The Singapore base of global early-stage VC Antler is already buzzing. Across the hall, small groups have formed and engaged in busy conversations while crouching over their gleaming laptops. Antler’s fifth cohort is getting in shape and the final participants will be revealed at a livestreamed event on February 3, 5:00 p.m.
“The companies are innovative, disruptive, and building for the new normal,” Antler director Puja Bharwani told KrASIA ahead of the Demo Day next week. Antler received 3,100 applications from founders from across Southeast Asia of which 70 joined the program. “We have a significant number of B2B, SaaS, and fintech companies,” said Bharwani.
With “art tech,” the program has created a new category altogether, she pointed out. CEO Arun Sugumaran, Taryn Mook, and Aleksandar Abu Samra are the masterminds behind ArtWallSt, which matches artworks to bistros, cafes, retail, and work places. Sugumaran, who has 12 years of experience in the real estate sector, noticed that these establishments are using art more frequently, “to engage with the community.” With his partners, an art historian and urban planner, they aim to turn everyday spaces into galleries.
The team was just making preparations for an installation at Funan Mall, which is partnering with the National Arts Council for the Singapore Art Week. “Artists need exposure,” said Mook. “That is the number one problem. They need it to grow their reputation.” The physical experience is also important for collectors, added Sugumaran. Viewers can scan a QR code for more info on the pieces and follow the artists. ArtWallSt takes a 20% cut for every item sold.
Another participant is Elston Yee who worked for more than 6 years in the logistics industry, mostly with UPS, before becoming an entrepreneur. Forma is his second venture, where he has created a software that combines several applications under one roof, saving corporates time and money for expensive subscriptions. Non-technical staff can easily plug and play workflows and move them around “very much like lego blocks,” explains the problem-solver Yee.
Christian Schneider comes with a background in investment banking and a stint at the German startup factory Rocket Internet, which later brought him to Foodpanda in Singapore. He studied machine learning at the University of Washington that he now applies to his AI-powered software. His company bluesheets has developed a bookkeeping platform that aggregates online and offline payments, as well as other financial data. Algorithms automatically categorize the information and “push it straight to the ledger,” reducing manual errors.
Being part of Antler’s program provides the startups access to investment professionals and capital, entrepreneurs, and dedicated coaches from companies such as Grab or Netflix, opening up a network they can sell their products to. Antler is taking a 10% stake initially, valuing each startup at about USD 1 million. On Demo Day, the selected teams will pitch to angel investors, seed investors and venture capitalists.
For Jiawen Ngeow, it’s already her third venture. Her project DayOne has built a software to train and instruct employees from their first day on the job. Before, Ngeow was running 9 outlets of the Megafash brand, the retail chain she founded. From managing an “offline business” she learned that manpower is costly. “Training is expensive,” Ngeow said. “DayOne tells people on the first day what to do.” The new employee reads the task and clicks complete when done, alerting a supervisor.
The app can be downloaded from end of January and is currently free in order to gain adoption. “We will then work out a price,” said Ngeow. She plans to eventually build an entire ecosystem, to incorporate learning videos, on how to upsell, serve customers better, with knowledge-based and later skills-based training. Ngeow walked away from her retail business when she had the entire island covered. “Internet businesses have the luxury that they are global from day one, not like traditional retail,” she said.
KrASIA is the official media partner of the event.