BLOCK71 SF brings camaraderie and opportunities

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BLOCK71 San Francisco is a launchpad for Singaporean start-ups into the US, and a gateway to Southeast Asian market for Silicon Valley companies

NUS Engineering alumnus Arun Thampi co-founded chatbot analytics start-up Botmetrics about 18 months ago in San Francisco. Since real estate was expensive there, he decided to work out of BLOCK71 San Francisco, an initiative by NUS Enterprise, Singtel Innov8 and SG Innovate.

Arun was attracted to BLOCK71 San Francisco because it provided an environment where like-minded people met and shared experiences.

“Entrepreneurs go through hard days. Knowing that the people sitting next to me had also similar experiences made our entrepreneurial journey less lonely. We motivated each other. It’s the camaraderie that you can’t replicate,” said Arun, who was part of the third batch of students to have gone on the NUS Overseas Colleges programme in Silicon Valley.

He also found the frequent sharing sessions with entrepreneurs and investors valuable because they allowed him to keep up with developments, learn new things and meet new people.

It was a great relief to be part of the BLOCK71 community, he said, because as a young start-up with many business problems and challenges to solve, issues like office space and trying to get the Internet connection to work were a distraction. BLOCK71 San Francisco took care of these, which allowed him to focus on his business. In July, he sold his start-up to bot software start-up Howdy for an undisclosed sum.

Since it was set up in 2015, BLOCK71 San Francisco has hosted more than 70 start-ups. Its 560-square meters premises in the South of Market neighbourhood of San Francisco is a cool place to be in amongst tech entrepreneurs. Its neighbours include household tech names such as Twitter and LinkedIn, as well as numerous cafes and restaurants.

Any entrepreneur from the NUS, Singtel Innov8 and SG Innovate networks, as well as Singapore, can use BLOCK71 San Francisco as a base to explore opportunities or raise funds in the US. At any one time, there are about 15 to 20 companies registered there. No payment is needed but start-ups can be based there for up to six months. Each week, companies may look forward to one or two talks or sharing sessions.

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Regular sharing sessions and events at BLOCK71 help its community stay plugged-in to the start-up scene in San Francisco

NUS Arts and Social Sciences alumnus Paul Yang, founder of Singapore social video start-up Lomotif, likes the sense of possibility he experienced at BLOCK71 San Francisco.

Serendipity is an invisible and very important element that is hard to quantify, he said. Without BLOCK71 bringing together different people in the start-up ecosystem, he could have missed many opportunities.

For example, a contact he made at BLOCK71 San Francisco introduced him to StartX, a start-up accelerator meant only for Stanford University students. “I’m not a Stanford student but because of this introduction, I got into the programme and our network has become bigger.”

The new friends he made at BLOCK71 have also let him sleep on their couches. “I’ve not paid for accommodation since the first time I arrived here,” he quipped. Being an entrepreneur living on a tight budget, this was useful. The US is his biggest market and Paul is currently raising a funding round for Lomotif, an app which lets people add music to their video moments.

This unique confluence of ideas, people and opportunity that Arun and Paul experienced at BLOCK 71 San Francisco is not mere happenstance, as Dr Lily Chan, CEO of NUS Enterprise shared. “We consciously curate and create opportunities for members to benefit from interactions with each other. BLOCK71 supports entrepreneurship development in Singapore and beyond by catalysing and aggregating the start-up community.”

Entrepreneurs go through hard days. Knowing that the people sitting next to me had also similar experiences made our entrepreneurial journey less lonely. We motivated each other. It’s the camaraderie that you can’t replicate.

As part of a network of similar communities in SingaporeJakarta, and soon Suzhou, BLOCK71 San Francisco has created greater awareness for Singapore and its start-ups. Many US venture capitalists have found Singapore through this initiative.

BLOCK71 takes its name from its birthplace — the Blk71 building within the Ayer Rajah industrial estate in Singapore. It is there that NUS Enterprise, along with Singtel Innov8 and the then Media Development Authority of Singapore, averted the fate of a disused building through championing the aggregation and growth of the local technology start-up community. It has since rapidly transformed into a thriving entrepreneurial hub.

Dr Chan envisions the BLOCK71 network as an ecosystem builder and global connector, linking start-ups from Singapore and Asia to the US and vice versa. She said, “The combined experience and resources of our global networks will enable entrepreneurs and innovators to kickstart their entrepreneurial journeys, gain access to international markets, ultimately creating a richer ecosystem for the start-up community.”

By Grace Chng, a veteran tech writer.

Why Singapore’s technopreneurs are flocking to Silicon Valley

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It was a defining moment for San Francisco-based Singapore start-up Key Reply, an artificial intelligence firm co-founded by three Singaporeans in 2014. Last November, the Singapore Government announced the launch of a Facebook Messenger chat bot, which would be able to interact with users via all of Gov.sg’s social media channels. It was designed by the firm which had relocated to San Francisco in 2015, when its founders realised there was a high interest in their AI messenger bot services by US-based companies.With the Singapore Government as the latest – and arguably largest client, for now – things have come full circle. Co-founder Spencer Yang believes the decision to move to Silicon Valley gave them the edge over their competitors. He says: “Being based here helps us to catch on to trends faster – we know more people on the ground who are involved in this space and understand the local sentiment. I think it helps that clients know we are based in Silicon Valley, because they know we are out there and are a thought leader in the space.”

FOREFRONT OF TECHNOLOGY

It is this proximity to the centre of the global technology and start-up ecosystem and the chance to be among the first to experience the latest potentially life-changing technologies that are drawing a small but steady stream of Singaporean entrepreneurs to Silicon Valley.

“While Silicon Valley is not for every Singapore start-up, the appeal of the location lies in the innovation and dynamism of the companies here. The exchange of ideas is fluid and it’s very exciting for many to keep themselves at the forefront of technology. Furthermore, the US market is vast in comparison to Singapore, and this serves as a fantastic test bed for adoption of new ideas and market validation,” says Dr Lily Chan, CEO of NUS Enterprise, one of three organisations involved in Block 71 San Francisco, the US branch of the Singapore-based start-up incubator, Block 71.

Click to expand

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“The exchange of ideas is fluid and it’s very exciting… at the forefront of the technology.” ILLUSTRATION Diane Ng Rose, www.dianengrose.com

While there are no official figures, she estimates that about 70 Singaporean start-ups have consulted with or worked with the organisation since it was launched in 2014. For many ambitious entrepreneurs, the incubator not only provides them with a space to work out of, but also, more essentially, helps them gain access to the network of talent, investors and venture capitalists that populate the Bay area.

“Many of our successful Singaporean companies also come here to meet investors and venture capitalists to source further funding for their growth. In essence, Silicon Valley gives them access to resources, allowing them to grow beyond market and geographical boundaries,” she adds.

(RELATED: Singapore’s under-40 trailblazing technopreneurs: What makes them tick?)

MAKING ESSENTIAL CONNECTIONS

While the Silicon Valley network may sound mythical to those outside that region, those who have experienced it say it does live up to the hype. Take, for example, Paul Yang, co-founder of Lomotif, a music video editor app. “There is serendipity at work in Silicon Valley,” he says, recalling an incident when he missed a flight out. He ended up spending his extra day at Block 71 San Francisco, where Victor Tan, director of SGInnovate in San Francisco, introduced him to a founding member of StartX, a non-profit business incubator associated with Stanford University.

Paul Yang says his acceptance into the programme was a turning point for his business, which has about eight million users. “From not having enough connections, our network just exploded. Our mentors ranged from founders of top-notch companies to general partners of venture capital firms. I still meet some of them regularly and they are generous in offering input,” he says.

Sharing information works both ways, with even the smallest, fledgling start-ups playing a part in testing the feasibility of ideas.

Chin Su Yuen, co-founder of MomoCentral, an on-demand tech talent platform featuring programmers, developers and designers, says she notices a difference in receptiveness to ideas. She splits her time between Singapore and San Francisco and observes: “People in Singapore are quick to critique, whereas in Silicon Valley, people may ask questions out of curiosity to understand how an idea works but they won’t put it down. They’ll encourage you to pursue it, and see how it succeeds or fails.”

MAKING IT IN THE LITTLE RED DOT

That said, going to Silicon Valley is not necessarily the be-all and end-all for entrepreneurs.

Budding entrepreneurs may also be surprised by the cultural differences in the business environment between Singapore and the US. Mark Sin, president of Singapore Connect, a community organisation for Singaporeans in Silicon Valley, says: “The secret to putting down roots in the US starts in understanding the culture here: how things go viral and how to get people to trust in your product and service. Making a winning pitch to investors, marketing to the demographic of interest, and then scaling up to a fairly homogeneous market many times the size of Singapore does not come naturally, even if one has good English or watched many American movies and TV shows.”

These marketing, sales and business development skills can be learnt, says Tan, but it takes time and determination to code switch and fit in with the American culture.

Besides, those whose businesses are focused in South-east Asia and the region would do well to focus their efforts in Singapore, as the country certainly lives up to its global reputation as a business-friendly country with little administrative red tape and paperwork, observes Chin.

Desmond Lim, a serial entrepreneur who has started various businesses in Singapore and the US, including being a co-founder of Quik Force, a consumer logistics start-up, agrees.

He says: “Singapore has a great funding environment, in terms of support from the Government, investors and the greater start-up community. The culture is very supportive, and fellow entrepreneurs always help one another out. It is akin to a family where people are willing to spend more time, and speak to you at length. There is also a unique South-east Asia focus and diversity that cannot be found in other parts of the world.”

THE WEIRD AND THE WONDERFUL

Here are three start-ups from Singapore taking their unique brand of creativity to the United States. When they become The Next Big Thing, remember you read about them here first!

  • 01: Green Pea Cookie

    When Singaporean Fiona Lee, a self-taught baker, moved to Berkeley, she improved this traditional recipe. The result – bite-sized vegan-friendly cookies in creative flavours such as Spicy Sriracha and Earl Grey – will appeal even to those who think they dislike peas. In the Bay Area, health-conscious denizens took to it and successful crowdfunding attempts on Kickstarter and Kiva have ensured the launch of this start-up in the competitive food industry in the United States. www.greenpeacookie.com

  • 02: Lomotif

    Everyone can be a music video director… sort of! Turn your smartphone-recorded videos into snazzy clips for social media by overlaying them with your favourite music, via just a few simple taps of the screen. The clips can even be cut, resized or combined with other clips to create a professional looking sequence that will have the likes and views streaming in. www.lomotif.com

  • 03: Yam

    Short for You Ask Me, this Q&A app allows users to ask questions and post video replies – and get paid for it too. The person asking the question first sets the price he is willing to pay for an answer and subsequent users who wish to view the video answer pay US$0.05 (S$0.07), which is split between the person who asked the question and the one who answered it. Recent high-profile contributors include dog whisperer Cesar Milan as well as Abdulkhafi Alhamdo, an English teacher residing in Aleppo, Syria. www.letsyam.com

BEAM ME UP, SCOTTY

 

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Before you pack your bags and make the big leap across the pond to the United States to chase your entrepreneurial dreams, here are some tips from Victor Tan, director of SGInnovate in San Francisco, on how to make the most of your time in the Bay area.

Have a clear objective

Whether you are here to learn about the market or to better understand the culture of Silicon Valley, know what you want to get out of your time here. Do not be shy in asking for help, or you won’t be able to achieve your objectives. Ultimately, even if you discover that this is not the right place for you to do business, that is an achievement.

Work on your sales pitch

Whether you are speaking to clients, potential investors or even local collaborators, you will need to perfect your sales pitch. While Americans excel at sales talk, Singaporeans tend to be more understated. This is a subtle strategy that can make all the difference to turning your dream into reality.

Learn about the nitty gritty

From the unforeseen challenges in obtaining a work visa for the United States, to dealing with the tax code, these are little things that could become stumbling blocks if you are not prepared.

Have enough money in the bank

Once you have committed to setting up an outpost or business and have done a feasibility check, be sure that you are financially sustainable for six to twelve months at the minimum. Deals don’t come out of the air and you will need to keep yourself going while you hustle.

Realise funding is not a done deal

The biggest misconception that many would-be entrepreneurs have is that the streets of Silicon Valley are paved with gold. Most US investors are focused on US-based start-ups, so you are likely to be turned down if your aim is to raise funds for business expansion in other parts of the world. If you wish to get funding, figure out if your product is competitive in the American market, as investors will ask you to focus on your business here before expanding abroad. Otherwise, look for venture capitalists who have a track record of investing outside of the US or who have set up separate funds in your home region.

Spin wants to bring dock-less bike sharing to the US

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As seen on Techcrunch: https://techcrunch.com/2017/01/25/spin-wants-to-bring-dock-less-bike-sharing-to-the-us/

Bikeshare programs in the US have mostly consisted of kiosks, or stations, where users can unlock a bike, take it off the rack, use it and return it once their errand or joy ride is done. Some only allow subscribers others charge by the hour. Meanwhile in China, bikeshare programs have evolved from kiosk-based systems into something else entirely.

Venture-backed companies in China like Mobike, Ofo, Bluegogo, not to mention a score of other copycats there, are dock-less. They use bikes that are rendered trackable via Bluetooth low energy, GPS and 2G wireless systems, and have integrated locks so they can be parked, securely, freestanding around the city. These newer bikeshare companies in China distribute their product in urban areas where population density and traffic problems dwarf that of most US cities. Users can fire up an app to locate the nearest bike, and can use them easily for one way trips, locking them up wherever there’s free space to do so near their destination.

A new US-based startup called Spin is trying to bring the kiosk-free bikeshare concept stateside, starting in San Francisco. Spin, which is incorporated as Skinny Labs Inc. was co-founded by former Lyft software engineer and product manager, Derrick Ko who is CEO, Euwyn Poon and investor with Exponent who is Spin Chairman, and ex-Disqus software engineer lead, Zaizhuang “Z” Cheng.

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The cofounding team of Skinny Labs Inc. aka Spin

The cofounders told TechCrunch their “V.0 bikes,” or bikes for a first pilot test of their system, will have license plates with a printed QR code. Users can scan the QR code into a Spin mobile app to unlock a bike and start the meter. Pricing should be around $1 for every 30 minutes, approximately. The bikes will be bright orange, 6-speed bikes with 26” wheels, frame locks, a step-through frame, a basket affixed, as well as Dynamo hub powered lights (which don’t need a battery to work), theft-resistant screws and solid foam tires.

The idea behind using solid tires is to give users a comfy ride but keep Spin’s maintenance costs low, Ko and Poon said. Foam tires don’t go flat, so Spin workers won’t have to track down loose bikes and check the air pressure. Performance wise, in general, solid tires can’t compare to inflated ones. That’s generally why you don’t see “airless tires” at races like the Tour de France or on motorcycles and cars for that matter. But Mobike, in China, has succeeded with solid-core tires, indicating a general riders’ willingness to use them.

Spin is looking to roll out 100,000 frikkin’ bikes across distinct programs in the US this year. That’s ridiculously ambitious for the US even if it has happened already in China. One of the behemoths in US bikesharing, Motivate, has an exclusive agreement with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in the San Francisco Bay area to ramp up from 700 bikes last year to 7,000 by 2018 in San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland and San Jose, and has something like 10,000 bikes in its largest market, New York.

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Riders can unlock a Spin bike with a QR code and mobile app. Riders can unlock a Spin bike with a QR code and mobile app.

Another competitor, which makes its own smart bikes, and powers bikeshare programs that don’t require a kiosk in the US, Social Bicycles, has deployed about 7,000 bikes across 5 countries and 30 cities, racked up approximately 250,000 users and logged more than 1.9 million trips already. But SoBi, as its nicknamed, has been operational since about 2010.

According to Ko, Spin plans to work with government authorities as it scales up, rather than simply dropping bikes on a city and seeing how it goes. “Asking forgiveness not permission,” may be the Silicon Valley way. But China’s Bluegogo recently got a smack down from SF city officials when it reportedly announced plans to distribute tens of thousands of its bikes around San Francisco.

In China, kiosk-free bikeshare programs have proven almost as problematic as they have popular. Riders have parked bikes in fire lanes and other off-limits areas. Authorities have rounded up and confiscated the bikes in droves. And in some cases, towering piles of bikes have cause Chinese cities major headache as they’ve blocked pedestrians, created an eyesore and a possible safety hazard. (Imagine a bike falling from a ten-foot high pile, and landing on your head?)

In SF, city officials have cited concerns over safety, pedestrian and transportation impacts of kiosk free bike sharing. The MTC previously struck an exclusive agreement with Motivate and Ford for bikesharing around the Bay Area, it’s worth noting. Disruptors who just enter the market without city approval would potentially violate that agreement.

Ko emphasized that Spin has hired a government relations representative with close ties to the San Francisco Mayor’s office instead to pave the way to a smooth launch and hopefully, domination of the domestic market.

Update: After we ran this story, a Bluegogo representative reached out to contest previous reports on the company and its dealings in San Francisco. He said:

“Bluegogo has officially launched over a hundred dock-less bikes in San Francisco. We never released any statements regarding the number of bikes that would be placed throughout city. Numbers in the hundreds of thousands were inaccurately reported. We are certainly able to scale to meet consumers needs.”

NUSEA Special: NCSV on a roll as they triumph through more Hackathons

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Hey everyone! We are back for more exciting hacking stories to share!

Building upon previous hackathons’ success, the NOC Community continues to work their magic in more hackathons. Changi Airport Group made a visit to Silicon Valley and host their hackathon, right in the heart of the Bay Area. Titled Airport of the Future, the hackathon challenged teams to provide Changi Airport solutions to solve three big problems: Seamless Journey, Retail Therapy and Connected Community. everal NOC teams took up the challenge and emerged victorious!


First up, the runner-up … Chango!

A team of 3 NUS students, Jeremy from NCSV30, Linh from NCSV30 and Wei Kuan (NUS Alumni) came together and work brilliantly as a team. The team worked together whilst in Singapore and unexpectedly ended up in Silicon Valley together. They met, reconnected and decided to join a hackathon to work together once more. The goal? To work on something new and learn together.

They built an interactive chatbot called Chango. Hosted on Facebook, the chatbot is a technology the team wanted to spend time learning about. Chango Is the team’s suggestion to Changi to take on all 3 themes presented to them. It is an innovation on how Changi provided customer service.

Chango was designed to provide customers with these 3 major features:

  1. Allow passengers to check flight details
  2. Allow passengers to board online
  3. A Changi Airport food and stalls directory

The team initially designed Chango to only have 3 features. However, the Changi Hackathon was designed with an open concept where every team knows what the other teams are doing. After a quick browse of the competition, the Chango team realised they had to differentiate to stand out. They decided to add in 2 features that prove to be key differentiators:

  1. A security feedback system
  2. Linkedin for Changi

Jeremy commented:”Most chatbot teams have similar features which allows passenger to check flight details and Changi Airport directory. What makes our NUS team stand out among the rest was the interesting idea of Linkedin for Changi. Chango acts as a connecting medium that brings passengers together. Matching by their areas of interests and time each passenger has, Chango helps to bridge passengers from around the world.”

It was a worthy addition indeed. This social feature won them a grand prize of $1000 and 2 round-trip tickets to Singapore!

“Have fun, don’t take it too seriously, it is a learning experience. There is a better way to earn money than going for a hackathon” ~ Jeremy


And finally… Our champion team, ChangiX!

In our last article about API World hackathon, we asked our winners “What were their future plans?” One of the winners, Kyle commented: “We intend to keep winning the hackathons as they come! No point stopping now!”

Keeping true to his words, Kyle and his team comprising of NOC students Andre, Idawati, Juho and Kyle himself, clinched the top prize in the Changi Airport hackathon! Now that’s a feat that is truly inspiring!

Their app, ChangiX is a platform that enhances the transit experience in Changi. It first learns about the passenger’s preference and recommend itinerary as well as products for them. From directory to guide passengers to the stores in itinerary list to purchasing of the products, ChangiX provides them with a seamless Changi experience.

Kyle’s team cleverly tap on the existing iChangi app and links their app to it to allow passengers to participate Changi’s lucky draw campaign. This helps them to get on the favourable side of the judges and ultimately allowed them to win it all — $3000 with 2 round-trip tickets to Singapore!

“The greatest thing about being in the winning team has to exactly be that: the team. They didn’t just pull their weight — they multiplied our collective value.”~ Kyle


We are grateful to the winning teams for sharing their experiences and look forward to more hackathon wins from the NOC Community!

For more information about Changi Airport Hackathon: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/airport-of-the-future-hackathon-tickets-27172253943#
Find out more about NOC and the Silicon Valley program: http://enterprise.nus.edu.sg/educate/nus-overseas-colleges

NOC Page: https://www.facebook.com/NUSOverseasColleges/
NUSEA Page: https://www.facebook.com/NUSEntrepreneursAssociation/

Till the next post!

Singapore Launches Program In San Francisco To Attract More U.S. Startups

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Singapore is already one of the most developed startup hubs in Asia. Now its government wants to bring more U.S. startups to the city-nation.

Earlier today, the Infocomm Development Authority Of Singapore, a government organization focused on growing the country’s tech industry, opened a new office for Infocomm Investments in co-working space Block 71 San Francisco, which was originally set up by NUS Enterprise, an entrepreneur program run by the National University of Singapore, and SingTel Innov8, the telecom’s investment arm.

While Block 71 San Francisco was first launched to help Singaporean companies break into the U.S. market, Infocomm Investments’ new office will help U.S. startups that want to expand into Asia. Resources founders can tap into include Singapore-based accelerator programs and potential funding from Infocomm.

Infocomm Investments and Block 71 San Francisco are part of a larger initiative by Singapore called Smart Nation, which launched in December with the aim of growing the city-nation’s tech industry.

While Singapore itself is a tiny market with a population of just 5.4 million, it is a base for some of the region’s most prolific investors, including Rakuten Ventures and Gree Ventures.

Many companies that launch there first expand into Southeast Asian countries, which boost some of the highest mobile penetration rates in the world before attempting to tackle other parts of Asia. Notable startups headquartered in Singapore include GrabTaxi, the fast-growing car hailing app in Southeast Asia with over $330 million in funding, and Sequoia-backed Carousell, a marketplace app that is currently expanding into Indonesia, Malaysia, and Taiwan.

PHOTO CREDIT: WILLIAMCHO VIA COMPFIGHT CC

Block 71 San Francisco bridges S’pore-US start-ups

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Block 71 San Francisco will give a leg up to Singapore start-ups exploring opportunities in the US

Infocomm Investments Pte Ltd (IIPL), NUS Enterprise and SingTel Innov8 have jointly set up Block 71 San Francisco, a US-based co-working space to foster ties between start-up ecosystems in Singapore and the US.Singapore tech firms keen to explore business prospects in the US can tap the resources of this facility to better understand the market, set up business and expand their network into the tech community.

Block 71 San Francisco will also provide a platform for US-based entrepreneurs, companies and investors to learn about Singapore and Southeast Asian (SEA) markets. Available to companies supported by IIPL, NUS Enterprise and SingTel Innov8, it offers space, brainstorming rooms and a gathering area for community events. NUS Enterprise will manage the co-working space, while the three parties will organise regular community events for Singapore and US-based tech companies, professionals, students and investors. IIPL and SingTel Innov8 have offices within the facility to support Singapore-based tech start-ups.

This latest space in San Francisco builds upon the success of Blk71 in Singapore. Established in 2011, Blk71 in Singapore has morphed from an old industrial estate into a thriving hub for high-growth, innovation-driven technology start-ups in the region. NUS Enterprise, SingTel Innov8 and the Singapore Media Development Authority played key roles in this transformation by putting in place a strategic incubation programme. IIPL is an active investor and strong advocate of the Blk71 community.

Block 71 San Francisco is located within the South of Market area, which is a dynamic, up-and-coming area for the technology start-up community, said Dr Lily Chan, CEO of NUS Enterprise. The location houses major software and tech firms as well as a strong investor and accelerator community that provides mentoring to help shape start-ups. Dr Chan is upbeat that the joint venture will extend Singapore’s entrepreneurship community into the San Francisco Bay Area, and hopes to see more of such public-private-institute of higher learning collaborations in the future.

Dr Alex Lin, Head of IIPL added: “The set-up of Block 71 San Francisco strengthens our role as an ecosystem builder to help local innovation-driven tech start-ups scale fast and tackle important global challenges.” He acknowledged the timely collaboration as Singapore is placing increasing emphasis on growing a culture and mindset of experimentation.

SingTel Innov8 CEO Mr Edgar Hardless also noted that there has been a steady increase in US-based companies and venture funds looking to access the SEA market, even while SEA-based start-ups and venture funds are looking towards Silicon Valley.

Interested start-ups can contact enterprise@nus.edu.sg.

Here is what happened at the Startup Weekend in BLK71 in San Francisco

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07/22/2015 | By Jerry Tan

This post originally appeared on blog.up.co


They came, they pitched, they presented, they won.

The winning teams of Startup Weekend Asia-America!They are the 4 winning teams who just slogged through 54 hours non-stop over the weekend of July 17th to 19th at the recently concluded Startup Weekend Asia-America held at Block71 San Francisco. In line with the theme, the venue was chosen because of its history – a collaborative initiative between three iconic Singapore organizations – NUS Enterprise, Infocomm Investments Pte Ltd (IIPL) and Singtel Innov8, as well as its mission to connect entrepreneurs from both Asia and America.

The crowd favorite is OFF/Packers, a travel platform that promises to connect local guides with travelers who are travelling to an unfamiliar place. Hoping to capitalize on the on-demand trend, OFF/Packers specializes in on-demand guides for nature and outdoor experiences.

Coming in 3rd place, Givfolio aims to solve the huge paperwork and bureaucratic burden surrounding dollar-for-dollar matching corporate donation programs through an app that manages the employee’s donations and automates the reporting on the corporate side. The brainchild of an ex-Disney employee who experienced the problem herself, Givfolio can potentially help employees and charities take full advantage of the donation budget set aside by companies.

First runner-up is Seeker, a platform built on top of LinkedIn that solves the biggest headache of recruiters – how do we know when a person is open and looking for new opportunities in their career? Through monitoring changes in a person’s LinkedIn profile, Seeker hopes to identify active and passive job seekers and provide this information to HR recruiters.

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Top prize winner of Startup Weekend Asia-America – Food to FameAnd finally, the winner of Startup Weekend Asia-America goes to Food to Fame. The team beat out 11 other teams to clinch the top prize of a Startup Exhibition Alley booth at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2015 worth $1995, among other prizes worth a total of $6000. Food to Fame aims to help food brands market their products through Instagram influencers, helping influencers monetize their social value at the same time.

Team leader, Sylvia Look, was pleasantly surprised to know that her team won. The National University of Singapore (NUS) undergraduate currently on NUS’s Overseas College Silicon Valley (NCSV) program competed against teams with experienced working professionals, some of whom work in the Bay Area’s top tech companies.

It was a close call, as the point difference between the 3 winning teams were just fractions of a point from each other. The event certainly saw a lot of well-thought-out ideas and the coaches who attended commented on the high quality of work they saw this weekend.

While not everybody won prizes, everyone certainly got something out of the event. Some made new friends from a new country. OFF/Packers truly lived up to the spirit of the event as a multi-national team made up of members from Brazil, Switzerland, Austria and America. Connections with Venture Capital (VC) firms were made and the VCs got to know about some interesting startups. Last, but not least, everyone had fun!

How Block 71 helps Southeast Asian startups launch in the USA

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In the final week of August, btrax sat down with Voon and Jasmine, the program and community managers of Block 71 San Francisco to talk about the story behind the biggest launch pad for Southeast Asian startups in the US.

btrax CEO Brandon Hill encountered Block 71 while visiting Singapore as a speaker for the Tech in Asia Singapore Conference earlier this year. Through this, we arranged an interview to learn more about Block 71’s origin story and their goals for the San Francisco office.

How did Block 71 get started?

Blk71 (abbreviation of Block 71, same pronunciation) was part of the Ayer Rajah industrial estate in Singapore, housing the light-manufacturing industries way back in the 1970s.

Before Blk71’s became what it is today, it was slated for demolition and redevelopment in 2010. At the time, NUS Enterprise was looking for a place to house its growing startup community, and Blk71, within close proximity of the NUS campus, was a good choice for location.

Hence, NUS Enterprise, in partnership with Singtel Innov8 and with the support of MDA, came together to save the block from demolition and at the same time, aggregate the startup community which was previously dispersed all over Singapore.

Block 71 in Singapore. Photo credit: comprock/Flickr

NUS Enterprise has been in partnership with Singtel Inov8 from way back then and we still work together today. In Singapore, you know you’ve made it when you can get into a taxi and tell the driver you’re going to “Blk71,” and he or she immediately knows where to go.

Moving forward from Singapore’s Blk71 success, NUS Enterprise partnered with Singtel Innov8 and IIPL to continue helping startups in their expansion, particularly overseas, and this was how Block 71 SF began.

What is the mission of Block 71’s SF office?

Our mission is to provide a space for Singaporean startups to get started in the US. Our other intent is to help US companies understand what Singapore is all about. For example, when we host events, we want people who are interested in Singapore to come and network with us as well as other attendees. When Stripe opened an office in Singapore, they came to talk to us as well.

How many startups are there in the SF office and how long do they usually stay?

There are 34 startups in the San Francisco office. Their length of stay depends on the needs and objective of the startup. This can mean anywhere from one month to three or four months. Most of them come from our Singapore office. Some startups feel they are ready to break into the US market and want to get in sync with the local area. Some companies remain in the States after they leave Block 71, and others go back to Singapore. Some come to raise funds, and others want to build a local sales team. Occasionally some of our startups move on to other co-working spaces.

What are some interesting startups at the SF incubator right now?

Some interesting ones are Rotimatic and Carousell.

Rotimatic’s product is a Roti bread-making machine that is easy to work with, customizable and easy to clean.

Carousell is a C2C selling platform and is the top selling app in Singapore, Taiwan, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

And I want to mention Zopim, the startup that inspired us to create Block 71 in Singapore. Zopim provides customer service live chat technologies and were acquired by Zendesk in 2014. The founders used to work every day in a small pantry on campus at the National University of Singapore. Seeing them there every day made us realize that there’s a startup community in Singapore that needs support and we can do that by providing a space for them to work. That’s Block 71 today.

What are some of the biggest challenges for Southeast Asian startups looking to launch or find opportunities in the US?

Just like any other startup from outside of the US, when they get here, they realize how big the market is. On top of that, they’re faced with strong market incumbents. Not to mention it’s difficult to find cross-market investors because investors here want to focus on startups that are based here.

That’s very similar to some of the challenges that Japanese startups face. We’re quite familiar with that since we host a Japanese startup demo competition called JapanNight every year in Tokyo and San Francisco and look for startups with global potential. In addition, many of our Japanese corporate clients face similar challenges when tackling the US market.

So given these challenges, what are some key ways Block 71 helps Southeast Asian startups in the US?

Earlier in June, we hosted an event called the SEA Tech Scene Panel. The event featured investors from Southeast Asia and the founder of Geeks on A Beach, Tina Amper. The event provides a space for US investors and startups to connect with Singaporean Startups and find information about Southeast Asia.

In July, we concluded our first Startup Weekend Asia-America. A student from the National University of Singapore put it together. They encouraged Asian startups and interns to join the 54 hour hackathon in which the goal was the create hacks that were applicable to the Southeast Asian market. There’s an added element of learning more about Asia.

How is the San Francisco office different from the Singapore one?

The demand is much higher in Singapore, and there, we have some permanent desks unlike the free address concept we use in SF that’s first come first serve. The requirements are also more stringent since we have something like 300 startups.

Blk 71 (Singapore) is currently home to more than 250 start-ups, while NUS Enterprise manages 5 co-working spaces at Blk71, including Plug-in@Blk71.

In both offices, there is no membership plan, but the application process is very selective.

5 things you need to know about Block 71 in San Francisco

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(Image Credit: Block71 San Francisco)

If you haven’t heard about Block 71 San Francisco (Block71SF), here’s the scoop – Block 71 San Francisco is a US-based coworking space located in the South of Market area in San Francisco, just north of Silicon Valley, the tech capital of the world.

Block71SF serves as a launchpad for Singapore startups into the US ecosystem (and vice versa, for US startups to break into the Southeast Asia scene).  It is a joint partnership between NUS Enterprise, Infocomm Investments, and Singtel Innov8.

Singapore tech companies exploring business opportunities in the US can leverage Block71SF to better understand the US market, set up shop, and expand their networks into the tech community, while US-based entrepreneurs, companies and investors can find out more about Singapore and Southeast Asian markets through our events and activities.

Thinking about checking out Block71SF? Here are 5 things you probably didn’t know, and should know, about the space.

1. We host both Singaporean AND US Startups

 

(Image Credit: Block 71 San Francisco)

While we do have exclusive workspace dedicated as launchpad for Singaporean startups looking to break into the SF tech ecosystem, we also have a non-exclusive hotdesking space for Singaporean, ASEAN, and US startups that are looking to learn more about the Singapore and Southeast Asian (SEA) tech scene.

We welcome all startups with a Singapore or SEA angle to hang out in our space and be part of our community.

Why, you asked? The reason is simple. We are building a community of US and SEA venture capitalists, advisors, and startup founders. A lot of organic interactions between US and Singaporean entrepreneurs happens at Block 71 thanks to this arrangement.

Alongside with pitching events and panels, we are seeing that startup founders are getting the information and startup advice that they need from other community members. With the open hotdesking space, we are seeing Singaporean startups becoming more proactive in reaching out to individuals within the community who have knowledge about the space that they are looking to disrupt.

Find out more about how this non-exclusive hotdesking arrangement works.

2. Our hotdesking space works on a first-come-first-serve basis

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(Image Credit: Block 71 San Francisco)

If you have been to Plug-in @Blk 71 in Singapore, chances are, you know how the non-exclusive hotdesking space works. Our non-exclusive hotdesking space works on a first-come-first-serve basis for registered users.

Do note that our non-exclusive hotdesking space are only open during office hours (9am to 5pm on weekdays).

If you are looking to work out of our non-exclusive hotdesking area when you are in San Francisco, email us at enquiry@block71sf.com.

3. Our meeting rooms are named after landmarks in Singapore

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(Image Credit: Block 71 San Francisco)

Would you like to have your meeting in Clarke Quay, Fullerton, or Marina Bay Sands? Those are names of our meeting rooms at Block71SF.

True to their names, Clarke Quay has a casual and open setting; Fullerton has swanky sofa seats; and Marina Bay Sands boasts a grand full board room setup.  We are not afraid to let our Singaporean colors shine through! Plus we know Singaporeans are bound to miss home when they are hustling in US.

Also, check out our colloquial banners ( It gets pretty amusing when visitors try to read them).

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4.We don’t discriminate against non-ICT focused startups

(Image Credit: Green Pea Cookie)

On top of ICT startups, we also house several hardware startups (such as Touchjet and BuzzyBooth) as well as a food tech startup (Green Pea Cookie)!

We are happy to host any startups with a SEA-US angle that are looking for a space to work out of in San Francisco.

5. We are not just a coworking space

( Image Credit: Jasmine Ho)

Block71SF is not just a space for you to work out of when you are in the SF Bay Area.

We are a great place to build your network. Don’t be shy when you are at Block 71 SF. Be sure to network with others when you are hanging out in our space. You never know who is sharing the desk when you are at Block 71SF.

(Image Credit: Block 71 San Francisco)

We can link you up with our network of local partners. One of our most distinct partners is SFAsia – a nonprofit, public-private partnership between the SF Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD) and the San Francisco Center for Economic Development (SFCED).We also have a community of San Francisco startup founders who hang out in the space, and venture capitalists who are interested in US-Asia cross-market startups!

Many tech events take place at Block71SF too. Since we started in January, we have organized many startup and community events to connect SG startups with the SV community. We organized VC panels, pitching and demo competitions, networking sessions, and hackathons too. Most of our events are open to public.