19 contact tracing,” but it was updated this week to add, “Authorised Police officers may invoke Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) powers to request users to upload their TraceTogether data for criminal investigations. The Singapore Police Force is empowered under the CPC to obtain any data, including TraceTogether data, for criminal investigations,” The Register reports.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#contact-tracing, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #data-privacy, #law-enforcement, #personal-privacy, #police, #policy, #privacy, #singapore

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‘Box’ or Gem? A Scramble to Save Asia’s Modernist Buildings

Groups across the region are rallying to save buildings that officials consider too new, too ugly or too unimportant to protect from demolition.

#architecture, #cambodia, #design, #far-east-south-and-southeast-asia-and-pacific-areas, #historic-buildings-and-sites, #hong-kong, #hotel-okura-tokyo-japan, #japan, #la-scala-theater-paris-france, #postal-service-and-post-offices, #real-estate-commercial, #singapore, #thailand

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Singapore-based open finance startup Finantier gets backing from Y Combinator

Being “underbanked” doesn’t mean that someone lacks access to financial services. Instead, it often means they don’t have traditional bank accounts or credit cards. But in markets like Indonesia, many still use digital wallets or e-commerce platforms, creating alternative sources of user data that can help them secure working capital and other financial tools. Finantier, a Singapore-based open finance startup, wants to streamline that data with a single API that gives financial services access to user data, with their consent. It also includes machine learning-based analytics to enable credit scoring and KYC verifications.

Currently in beta mode with more than 20 clients, Finantier is busy getting ready to officially launch. It announced today that it has been accepted into Y Combinator’s Winter 2021 startup batch. The startup also also recently raised an undisclosed amount of pre-seed funding led by East Ventures, with participation from AC Ventures, Genesia Ventures, Two Culture Capital and other investors.

Finantier was founded earlier this year by Diego Rojas, Keng Low and Edwin Kusuma, all of whom have experience building products for fintech companies, with the mission of enabling open finance in emerging markets.

Open finance grew out of open banking, the same framework that Plaid and Tink are built on. Meant to give people more control over their financial data instead of keeping it siloed within banks and other institutions, users can decide to grant apps or websites secure access to information from their online accounts, including bank accounts, credit cards and digital wallets. Open banking refers mainly to payment accounts, while open finance, Finantier’s specialty, covers a larger gamut of services, including business lending, mortgages and insurance underwriting.

While Finantier is focusing first on Singapore and Indonesia, it plans to expand into other countries and become a global fintech company like Plaid. It’s already eyeing Vietnam and the Philippines and has established partnerships in Brussels.

Before launching Finantier, Rojas worked on products for peer-to-peer lending platforms Lending Club and Dianrong, and served as chief technology officer for several fintech startups in Southeast Asia. He realized that many companies struggled to integrate with other platforms and fetch data from banks, or purchase data from different providers.

“People are discussing open banking, embedded finance and so on,” Rojas, Finantier’s chief executive officer, told TechCrunch. “But those are the building blocks of something bigger, which is open finance. Particularly in a region like Southeast Asia, where about 60% to 70% of adults are unbanked or underbanked, we believe in helping consumers and businesses leverage the data that they have in multiple platforms. It definitely doesn’t need to be a bank account, it could be in a digital wallet, e-commerce platform or other service providers.”

What this means for consumers is that even if someone doesn’t have a credit card, they can still establish creditworthiness: for example, by sharing data from completed transactions on e-commerce platforms. Gig economy workers can access more financial services and deals by giving data about their daily rides or other types of work they do through different apps.

Building Southeast Asia’s financial infrastructure

Other open banking startups focused on Southeast Asia include Brankas and Brick. Rojas said Finantier differentiates by specializing on open finance, and creating infrastructure for financial institutions to build more services for end users.

The benefit of open finance for financial institutions is that they can create products for more consumers and find more opportunities for revenue sharing models. In Southeast Asia, this also means reaching more people who are underbanked, or otherwise lack access to financial services.

While taking part in Y Combinator’s accelerator program, Finantier will also be participating in the Indonesia Financial Service Authority’s regulatory sandbox. Once it completes the program, it will be able to partner with more fintech companies in Indonesia, including bigger institutions.

There are 139 million adults in Indonesia who are underbanked or unbanked, said East Ventures co-founder and managing partner Wilson Cuaca.

The investment firm, which focuses on Indonesia, conducts an annual survey called the East Ventures Digital Competitiveness Index, and found that financial exclusion was where one of the largest divides existed. There significant gaps in between the number of financial services available in heavily-populated islands like Java, where Jakarta is located, and other islands in the archipelago.

To promote financial inclusion and alleviate the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government has set a goal for 10 million micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) to go digital by the end of the year. There are currently about 8 Indonesian million MSMEs that sell online, representing just 13% of MSMEs in the country.

“Providing equal access to financial services will create multiplier effects to the Indonesian economy,” Cuaca told TechCrunch about East Ventures’ decision to back Finantier. “Currently, hundreds of companies work with their own unique solutions to bring financial services to more people. We believe Finantier will help them offer more products and services to this underserved section of the population.”

 

#asia, #finantier, #fintech, #fundings-exits, #indonesia, #open-banking, #open-finance, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

0

A Company Made P.P.E. for the World. Now Its Workers Have the Virus.

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.

#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #forced-labor, #foreign-workers, #labor-and-jobs, #malaysia, #protective-clothing-and-gear, #singapore, #workplace-hazards-and-violations

0

What’s It Like to Cruise in the Covid Era? To Find Out, I Went Aboard

A “cruise to nowhere” offered one correspondent a chance to understand an interesting trend, and to interview people in person.

#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #cruises, #new-york-times, #news-and-news-media, #quarantine-life-and-culture, #singapore, #wee-sui-lee, #workplace-hazards-and-violations

0

As Singapore Ventures Back Out, Migrant Workers Are Kept In

The low-wage workers, almost half of whom have contracted the coronavirus, continue to be mostly confined to dormitories even as the city-state eases restrictions.

#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #coronavirus-reopenings, #disease-rates, #dormitories, #foreign-workers, #migrant-labor-non-agriculture, #quarantines, #singapore, #south-asia

0

How to Pretend You’re in Singapore Tonight

You can feel like you are in the Lion City with a little work in the kitchen, the right book and some time in front of the TV.

#books-and-literature, #bourdain-anthony, #cooking-and-cookbooks, #food, #kwan-kevin, #liew-sonny, #movies, #restaurants, #singapore, #television, #travel-and-vacations

0

Singapore is poised to become Asia’s Silicon Valley

Long established as a global financial center, Singapore also looks set to become the “Silicon Valley of Asia.”

Tencent, ByteDance and Alibaba are reportedly planning regional hubs in the city-state, with ByteDance in particular expected to add hundreds of jobs over the next three years. They will join an international coterie of tech giants like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Stripe, Salesforce and Grab, that already have headquarters or significant operations, including engineering and R&D centers, in Singapore.

This means startups will have to compete more aggressively for talent. But having a diverse cluster of big tech companies helps the ecosystem by providing more resources, including mentorship and early funding opportunities, say Singapore-based investors. In the long term, the presence of global tech giants, coupled with homegrown unicorns like Grab, Sea (formerly known as Garena) and Trax, may also mean more exit opportunities for startups.

The Singaporean government continues to create new initiatives that make it attractive to tech companies and entrepreneurs.

While the United States-China trade war may have prompted Chinese companies like Tencent and ByteDance to move more of their operations to Singapore, it’s not the only reason, said AppWorks partner Jessica Liu, who oversees the venture firm and accelerator’s programs in Southeast Asia.

Many already had investments in Southeast Asian companies and were eyeing markets there as well, particularly Indonesia. “Some of it is probably due to the trade war over the past two years and other difficulties they’ve faced in the States,” she told Extra Crunch. “Strategically, they also have to find another big market with long-term potential for growth, and I think that’s why they are targeting Southeast Asia.”

Government policy pays off

Proximity to important growth markets isn’t the only reason tech companies find Singapore desirable. Regulations also play a role. Liu said, “The Singaporean government has already done a good job, from a policy and tax perspective, for startups and big tech companies to set up and incorporate in Singapore,” making the country an “intuitive” choice for regional headquarters.

A lot of what makes Singapore attractive to tech companies today can be credited to government initiatives that have been in play for more than a decade, said Kuo-Yi Lim, co-founder and managing partner at early-stage investment firm Monk’s Hill Ventures.

Before Monk’s Hill Ventures, Lim served as chief executive officer of Infocomm Investments from 2010 to 2013. Infocomm Investments is backed by the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) of Singapore, a government agency that is responsible for promoting the IT industry in Singapore.

“One of its explicit mandates was to look at bringing in top-tier tech companies to set up shop in Singapore, and ideally focus on product development activities, in addition to marketing activities like sales,” said Lim. “That’s always been a very explicit part of the government’s strategy to grow the tech industry.”

Over the past few years, companies like Google and Facebook have set up substantial operations in Singapore, along with fast-growing startups like Twilio, which came in after receiving investment from Infocomm.

“That strategy has been in play for almost 10 years, even longer, and I think we’re seeing the fruits of that now, with ByteDance, as well as Tencent, et cetera,” Lim said. “In terms of impact, I would say in general it has been very positive in terms of the vibrancy of the ecosystem, bringing in more depth of talent across multiple functional areas and bringing more richness in the different types of players across different verticals.”

Other factors made Singapore an attractive base for tech companies, including the fact it is a primarily English-speaking country, has a large number of international schools and was already filled with other multinational companies.

Timing was also crucial.

“Between 2010 and 2020, Southeast Asia went through a sea change, a lot of mobile first, which made it more meaningful for companies to set up local operations,” said Lim. “All those dovetailed nicely during that time.”

The Singaporean government continues to create new initiatives that make it attractive to tech companies and entrepreneurs. For example, it recently launched the Singapore Blockchain Innovation Programme (SBIP), with the aim of helping companies commercialize blockchain technology.

Competing for the same talent pool

All this means that the pool of tech talent in Singapore, which has a population of 5.6 million, is in especially high demand. Moving teams of employees to Singapore can be expensive, said Liu, and as a result, many companies have satellite engineering teams in Vietnam, India and Taiwan, especially for front-end engineers.

#alibaba, #asia, #bytedance, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #tencent

0

Appboxo gets $1.1 million seed to build a mini-app ecosystem for all developers

Pioneered by WeChat almost four years ago, mini-apps are now common in China and India, and gaining traction in other markets, too. Mini-apps, or lightweight apps designed for integration into host apps, allow smartphone users to access several services through one app, saving them data and storage space. They also give host apps more ways to make revenue. But most mini-app ecosystems are currently tied to a specific app or company. Appboxo, a Singapore-based startup, wants to make mini-apps more accessible by allowing any developer to turn their app into a “super app.”

Appboxo announced today it has closed $1.1 million in seed funding, led by FF APAC Scout, a Founders Fund vehicle; 500 Startups’ Southeast Asia-focused 500 Durians fund; Plug and Play Ventures; and Antler. The new funding will be used on product development and to add more mini-apps to Appboxo’s ecosystem.

The startup currently works with about 10 host apps, including Booking.com, Klook and Zalora, and has about 80 mini-apps on its platform. Examples of how host apps have used mini-apps include travel apps that added hotel, restaurant and activities bookings; and mobile wallets that integrated insurance-buying and e-commerce services.

Appboxo was founded in 2019 by chief executive officer Kaniyet Rayev and chief technology officer Nursultan Keneshbekov while participating in Antler’s Singapore incubator program. Rayev told TechCrunch that the two initially wanted to build an all-in-one travel app, with different travel-related services integrated into one platform.

“But when we actually started developing it, we realized there is no easy way to plug in third-party services,” Rayev said. They began thinking of ways for developers to create and offer mini-apps as a plug-and-play solution.

The mini-app economy is currently siloed, with apps or companies like WeChat, ByteDance, Meituan, Paytm, PhonePe, Grab and Go-jek either developing mini-apps for their own use, or running mini-app marketplaces for their users. But last year, the W3C Chinese Web Interest Group started looking at ways to standardize mini-apps. The group, including people from Alibaba, Baidu, Huawei, Intel, Xiaomi and China Mobile, published the first working draft of its white paper in September 2019 about how mini-apps can be created to work across platforms.

“It was a really perfect time for us to read that paper, because it was around the time we started our platform,” said Rayev.

Adding mini-apps can increase engagement because users open apps more frequently if they can access different services through it. It also gives app developers more ways to generate revenue through affiliate partnerships, commissions or transactions fees.

But many native app developers simply don’t have the resources to develop their own mini-apps, so Appboxo simplifies the process with an SDK that allows them to integrate any of its platform’s mini-apps. A second barrier for many app developers is working out business and development partnership deals with mini-apps, so AppBoxo helps guide them through the process, too.

Since Appboxo is based in Singapore, a lot of its current users in Southeast Asia, and it also plans to target India, too. While mini-apps are less common in Europe and the United States, where most smartphone owners still use apps with one core offering, Rayev said that is starting to change. For example, Uber announced it was merging its ride-hailing and food delivery service, Uber Eats, into one app, last year, while Snap introduced Minis a few months ago.

AppBoxo already has partners in Europe, and “the whole super app concept is coming to the Western world,” Rayev added. “Hopefully we can find some new partners in the rest of the world as well.”

#appboxo, #asia, #developers, #mini-apps, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #tc

0

Used car marketplace Carsome gets $30 million Series D for its Southeast Asia growth plans

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.

#asia, #carsome, #ecommerce, #indonesia, #malaysia, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #thailand, #used-cars, #vehicles

0

Singapore’s government launches blockchain innovation program with $8.9 million in funding

A group of Singaporean government agencies is launching a new research program for blockchain technology with $12 million SGD (about $8.9 million USD) in funding. Called the Singapore Blockchain Innovation Programme (SBIP), the project is a collaboration between Enterprise Singapore, Infocomm Media Development Authority and the National Research Foundation Singapore. It has support from the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the country’s central bank and financial regulator.

SBIP’s funding comes from the National Research Foundation, and will be used to develop, commercialize and encourage the adoption of blockchain technology by companies. The program will first focus on the use of blockchain in trade, logistics and the supply chain.

According to a press release, the program “will engage close to 75 companies” over the next three years. It is already working with Dimuto, a global supply chain platform, to use blockchain technology to trace perishables with the goal of improving farmers’ creditworthiness.

The program’s other plans include finding ways to help blockchain systems and networks collaborate with one another, and growing the blockchain sector’s talent pool.

While companies ranging from startups to giants like IBM have been exploring the use of blockchain technology to create more transparent and cohesive supply chains for years, the issue has become more urgent as the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted vulnerabilities in international logistics and supply chains.

In a statement, Peter Ong, the chairman of Enterprise Singapore, said “COVID-19 has emphasized the need for trusted and reliable business systems in the new digital world. Blockchain technology helps embed trust in applications spanning logistics and supply chains, trade financing to digital identities and credentials.”

Singapore’s government is positioning itself as a partner to blockchain developers and companies, with the goal of becoming a “crypto hub” that is more open to the technology than other countries. Other blockchain-related government initiatives include the Monetary Authority of Singapore’s Project Ubin. Launched in 2016, Project Ubin announced in July that its multi-currency payments network had proved its commercial potential after tests with more than 40 companies.

#asia, #blockchain, #enterprise-singapore, #infocomm-media-development-authority, #logistics, #monetary-authority-of-singapore, #national-research-foundation, #singapore, #singapore-blockchain-innovation-programme, #southeast-asia, #supply-chain, #tc

0

Grab-Singtel and Ant Group win digital bank licenses in Singapore

Singapore on Friday granted four firms including Ant Group and Grab the licenses to run digital banks in the Southeast Asian country, in a move that would allow tech giants to expand their financial services offerings.

The nation’s central bank, Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), said it applied a “rigorous, merit-based process” to select a strong slate of digital banks. As these digital banks start their pilot operations, MAS said it will review whether more companies could be granted this license.

A total of 21 firms including TikTok-parent firm ByteDance had applied to get a digital license, of which 14 met the eligibility criteria, MAS said. Major giants see a major opportunity in expanding to financial services as a way to supercharge their revenue in the rapidly growing region.

MAS said it expects the new digital banks to commerce operations from early 2022. The other two licenses went to an entity wholly-owned by internet giant Sea, and a consortium of Greenland Financial Holdings, Linklogis Hong Kong and Beijing Cooperative Equity Investment Fund Management.

Like traditional banks, Grab-Singtel and Sea will be able to offer customers banking accounts, debit and credit cards and other services. Digital wholesale banks — Ant-owned entity and Greenland Financial consortium — will serve small and medium-sized businesses. None of them will be required to have a physical presence.

MAS said it expects the new digital banks to commerce operations from early 2022. The other two licenses went to an entity wholly-owned by Sea, and a consortium that includes Greenland Financial Holdings, Linklogis Hong Kong, and Beijing Cooperative Equity Investment Fund Management.

“We expect them to thrive alongside the incumbent banks and raise the industry’s bar in delivering quality financial services, particularly for currently underserved businesses and individuals,” said MAS MD Ravi Menon in a statement. A handful of countries including the UK, India, and Hong Kong have streamlined their regulations in recent years to grant tech companies the ability to operate as digital banks.

Ride-hailing firm Grab and telecom operator Singtel formed a consortium last year to apply for the digital full bank license. Their combined experience and expertise “will further our goal to empower more people to gain better control of their money and achieve better economic outcomes for themselves, their businesses and families,” said Anthony Tan, Group CEO & Co-Founder of Grab, in a statement Friday.

In a statement, Ant Group said, “Over the years, Ant Group has accumulated substantial experience and proven success, especially in China where we work with partner financial institutions to serve the needs of SMEs,” Ant said in a statement. “We look forward to building stronger and deeper collaborations with all participants in the financial services industry in Singapore.”

#ant-group, #apps, #asia, #china, #finance, #government, #grab, #singapore, #singtel

0

In Singapore, a Cruise to Nowhere on the World Dream

Singapore allows cruises to nowhere, helping a struggling industry. That means socially distanced buffet lines, electronic monitoring and hand sanitizer at the slot machines.

#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #coronavirus-risks-and-safety-concerns, #cruises, #genting-group, #ships-and-shipping, #singapore, #travel-and-vacations

0

Neuroglee gets $2.3 million to develop digital therapeutics for neurodegenerative diseases

There are now about 50 million people with dementia globally, a number the World Health Organization expects to triple by 2050. Alzheimer’s is the leading cause of dementia and caregivers are often overwhelmed, without enough support.

Neuroglee, a Singapore-based health tech startup, wants to help with a digital therapeutic platform created to treat patients in the early stages of the disease. Founded this year to focus on neurodegenerative diseases, Neuroglee announced today it has raised $2.3 million in pre-seed funding.

The round was led by Eisai Co., one of Japan’s largest pharmaceutical companies, and Kuldeep Singh Rajput, the founder and chief executive officer of predictive healthcare startup Biofourmis.

Neuroglee’s prescription digital therapy software for Alzheimer’s, called NG-001, is its main product. The company plans to start clinical trials next year. NG-001 is meant to complement medication and other treatments, and once it is prescribed by a clinician, patients can access its cognitive exercises and tasks through a tablet.

The software tracks patients’ progress, such as the speed of their fingers and the time it takes to complete an exercise, and delivers personalized treatment programs. It also has features to address the mental health of patients, including one that shows images that can bring up positive memories, which in turn can help alleviate depression and anxiety when used in tandem with other cognitive behavioral therapy techniques.

For caregivers and clinicians, NG-001 helps them track patient progress and their compliance with other treatments, like medications. This means that healthcare providers can work closely with patients even remotely, which is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Neuroglee founder and CEO Aniket Singh Rajput told TechCrunch that its first target markets for NG-001 are the United States and Singapore, followed by Japan. NG-001 needs to gain regulatory approval in each country, and it will start by seeking U.S. Food and Drug Administration clearance.

Once it launches, clinicians will have two ways to prescribe NG-001, through their healthcare provider platform or an electronic prescription tool. A platform called Neuroglee Connect will give clinicians, caregivers and patients access to support and features for reimbursement and coverage.

#alzheimers, #asia, #digital-therapeutics, #eisai-co, #fundings-exits, #health, #kuldeep-singh-rajput, #neuroglee, #recent-funding, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

0

Singapore Approves a Lab-Grown Meat Product, a Global First

The approval for a U.S. start-up’s “cultured chicken” product is a small victory for the nascent laboratory meat industry. Less clear is whether other countries will follow Singapore’s lead.

#chickens, #eat-just, #factory-farming, #food, #laboratories-and-scientific-equipment, #meat, #singapore, #start-ups

0

Eat Just to sell lab-grown meat in Singapore after gaining “world first” regulatory approval

Eat Just will start offering lab-grown chicken meat in Singapore after gaining regulatory approval from the Singapore Food Agency (SFA). The cell-cultured chicken will eventually be produced under Eat Just’s new GOOD Meat brand through partnerships with local manufacturers and go on sale to restaurants before it is available to consumers.

No chickens were killed to obtain the cell line used to produce Eat Just’s cultured meat, global head of communications Andrew Noyes told TechCrunch. Instead, the process starts with cell isolation, where cells are sourced through methods that can include a biopsy from a live animal. After the cells are cultured, they are transferred into a bioreactor, fed with a proprietary mix of proteins, amino acids, minerals, sugars, salts and other nutrients and then harvested after they achieve enough density.

While there are plenty of other companies working on lab-grown meats using various techniques, Eat Just describes the Singapore government’s review and regulatory approval as a “world first.” The company said that during the approval process, it went through 20 productions runs of cell-cultured chicken in 1,200-liter bioreactors to prove the consistency of its manufacturing process. Eat Just also said no antibiotics were used and that its cultured chicken has an “extremely low and significantly cleaner microbiological content than conventional chicken.”

Noyes said the company is already working with a restaurant to add its GOOD Meat chicken to their menu, and hopes to announce a launch date soon.

In Eat Just’s announcement today, chief executive officer Josh Tetrick said, “Singapore has long been a leader in innovation of all kinds, from information technology to biologics to now leading the world in building a healthier, safer food system.”

The government is currently engaged in an initiative, called “30 by 30,” to produce 30% of the country’s food supply locally by 2030. Spearheaded by the Singapore Food Agency (SFA), the initiative was prompted because Singapore currently imports over 90% of its food, which makes it vulnerable to export bans or the logistics issues highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact. As part of “30 by 30,” the SFA and Agency for Science, Technology and Research has made $144 million SGD in research funding available.

Eat Just, whose other products include a plant-based egg substitute, announced last month it is partnering with Proterra Investment Partners Asia to launch a new Asian subsidiary. The partnership includes a factory in Singapore that received support from the government’s Economic Development board.

There are several factors driving demand for cultured meat and plant-based protein in Asian markets. The first is concerns about the safety of meat from slaughterhouses that gained momentum during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic also highlighted vulnerabilities in the production and supply chain that can be potentially be avoided with lab-produced meat and meat alternatives.

#asia, #cultured-meat, #eat-just, #food, #food-tech, #lab-grown-meat, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

0

Singapore-based mental health app Intellect reaches one million users, closes seed funding

Theodoric Chew, co-founder and chief executive officer of mental health app Intellect

Theodoric Chew, co-founder and chief executive officer of mental health app Intellect

Intellect, a Singapore-based startup that wants to lower barriers to mental health care in Asia, says it has reached more than one million users just six months after launching. Google also announced today that the startup’s consumer app, also called Intellect, is one of its picks for best personal growth apps of 2020.

The company recently closed an undisclosed seed round led by Insignia Ventures Partners. Angel investors including e-commerce platform Carousell co-founder and chief executive officer Quek Siu Rui; former Sequoia partner Tim Lee; and startup consultancy xto10x’s Southeast Asia CEO J.J. Chai also participated.

In a statement, Insignia Ventures Partners principal Samir Chaibi said, “In Intellect, we see a fast-scaling platform addressing a pain that has become very obvious amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. We believe that pairing clinically-backed protocols with an efficient mobile-first delivery is the key to break down the barriers to access for millions of patients globally.”

Co-founder and chief executive officer Theodoric Chew launched Intellect earlier this year because while there is a growing pool of mental wellness apps in the United States and Europe that have attracted more funding during the COVID-19 pandemic, the space is still very young in Asia. Intellect’s goal is encourage more people to incorporate mental health care into their daily routines by lowering barriers like high costs and social stigma.

Intellect offers two products. One is a consumer app with self-guided programs based on cognitive behavioral therapy techniques that center on issues like anxiety, self-esteem or relationship issues.

The other is a mental health platform for employers to offer as a benefit and includes a recently launched telehealth service called Behavioural Health Coaching that connects users with mental health professionals. The service, which includes one-on-one video sessions and unlimited text messaging, is now a core part of Intellect’s services, Chew told TechCrunch.

Intellect’s enterprise product now reaches 10,000 employees, and its clients include tech companies, regional operations for multinational corporations and hospitals. Most are located in Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia and India, and range in size from 100 to more than 3,000 employees.

For many small- to mid-sized employers, Intellect is often the first mental health benefit they have offered. Larger clients may already have EAP (employee assistance programs), but Chew said those are often underutilized, with an average adoption rate of 1% to 2%. On the other hand, he said Intellect’s employee benefit program sees an average adoption rate of 30% in the first month after it is rolled out at a company.

Chew added that the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted more companies to address burnout and other mental health issues.

“In terms of larger trends, we’ve seen a huge spike in companies across the region having mental health and wellbeing of their employees being prioritized on their agenda,” said Chew. “In terms of user trends, we see a significantly higher utilization in work stress and burnout, anxiety and relationship-related programs.”

Intellect’s seed round will be used to expand in Asian markets and to help fund clinical research studies it is currently conducting with universities and organizations in Singapore, Australia and the United Kingdom.

#apps, #asia, #fundings-exits, #health, #intellect, #mental-health, #mental-wellness, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

0

AWS brings the Mac mini to its cloud

AWS today opened its re:Invent conference with a surprise announcement: the company is bringing the Mac mini to its cloud. These new EC2 Mac instances, as AWS calls them, are now available in preview. They won’t come cheap, though.

The target audience here — and the only one AWS is targeting for now — is developers who want cloud-based build and testing environments for their Mac and iOS apps. But it’s worth noting that with remote access, you get a fully-featured Mac mini in the cloud, and I’m sure developers will find all kinds of other use cases for this as well.

Given the recent launch of the M1 Mac minis, it’s worth pointing out that the hardware AWS is using — at least for the time being — are i7 machines with six physical and 12 logical cores and 32 GB of memory. Using the Mac’s built-in networking options, AWS connects them to its Nitro System for fast network and storage access. This means you’ll also be able to attach AWS block storage to these instances, for example.

Unsurprisingly, the AWS team is also working on bringing Apple’s new M1 Mac minis into its data centers. The current plan is to roll this out “early next year,” AWS tells me, and definitely within the first half of 2021. Both AWS and Apple believe that the need for Intel-powered machines won’t go away anytime soon, though, especially given that a lot of developers will want to continue to run their tests on Intel machines for the foreseeable future.

David Brown, AWS’s vice president of EC2, tells me that these are completely unmodified Mac minis. AWS only turned off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. It helps, Brown said, that the minis fit nicely into a 1U rack.

“You can’t really stack them on shelves — you want to put them in some sort of service sled [and] it fits very well into a service sled and then our cards and all the various things we have to worry about, from an integration point of view, fit around it and just plug into the Mac mini through the ports that it provides,” Brown explained. He admitted that this was obviously a new challenge for AWS. The only way to offer this kind of service is to use Apple’s hardware, after all.

Image Credits: AWS

It’s also worth noting that AWS is not virtualizing the hardware. What you’re getting here is full access to your own device that you’re not sharing with anybody else. “We wanted to make sure that we support the Mac Mini that you would get if you went to the Apple store and you bought a Mac mini,” Brown said.

Unlike with other EC2 instances, whenever you spin up a new Mac instance, you have to pre-pay for the first 24 hours to get started. After those first 24 hours, prices are by the second, just like with any other instance type AWS offers today.

AWS will charge $1.083 per hour, billed by the second. That’s just under $26 to spin up a machine and run it for 24 hours. That’s quite a lot more than what some of the small Mac mini cloud providers are charging (we’re generally talking about $60 or less per month for their entry-level offerings and around two to three times as much for a comparable i7 machine with 32GB of RAM).

Image Credits: Ron Miller/TechCrunch

Until now, Mac mini hosting was a small niche in the hosting market, though it has its fair number of players, with the likes of MacStadium, MacinCloud, MacWeb and Mac Mini Vault vying for their share of the market.

With this new offering from AWS, they are now facing a formidable competitor, though they can still compete on price. AWS, however, argues that it can give developers access to all of the additional cloud services in its portfolio, which sets it apart from all of the smaller players.

“The speed that things happen at [other Mac mini cloud providers] and the granularity that you can use those services at is not as fine as you get with a large cloud provider like AWS,” Brown said. “So if you want to launch a machine, it takes a few days to provision and somebody puts a machine in a rack for you and gives you an IP address to get to it and you manage the OS. And normally, you’re paying for at least a month — or a longer period of time to get a discount. What we’ve done is you can literally launch these machines in minutes and have a working machine available to you. If you decide you want 100 of them, 500 of them, you just ask us for that and we’ll make them available. The other thing is the ecosystem. All those other 200-plus AWS services that you’re now able to utilize together with the Mac mini is the other big difference.”

Brown also stressed that Amazon makes it easy for developers to use different machine images, with the company currently offering images for macOS Mojave and Catalina, with Big Sure support coming “at some point in the future.” And developers can obviously create their own images with all of the software they need so they can reuse them whenever they spin up a new machine.

“Pretty much every one of our customers today has some need to support an Apple product and the Apple ecosystem, whether it’s iPhone, iPad or  Apple TV, whatever it might be. They’re looking for that bold use case,” Brown said. “And so the problem we’ve really been focused on solving is customers that say, ‘hey, I’ve moved all my server-side workloads to AWS, I’d love to be able to move some of these build workflows, because I still have some Mac minis in a data center or in my office that I have to maintain. I’d love that just to be on AWS.’ ”

AWS’s marquee launch customers for the new service are Intuit, Ring and mobile camera app FiLMiC.

“EC2 Mac instances, with their familiar EC2 interfaces and APIs, have enabled us to seamlessly migrate our existing iOS and macOS build-and-test pipelines to AWS, further improving developer productivity,” said Pratik Wadher, vice president of Product Development at Intuit. “We‘re experiencing up to 30% better performance over our data center infrastructure, thanks to elastic capacity expansion, and a high availability setup leveraging multiple zones. We’re now running around 80% of our production builds on EC2 Mac instances, and are excited to see what the future holds for AWS innovation in this space.”

The new Mac instances are now available in a number of AWS regions. These include US East (N. Virginia), US East (Ohio), US West (Oregon), Europe (Ireland) and Asia Pacific (Singapore), with other regions to follow soon.

#amazon-web-services, #apple, #apple-inc, #asia-pacific, #aws-reinvent, #bluetooth, #cloud, #cloud-infrastructure, #computing, #david-brown, #developer, #europe, #ipad, #iphone, #ireland, #mac-mini, #macintosh, #ohio, #oregon, #singapore, #steve-jobs, #tc, #web-hosting

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New venture firm The-Wolfpack takes a fresh approach to D2C startups

The-Wolfpack’s co-founders, Toh Jin Wei, Tan Kok Chin and Simon Nichols

The-Wolfpack’s co-founders, Toh Jin Wei, Tan Kok Chin and Simon Nichols (Image Credit: The-Wolfpack)

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the consumer, leisure and media companies hard, but a new venture firm called The-Wolfpack is still very upbeat on those sectors. Based in Singapore, the firm was founded by former managing directors at GroupM, one of the world’s largest advertising and media companies, and plans to work very closely with each of its portfolio companies. Its name was chosen because they believe “entrepreneurs thrive best in a wolfpack.”

The-Wolfpack’s debut fund, called the Wolfpack Pioneer VCC, is already fully subscribed at $5 million USD, and will focus on direct-to-consumer companies, with plans to invest in eight to 10 startups. The firm is already looking to raise a second fund, with a target of $20 million SGD (about $14.9 million USD) and above, and will set up another office in Thailand, with plans to expand into Indonesia as well.

The-Wolfpack was founded by Toh Jin Wei and Simon Nichols, who met while working at GroupM, and Tan Kok Chin, a former director at Sunray Woodcraft Construction who has worked on projects with Marina Bay Sands, Raffles Hotel and the Singapore Tourism’s offices.

In addition to providing financial capital, The-Wolfpack wants to build ecosystems around its portfolio companies by connecting them with IP owners, digital marketing experts, content producers and designers who can help create offline experiences. It also plans to invest in startups based on opportunities for them to collaborate or cross-sell with one another.

Toh told TechCrunch that formal planning on The-Wolfpack began at the end of 2019, but he and Nichols started thinking of launching their own business five years ago while working together at GroupM.

“Our perspective on what the industry needed was similar — strategic investors who truly knew how to get behind D2C founders,” Toh said.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impact has hurt spending in The-Wolfpack’s three key sectors (consumer, leisure and media). But it also presents opportunities for innovation as consumer habits shift, Nichols said.

For example, even though consumer spending has dropped, people are still “drawn towards brands that build towards higher-quality engagements,” he said. “There is a real business advantage for D2C brands who’ve recognized this shift and know how to act on it.”

The-Wolfpack hasn’t disclosed its investments yet since deals are still being finalized, but some of the brands its debut fund are interested in include one launched by an Australian makeup artist who wants to scale to Southeast Asia, and an online gaming company whose ecosystem includes original content, gaming teams and studios. The-Wolfpack plans to help them set up a physical studio to create an offline experience, too.

“Typically brands have talked at customers, but it’s become a two-way conversation, and startups who get D2C right have a real potential for exponential growth that’s worth investing in,” said Toh.

#asia, #d2c, #direct-to-consumer, #fundings-exits, #leisure, #media, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #the-wolfpack, #venture-capital, #venture-firm

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Corporate services platform Sleek lands $4 million in new funding

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.”

#asia, #corporate-services, #fundings-exits, #hong-kong, #singapore, #sleek, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

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It Was Just Him and His Smiley Face. He’s Charged With Illegal Assembly.

Jolovan Wham, a civil rights activist in Singapore, was charged with violating the Public Order Act for holding up a cardboard sign with a smiley face on it near a police station in March.

#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #demonstrations-protests-and-riots, #freedom-of-assembly, #freedom-of-speech-and-expression, #human-rights-and-human-rights-violations, #photography, #singapore, #social-media

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Singapore-based digital business assistant Osome raises $3 million

Osome’s founding team, Anton Roslov, Victor Lysenko and Konstantin Lange

Osome’s founding team, Anton Roslov, Victor Lysenko and Konstantin Lange

Osome, a Singapore-headquartered business assistant app that digitizes accounting and compliance tasks, has raised $3 million. An extension of Osome’s seed round, the new funding was led by XA Network and AltaIR Capital.

The startup currently has about 4,500 SME clients across Singapore, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom, founder and chief executive officer Victor Lysenko told TechCrunch. The new funding brings Osome’s total raised to $8 million from investors including Target Global. “We are in a good place in terms of cash reserves and operational performance so we used this opportunity to raise funding before a much larger Series A planned for 2021,” Lysenko said.

When the startup launched in 2018, he said it reached $1 million in annual recurring revenue (ARR) by the end of the year, then increased that amount to $4 million in December 2019. Osome expects to hit $8 million ARR by the end of this year.

Osome’s platform uses machine learning-based tech to automate administrative, accounting, payroll and tax-related work. Depending on subscription tier, it also gives businesses access to chartered accountant services.

Osome's digital business assistant

Osome’s digital business assistant

The startup started two years ago in Singapore, where it also offers incorporation services, before expanding to the United Kingdom and Hong Kong.

Lysenko told TechCrunch that Osome launched in Singapore because the country’s “simple business rules and a simple tax system allowed us to offer clients a ready-made solution quickly.” The city-state’s small size also made it easier to get quick client feedback and arrange partnerships.

Osome is now looking at Australia as a potential new market, because of its proximity to its Singapore headquarters and its similar accounting and corporate service rules.

Thanks to the country’s relatively digital and streamlined process for incorporating businesses, several other tech-based business service platforms are also based in Singapore. These include Sleek, Lanturn and Bluemeg. Despite competing with each other, Lysenko said the number of companies “is an excellent support for our thesis that this market is ripe for disruption.”

“Having said that, we believe that while all our competitors are looking at this space from a digital perspective, our special sauce is that we digitize the process to a much deeper extent and do not rely on third-party solutions as much as others do,” he added.

The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns prompted some companies to start using Osome, particularly in the e-commerce segment. About one in 10 of Osome’s clients earn most of their revenue online, and that share is growing, Lysenko said.

“We found ourselves in a very stable industry,” he added. “We saw a slight 10% drop in revenue in April and May, but in June, growth resumed, and we returned to our previous trajectory. We have tripled our revenue in the last 12 months.”

#accounting, #asia, #compliance, #digital-business-assistant, #fundings-exits, #osome, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

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A Transfixed World Awaits What’s Next in America

As U.S. results trickled in, they were analyzed far and wide with the sort of blanket news coverage most often reserved for elections closer to home.

#australia, #biden-joseph-r-jr, #china, #japan, #philippines, #presidential-election-of-2020, #singapore, #south-korea, #trump-donald-j, #united-states-international-relations, #united-states-politics-and-government

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A Riveted World Waits to See What’s Next in America

As results trickled in, they were analyzed far and wide with the sort of blanket news coverage most often reserved for elections closer to home.

#australia, #biden-joseph-r-jr, #china, #japan, #philippines, #presidential-election-of-2020, #singapore, #south-korea, #trump-donald-j

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Eat Just partners with Proterra to launch a new subsidiary in Asia

Eat Just, the plant-based food startup, is launching a new Asian subsidiary through a partnership with Proterra Investment Partners Asia. The agreement includes building Eat Just’s first factory in Asia, which will be based in Singapore.

As part of the deal, Proterra, which focuses on agri-tech, will invest up to $100 million in the facility, while Eat Just will invest $20 million. The new subsidiary, called Eat Just Asia, will focus on creating a fully-integrated supply chain, working with manufacturers and distributers for Eat Just’s flagship product, vegan egg substitute Just Egg, which is made from mung beans.

Once completed, the Singapore facility will “generate thousands of metric tons of protein,” said Eat Just’s announcement. Eat Just Asia also received support from the Singaporean government’s Economic Development Board.

In addition to Just Egg, Eat Just and Proterra said they are also in talks to expand their partnership to include the development of plant-based meat alternatives.

Eat Just’s current distribution partners in Asia include SPC Samlip in South Korea, Betagro in Thailand and an as-of-yet undisclosed new partner in China, where Just Egg is already available on Alibaba’s Tmall and JD.com.

Based in San Francisco and formerly known as Hampton Creek, Eat Just has received total of about $220 million in funding, according to Crunchbase. Its investors include Khosla Ventures and Li Ka-Shing.

Eat Just announced in March that it will focus on global expansion this year, with partnerships in North America, Latin America, Europe and Asia.

Over the following months, it announced a succession of distribution deals for Just Egg, including ones with American food manufacturer and distributor Michael Foods, a subsidiary of Post Holdings, and European plant-based food manufacturer Emsland Group.

In Asia, demand for plant-based protein foods grew during the COVID-19 pandemic, due in part to concerns about the safety of meat and other animal products. In an April 2020 Reuters article, Eat Just said sales of Just Egg on JD.com and Tmall had grown 30% since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak.

Other plant-based food startups focusing on Asian markets include Impossible Foods, which announced funding of $500 million in March to expand in Asia; Karana, a Singaporean startup that makes meat substitutes from jackfruit; and Malaysian-based Phuture Foods, which uses a variety of plants to make pork substitutes.

#asia, #eat-just, #food-technology, #fundings-exits, #just-egg, #plant-based-food, #singapore, #startups, #tc

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Singapore tech-based real estate agency Propseller raises $1.2 million seed round

Propseller, a Singapore-based real estate agency that combines a tech platform with in-house agents to close transactions more quickly, announced today it has raised $1.2 million in seed funding.

The round included investment from Iterative; Hustle Fund; XA Network; Rapzo Capital; Lazada co-founder Stein Jakabo; and Dot Property founder Ben Neve. Propseller also said “three undisclosed highly strategic investors” and returning private investors participated.

Propseller’s last funding announcement was in December 2018, when it raised SGD $1 million (about $737,000) in seed funding.

Founded in 2018 and launched the next year, Propseller says its technology platform enables transactions to close more quickly, helping with tasks like property valuations, and reduces standard commission fees to 1% from 2% because the startup’s in-house agents are able to finish more transactions in less time.

The company claims it is currently handling about SGD $75 million worth of properties each year. During the pandemic, tech-enabled services like online dashboards and virtual viewings have allowed Propseller’s agents to continue working with clients.

Despite the economic impact of COVID-19, Singapore’s real estate market is expected to recover relatively quickly, especially the residential sector, because of demand for new condominiums and foreign investment.

Another Singaporean real estate-focused startup that recently raised funding is PropertyGuru. Last month, the property listing platform announced an investment of $220 million from KKR and TPG to expand into new Southast Asian markets. PropertyGuru’s most direct competitor is 99.co, but startups like Propseller, Ohmyhome and Greyloft, which offer agent services combined with tech platforms, all provide an alternative in the Singaporean real estate market.

In a press statement about its investment in Propseller, Iterative partner (and founder of Divvy Homes, a San Francisco-based proptech startup) Brian Ma said, “Worldwide, modern estate agencies are already taking market share at breakneck speeds. In a market like Singapore with high property prices and the need for high quality service, we believe digitalization will be inevitable. We’re excited for Propseller to lead the charge there.”

#asia, #fundings-exits, #property, #propseller, #proptech, #real-estate, #real-estate-agency, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

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Lanturn, a Singaporean tech-enabled corporate services provider, raises $3 million seed round

Running a small to medium-sized business means a small staff needs to juggle a plethora of tasks, like bookkeeping, tax records and regulatory filings. Singaporean startup Lanturn streamlines their workload with a combination of corporate services and an internal platform that helps automate administrative work. Lanturn announced today that it has raised a $3 million seed round led by East Ventures and CoCoon Ignite Ventures.

Spun out from Zave, a Singaporean management app (and another startup in East Ventures’ portfolio), two years ago, Lanturn now has almost 400 clients. It focuses on startups and SMEs, acting as a “one-stop online corporate services” solution, and uses its internal tech platform to differentiate from other corporate service providers.

Lanturn’s services include helping companies incorporate in Singapore and handling visa applications for new hires. It is led by chief executive officer Velisarios Kattoulas.

Kattoulas told TechCrunch that Lanturn’s seed funding will be used for hiring and to develop its technology.

In a statement about the investment, East Ventures managing partner and co-founder Batara Eto said, “We are pleased to support solutions that enable agility and adaptability among businesses, especially in the wake of the pandemic, and Lanturn provides that by leveraging technology to streamline corporate services and empower businesses to make more informed data-driven decisions.”

Other participants in the round included individual investors Alex Turnbull; RVP Equity managing partner Saki Georgiadis; Meiyen Tan, the head of Oon & Bazul’s restructuring and insolvency practice; White & Case Asia-Pacific partner Chris Kelly; and Next Billion Ventures venture partner Tiang Foo Lim.

Lanturn’s clients range in size from very early-stage startups with only one person, to small and mid-sized asset managers, SMEs and tech firms that have more than 100 employees spread across several countries.

The COVID-19 pandemic meant there was less demand for Lanturn’s services this year than the company had expected, but on the other hand, “the pandemic has highlighted to clients that because Lanturn has its own cloud-based corporate services platform, we can serve them as well today as we could before the pandemic,” Kattoulas said. “That’s helped us maintain momentum, and it’s one reason we’ll grow more this year than almost any cloud-based or traditional corporate services firm.”

#asia, #cocoon-ignite-ventures, #corporate-services, #east-ventures, #fundings-exits, #lanturn, #recent-funding, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

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The roadmap to startup consolidation in Southeast Asia is becoming clearer

While Southeast Asia’s startup ecosystems are still young compared to those in China or India, it has matured over the last five years. Unicorns like Grab, Gojek and Garena are continuing to grow, and more competitive startups are emerging in sectors like fintech, e-commerce and logistics. That leads to the question: Will consolidation start to pick up?

The consensus by investors interviewed by Extra Crunch is: Yes, but slowly at first. In the meantime, there are still roadblocks to mergers and acquisitions, including few buyers and the size of markets like Indonesia, which means startups there have a lot of room to grow on their own, even alongside competitors. But many Southeast Asian startup ecosystems are rapidly evolving, and consolidations may speed up in the next few years.

During a Disrupt session, East Ventures partner Melisa Irene spoke about consolidation as a strategy, especially when larger companies, like Grab, decide to expand into new services by acquiring smaller players. In an interview with Extra Crunch, Irene elaborated on the idea.

“Companies that want to get more value out of their customers by expanding into other services can do it internally by developing it, or do it externally by buying existing companies that have been operating in the same or adjacent sectors,” she said.

For many years, companies opted not to do that because of the cost, she added, but that mindset started to shift a few years ago.

In 2018, Grab acquired Uber’s Southeast Asia operations, still one of the highest-profile examples of consolidation in the region. The “superapp” also built out its financial services business by acquiring fintech startups Kudo, iKaaz, Bento and OVO.

Grab rival Gojek has been an even busier buyer, acquiring 13 startups so far according to Crunchbase, including Vietnamese payments startup WePay and Indonesian point-of-sale platform Moka earlier this year.

Meanwhile, Traveloka acquired three competing online travel agencies in 2018, while e-commerce platform Tokopedia bought Bridestory, its first publicly known acquisition, last year to expand into the Indonesian bridal industry.

Still in its early stages

Golden Gate Ventures partner Justin Hall said he has seen attitudes toward consolidation in Southeast Asia gradually shift since the investment firm was founded in 2011.

“I would say over the next two to three years, we’re definitely going to start seeing much more M&A occurring than versus the last eight to 10 years. It’s the confluence of different factors. One, I think corporate VC is starting to pour a little bit more money into the space. You have a lot of international tech companies, e.g., from China, or regional unicorns that are being much more acquisitive in their strategy,” Hall said.

He added that an often overlooked factor is that a lot of regional early-stage and institutional funds launched about a decade ago, building a foundation for Southeast Asia’s startup ecosystems. Many of these funds started out with a 10-year mandate and as a result, general partners may start examining how they can orchestrate sales, for example by talking to corporate acquirers, financiers or other sources of capital for an exit.

“A lot of activity that you’re starting to see right now is under the table. We have funds coming up on that 10-year mark, saying, ‘Let’s see where we can derive value within our portfolio, within specific companies that we can sell.’ That is going to start happening en masse over the next two years once we hit that 10-year mark for a lot of these funds.”

Roadblocks

#alpha-jwc, #consolidation, #east-ventures, #fundings-exits, #golden-gate-ventures, #indonesia, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

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