Category: Community

March Funding & Feature News: The ones to watch from the BLOCK71 San Francisco family

Zinier raises $22 million from Accel, Qualcomm, others to automate field service management

Excerpt: (Mar 5, 2019) Zinier, a startup that wants to bring automation to the field service management (FSM) realm, has raised $22 million in a series B round of funding led by Accel, with participation from Qualcomm Ventures, Nokia-backed venture capital (VC) firm NGP Capital, Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, and France’s Newfund.

Today, Zinier counts roughly 70 employees globally, around half of whom are based out of Bengaluru, India, with some 15 based in San Francisco, 10 in Mexico City, and 10 in Singapore. In addition to its series B round of funding, Zinier also today revealed that it had raised $8 million in an Accel-led series A round last year. With another $22 million in the bank, the company plans to target industries beyond telecom and energy, as well as new regions.

Read the full coverage here

Image credit: InstaRem

InstaReM nabs US$41m in Series C funding, final close led by Vertex Growth Fund

Excerpt: (Mar 19, 2019) Digital payments company InstaReM has closed a Series C funding round at US$41 million in Singapore. The final close of US$20 million was led by Singapore-based Vertex Growth Fund and supported by new investor, Atinum Investment from South Korea.

The InstaReM investment marks Vertex Growth Fund’s first investment in South-east Asia and will see its managing director James Lee joining InstaReM’s board. 

Read the full story here

Lucence Diagnostics to develop AI tools for treating liver cancer

Exercept (Mar 19, 2019) Lucence Diagnostics, a genomic medicine company focused on personalizing cancer care, has announced a new project to develop AI algorithms for improving diagnosis and treatment of liver cancer.

The goal is to combine the imaging and molecular data from liver cancer patients into smarter software tools that help physicians make better treatment decisions.

Lucence will be working with Olivier Gevaert, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine (Biomedical Informatics) and of Biomedical Data Science at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Having developed LiquidHALLMARK®, the world’s first liquid biopsy nextgeneration sequencing test that analyzes the DNA of cancer-causing mutations and viruses, Lucence will contribute its genomics expertise and proprietary sequencing technology to this project.

This project will evaluate a dataset of over 5,000 patients to identify image changes and patterns that are linked to diagnostic and treatment outcomes in liver cancer.

Get the story here.

Incubate with us to gain access to wide global community connections and deep industry support. Learn more or apply now at https://www.block71sf.com/startup-support/ or drop us a hello at sanfrancisco@block71.co


BLOCK71 San Francisco and Suzhou Alum ViSenze closes Series C round

First published on the visenze.com blog

ViSenze Raises $20 Million Series C to Further Advance the Adoption and Impact of Visual Commerce for Retailers and Smartphone Manufacturers

This week was a momentous and historical day for all of us here at ViSenze as we announced a total of $20 million raised in Series C funding. Gobi Partners, a venture capital firm focusing on innovative technologies in China, Hong Kong, and Southeast Asia, and Sonae IM, a European-based corporate venture investor specializing in retail and telco tech as well as cybersecurity, co-led the round with participation from a number of new investors as well as existing investor Rakuten.


For those that have not been following us as closely (and shame on you if you haven’t!), the last 5 years, and most notably these past 12 months, have seen us experience significant global expansion with over 80 employees, offices in Singapore, China, the United Kingdom, the United States, South Korea, and Japan, as well as global customers including leading retailers Rakuten, ASOS, Zalora, and more. Today’s financing will be used to provide advanced, vertically-focused visual commerce technology to retailers, brands, and media companies, as well as enhance its platform solutions through its partnerships with major smartphone manufacturers, making visual shopping possible on native camera lenses. More to come on that in the next few days.

Image credit: Visenze

Visuals have incredible power and influence over buying decisions, therefore having visual search capabilities within mobile devices delivers a modern, smarter way to ensure discovery by consumers,” said our CEO and co-founder, Oliver Tan. “The partners participating in this funding round share our mission to simplify the way people search and discover products that inspire them. We look forward to what’s ahead for ViSenze as we continue to develop our capabilities, our network, and our global reach.

Today’s investment follows a period of rapid growth for the company. Not only are we experiencing a steady annual revenue growth rate of over 200 percent, but our employee headcount has tripled over the last three years. But don’t worry our office space means we aren’t sitting on top of each other just yet. This growth is greatly attributed to the fantastic innovative work with leading retailers, brands, and media companies across North America, the United Kingdom, EMEA, South America, and APAC. Today, over 300 million shoppers use our technology and over three million image search queries a day occur through ViSenze’s enterprise solutions; Search by Image, Shoppable UGC, View Similar Recommendations, and Shopping Assistant.

“The ecommerce markets across the world continue to expand and shoppers are becoming more mobile-centric. As ViSenze helps clients to capture this group of consumers and adapt to their shopping behavior, the opportunity to scale its business significantly presents itself,” said Dan Chong, Managing Director, Gobi Partners. “ViSenze has emerged as a leading innovator in the visual search and image recognition space, and we are confident that ViSenze will continue creating disruptive innovation to dominate this rapidly growing market.

The future certainly has never looked brighter for the ViSenze family not to mention leading the way in an industry on the verge of monumental, mainstream behavioural change in how we shop and experience the web. We are one step closer to ‘Simplifying the Visual Web’ and it’s a pleasure to be on this journey together. Onwards and upwards.

** Other participants in the funding round include new investors Tembusu ICT Fund31Ventures Global Innovation Fund, and Jonathan Coon’s Impossible Ventures, as well as existing investors Rakuten VenturesWI Harper GroupSingapore Press Holdings (SPH) Ventures, Raffles Venture Partners, Enspire Capital, and UOB Venture Management.

Incubate with us to gain access to wide global community connections, deep industry support and leverage on NUS technologies. Learn more or apply now at https://www.block71sf.com/startup-support/ or drop us a hello at sanfrancisco@block71.co

BLOCK71 Suzhou expands presence in China

Here’s some exciting news to kick off the year! BLOCK71 has further expanded its presence in China, with the opening of BLOCK71 Suzhou 贰 (Two). Located in thebridge @ Ascendas iHub Suzhou, more start-ups will be able to tap on BLOCK71’s resources, facilities and global network to grow and access new markets.

Established by NUS Enterprise in partnership with the NUS (Suzhou) Research Institute and Ascendas-Singbridge, BLOCK71 Suzhou aims to cultivate a vibrant and sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystem and build bridges for business development in China and beyond. There are now seven BLOCK71 locations globally — in Singapore, Indonesia, China and the US.

Looking to venture into the Chinese market? Learn more and join the community at http://block71.cn/en

Incubate with us to gain access to wide global community connections and deep industry support. Learn more or apply now at https://www.block71sf.com/startup-support/ or drop us a hello at sanfrancisco@block71.co / suzhou@block71.co / indonesia@block71.co / singapore@block71.co


BLOCK71 San Francisco Alumni e-scooter rental startup Spin acquired by Ford

San Francisco-based electric scooter rental firm Spin, the brainchild of Singaporeans and BLOCK71 San Francisco alumni Mr Derrick Ko, Mr Euwyn Poon and Mr Zaizhuang Cheng, was recently acquired by Ford Smart Mobility for a reported almost US$100 million.

Spin was founded in 2016 after Mr Poon was inspired by a similar dockless system he observed while in Beijing, where bicycles were parked on sidewalks and available for rent simply by scanning a QR code using one’s mobile phone.

Having previously attended many events at BLOCK71 San Francisco — an initiative managed by NUS Enterprise in partnership with Singtel Innov8 and SGInnovate — the trio knew that it would be the perfect choice for a young startup in its early fundraising days. It was a wise decision that proved to be crucial for their next stage of growth.

“Everyone at BLOCK71 was really welcoming; it quickly felt like a second home to us. It was very helpful to be part of a startup community and we received tons of great advice, networking opportunities and investor connections. We were also very thankful to have a private, comfortable ready-made office to work out of which allowed us to concentrate on our core business instead of being bogged down by administrative work, and which made all the late nights camping out at meeting rooms much more bearable!” said Mr Cheng.

In 2017, the company raised US$8 million in Series A funding.

Everyone at BLOCK71 was really welcoming; it quickly felt like a second home to us. It was very helpful to be part of a startup community and we received tons of great advice, networking opportunities and investor connections.

— Spin co-founder Mr Zaizhuang Cheng

Today, Spin offers an affordable, convenient and sustainable last mile transportation option to users across 14 cities and campuses throughout the US. Through an app, users can unlock and rent a scooter, picking it up and dropping it off anywhere within the service area.

Following the acquisition, Spin will continue to operate as a standalone business and is poised to expand aggressively, hoping to immediately scale up its team of engineers, designers, urban planners, policymakers, lawyers and operators.   

They will also continue to work closely with local city authorities in order to effectively integrate their dockless system with existing infrastructure, facilitate enforcement surrounding safety and parking matters, as well as provide a rich source of data to inform urban planning and sustainability initiatives. They believe that this long-term strategy of implementing micro-mobility solutions in a responsible manner is one of the reasons why Spin has managed to be so successful.

“Vehicle emissions is the single largest human contribution to global warming. As the United Nation’s recent report showed, now is the time to act. We are committed to doing our part to help stem the tide by offering sustainable transportation focused on being part of the long-term solution,” said the Spin founders.

The team is excited to now be part of Ford’s mobility portfolio. Said Mr Cheng, “Personally, I’m happy that one of the biggest automobile companies in the world has placed its trust in us and I’m really looking forward to being part of the solution for the next big thing in mobility.”

Incubate with us to gain access to wide global community connections and deep industry support. Learn more or apply now at https://www.block71sf.com/startup-support/ or drop us a hello at sanfrancisco@block71.co / suzhou@block71.co / indonesia@block71.co / singapore@block71.co

BLOCK71 expands in Indonesia

Official press release from NUS Enterprise

BLOCK71 by NUS Enterprise was officially launched in Yogyakarta and Bandung on 25 October, bringing the total number of centres in Indonesia to three, after BLOCK71 Jakarta was launched in July 2017. The new locations, established in partnership with Salim Group, form part of a growing global network linking existing initiatives BLOCK71 San Francisco, BLOCK 71 Suzhou and the original BLOCK71 Singapore to cultivate a vibrant and sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystem.

The launch of BLOCK71 Yogyakarta was officiated by Mr Baey Yam Keng, Senior Parliamentary Secretary of Singapore’s Ministry of Transport and Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth; while the launch of BLOCK71 Bandung was officiated by Mr Anil Kumar Nayar, Singapore’s Ambassador to the Republic of Indonesia.

“NUS is delighted to deepen our engagement with the Salim Group through the launch of two new BLOCK71 locations in Yogyakarta and Bandung. Our expansion in Indonesia is in tandem with the growth and vibrancy of the local entrepreneurial scene. Collectively, NUS’ three BLOCK71 locations in Indonesia will facilitate greater information exchange, strengthen connectivity and promote growth between the start-up ecosystems in Singapore and Indonesia. These BLOCK71 locations will open doors for start-ups from Singapore and the BLOCK71 family to grow their presence in Indonesia and facilitate access to international markets for local start-ups,” said NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye.

Mr Axton Salim, Executive Director of Salim Group said, “We are delighted to partner with NUS Enterprise yet again to expand the BLOCK71 footprint in Indonesia. We are passionate about supporting entrepreneurs as well as galvanising the local community, and we hope our initiatives will encourage more young people to develop a keen interest in the digital and technology arenas and become entrepreneurs.”

CEO of NUS Enterprise Dr Lily Chan added that start-ups, both in Singapore and beyond, can leverage the new BLOCK71 locations to gain more insights into the Indonesian market and expand their networks into a new tech community.

“Collectively, NUS’ three BLOCK71 locations in Indonesia will facilitate greater information exchange, strengthen connectivity and promote growth between the start-up ecosystems in Singapore and Indonesia.”— Prof Tan Eng Chye, NUS President

Start-ups at the two new locations, which are strategically situated in key Indonesian cities and in close proximity to local universities, will have access to incubation support, entrepreneurial initiatives such as business competitions and conferences, opportunities to pilot new ideas or technologies in the Indonesian market and abroad, and BLOCK71’s global network of resources and contacts to kick-start their entrepreneurial journey.

Entrepreneurship-related programmes will also provide collaboration and networking opportunities for student and entrepreneur communities from Singapore and institutes of higher learning in Indonesia, as well as development opportunities to support the growth of digital and technology talents.

The first batch of start-ups will take up residence in BLOCK71 Yogyakarta and BLOCK71 Bandung in November.

See press release.

Watch: DONUTcon – a full day of talks on start-ups and entrepreneurship

The Do’s and Donuts of Startups is a casual, day-long conference for aspiring entrepreneurs, engineers and designers to learn more about the various industries in the tech scene. Participants were able to learn from industry experts through talks and workshops. Topics include Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Blockchain, Security, Entrepreneurship, Women in Tech, and many more.

This event is hosted by BLOCK71 San Francisco and co-organized by the National University of Singapore Entrepreneur’s Association under the National University of Singapore Overseas Colleges Program  (NOC) and Sigma Eta Pi, UC Berkeley’s first and premier co-ed entrepreneurship fraternity.

Watch Part 1 here  |  Watch Part 2 here

The participants also spent the day networking with like-minded and passionate individuals, and discuss ideas related to these disruptive industries. Speakers and participants also include startup founders, industry experts, and engineers from both the Bay Area and Singapore. 

Host an event with us to gain access to wide global community connections and deep industry networks from across the US and into SEA. Drop our team at sanfrancisco@block71.co to learn more!

Watch: Future of the Token Economy x SF Blockchain Week

Watch the full event here

Blockchain, Cryptoassets and the Decentralized Web – what are the associations between these themes and how are they forming a new internet? What is Decentralized Identity and what role will it play in shaping the global society of tomorrow? How will the Token Economy work with the ‘real world’? Join us to watch back on our Deep Dive with a panel of experts for a whirlwind tour of this brave new world.

As part of SF Blockchain Week, this event was jointly organized by De/Centralize, a conference on the Decentralized Web in Singapore and BLOCK71 San Franscisco, a launchpad for startups striving to establish themselves in the US and Singapore/ Southeast Asian tech ecosystems.

Meet the Featured Speakers:

Mei Lin Fung, co-founder of People Centered Internet (with Vint Cerf)

Mei Lin Fung is a technology pioneer working to ensure that technology works for humanity as the next 3.9 billion people come online. In 1989 she was part of the 2-person skunkworks team that developed “OASIS,” the first customer relationship management (CRM) system. She later served as socio-technical lead for the US Dept. of Defense’s Federal Health Futures initiative. In 2015, she joined one of the “fathers of the Internet,” Vint Cerf, to co-found the “People-Centered Internet,” which maintains a global network of “positive change agents” committed to ensuring that technology is developed with a “people-centered” focus – increasing access while ensuring equality, protecting the vulnerable, and prioritizing human well-being. She serves on the Steering Committee for Internet for All. She is vice-chair for Internet Inclusion within the Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) Internet Initiative & Smart Village. Most recently she facilitated the working group on Cross Border Data Flows at the World Economic Forum ASEAN Summit in Hanoi, in September, and is an active participant in the Digital Identity WEF working group.


Teck Chia, Partner of Binance Labs

Teck is the Partner of Binance Labs – the venture arm of Binance. Together with his team, he manages Binance Labs’ investment fund and helps to develop new businesses to grow the crypto ecosystem through the company’s new accelerator program. Prior to this, he was an serial entrepreneur and founded 6 different startups.


Ada Yeo, Business Development, Coinbase

Ada works on Product & Business Development at Earn, the leading paid microtasking platform (acquired by Coinbase in April 2018). Prior to the acquisition, she led growth and monetization efforts at Earn. She started her technology career as a VC with Cento Ventures, a Singapore-based fund investing in Southeast Asia’s emerging markets.

Edison Lim, Blockchain application developer, Zilliqa

Edison is a developer at Zilliqa – a high-throughput blockchain platform based in Singapore. He is the Lead Architect and Developer for Project Proton – a blockchain alliance group which seeks to create blockchain solutions built for the programmatic advertising industry. The project is led by Mindshare, and consists of MediaMath, Integral Ad Science, Zilliqa and Rubicon Project as partners. Edison holds a M.Sc from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), where he researches on blockchain security.

Kenneth Bok, Director, blocks (Moderator), Producer, De/Centralize

Kenneth Bok is Director of blocks, an integrated blockchain services platform. He first read the Bitcoin whitepaper in 2014 and has been participating in token crowdsales ever since. Some of his notable early investments include Ethereum, Cosmos and Tezos. He is the lead organizer and founder for De/Centralize, a leading conference on the decentralized web. He is also an angel investor and advisor to blockchain projects.

Kenneth started his career as an equities trader at Goldman Sachs on the One Delta trading desk in London and subsequently moved on to become an independent trader and investor. He has also done brief stints at the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation, BlackRock and Aurel-Leven BGC.

Host an event with us to gain access to wide global community connections and deep industry networks from across the US and into SEA. Drop our team at sanfrancisco@block71.co to learn more!

PIER71 Smart Port Challenge is open!

Calling for startups in the shipping, maritime logistics, and port industry!

Launched by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore and NUS Enterprise, PIER71 is a series of programs to attract, build, and accelerate startups, foster a culture of innovation within organizations, and create platforms to facilitate exchange of knowledge in the maritime and shipping industry.

The flagship program, Smart Port Challenge, is inviting startups globally to participate and pitch their solutions to corporates. Applications are open from now until August 6, 2018. For more information, check out PIER71’s website!

BLOCK71 SF brings camaraderie and opportunities

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.

BLOCK71-SF-4.jpg

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

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

SGinSV_map-1044x500

“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

 

VictorLim

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.