The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the global economy hard, resulting in roadblocks for startups around the world, including the Singaporean startup ecosystem. In response, members of the tech community have been initiating various programs. For instance, the global startup generator and VC firm Antler has increased support for founders with more intense communication and individual coaching, in addition to its COVID-19 program.
“Startups play an increasingly important role in the global economic transformation, not only as drivers of innovation but also as creators of meaningful employment,” said Peter Ong, chairman of Enterprise Singapore who spoke on Antler’s virtual demo day, held on July 16.
“Antler has demonstrated its commitment to support startups finding prospects from adversity, including pledging up to half a million US dollars in a global call for COVID-19 related solutions,” he added, referring to the “COVID-19 Initiative,” a program that aims to invest in startups working on ideas to tackle the impact of the pandemic. Antler received over 1,500 applications from 100 countries in just a few weeks since announcing the call.
On the demo day, Antler revealed 13 startups from its fourth Singapore cohort and two startups as part of the COVID-19 Initiative.
For the Singapore cohort, Antler brought together 91 founders from 28 nationalities in January to join the program as individuals. They were selected from over 2,500 applicants. “Over the first phase, they formed teams- some of them break up and reform until they eventually find the right co-founder and business models that work for them. After ten weeks, they pitch to our Investment Committee and we will then decide which companies we want to support,” said Jussi Salovaara, Antler’s co-founder and Managing Partner Asia, during the demo day opening.
Founders have managed to validate their ideas, build compelling startups, and gain traction within a few months. And they were able to do that during the COVID-19 pandemic that has shut down Singapore and other countries in the region for around two months. “If anyone knows how to navigate and adapt, it would be this resilient group of people,” said Puja Bharwani, director of marketing and public relations for Antler Southeast Asia.
Salovaara added that the participants have an average of nine years of working experience, while 61% of them have previous entrepreneurship experience. Moreover, 38% of the funded companies have at least one female co-founder. Although most of the second phase of the program was conducted remotely, the level and frequency of engagement increased, according to the organizers.
“The Antler team adapted quickly to operating online and the current situation does not in any way deter us from working with the most exceptional founders, to help them build and scale early-stage tech startups,” said Salovaara.
During the virtual demo day, founders of each startup explained problems they have found in society and presented their business ideas to solve them. They also shared the framework of their business model and projections while engaging in a Q&A session with the audience.
All the companies showcased at the demo day are only three-months-old, however, some startups already had proven business models before joining the program.
One example is pet service provider Pawjourr, which started as a pet influencer marketing agency called The Woof Agency. The company grew and became profitable within a month, and have since worked with more than 100 brands from Singapore and the United States.
“Through conversations with pet owners, we recognized another pain point —pet owners often spend a large amount of time researching, asking questions, and deciphering conflicting information online. This is why we started Pawjourr. We want to help pet parents around the world make smarter purchases and make pet ownership easier,” Tay Sijun, Pawjourr’s CEO told KrASIA.
He added that the Antler program has helped widen his perspective and knowledge of the common pitfalls of startups, also giving him insights about how to avoid them.
Addressing problems in different sectors
Startups participating in the fourth Singapore cohort are all from different sectors including fintech, e-commerce, agritech, health tech, software as a service (SaaS), and others.
Here is a brief recap of the participating startups:
Approvd: RegTech SaaS for data protection, cybersecurity, and AI.
Chloropy: An agritech company that automates the collection and management of data from farms through drones. Its clients include seed and pesticide companies.
Empala: A fintech platform that helps workers in Southeast Asia finance themselves with on-demand salary drawdowns.
Moneko: An AI-powered personal finance app for millennials. The platform combines behavioral science and game design to help millennials in Asia get better at saving and managing their money.
Pawjourr: A platform to discover, review, and book pet products and services.
Pretepop: An all-in-one platform for users looking to organize and run retail events online.
Skibre: A social and mobile-based e-sports platform. It hosts skill-based mobile game tournaments for casual games across genres like puzzles, action, and strategy.
VikRee: A B2B SaaS platform that helps companies to connect, sell, incentivize, and exchange information with other partners.
Volopay: An enterprise spending solution for businesses. It helps to manage payments and subscriptions, build strategic budgets, and eliminate expense reports.
Workclass: A social hiring platform focused on the hiring process in the blue-collar labor market.
Zealth AI: A personalised digital health intervention platform to empower patients, caregivers and clinicians. It provides patient-reported outcomes monitoring and intelligent symptoms tracking.
Your Rent: A property tech startup focusing on the real estate rental ecosystem.
Zopnik: A platform that enables women to host pop-up shows at home and earn money by inviting friends from their social circle.
The “COVID-19 Initiative” startups:
Bio Genes: A startup that produces aptamer-based (synthetic antibody) diagnostics products via an in-house proprietary technology platform.
Path BioAnalytics: A company that develops novel precision medicine tools by combining epithelial cell culture technology with proprietary analytics.
One common challenge for young startups is how to effectively deliver their message and vision to investors and users. Taking part in a program like Antler’s is helping founders with the right mindset to be successful entrepreneurs, according to Monika Mehta, CEO of Zealth AI. “Antler has a well-structured program that helped us learn a lot,” she told KrASIA.
Zealth-AI is a digital health intervention platform for doctors and patients. It provides patients with monitoring and intelligent symptom tracking. Patients can receive personalized feedback provided as per strict medical guidelines, while the patient will enjoy real-time monitoring by a healthcare team.
“Another important lesson for us was the difference between an investor deck and a customer deck, as it is very easy to mix them up, but that’s a disaster. Then, talking to users is another thing which is so fundamental and can make or break a company, but it’s easy to be underestimated,” Mehta continued.
Gajendra Babu, co-founder, and CEO of Chloropy, also shares this view. “The strength of the Antler program is its coaches and mentors. They equipped us on several fronts, like pitching our idea for potential fundraising. Antler arranged many talks where we had the opportunity to get advice from some of the largest investment firms and successful start-ups in Singapore,” Babu said.
Chloropy provides insights about crop health to agrochemical companies. It uses drones to capture high-resolution images, turning them into accurate plant-level insights using deep-learning algorithms.
The new virtual format of mentoring and pitching can be challenging, according to Babu. He emphasized the importance of quickly adapting to the situation. “I think that we don’t have a choice other than moving online, and Antler is good at being agile and adapting to situations. Conducting the demo day online is a great example,” he said.
After the program, both Zealth AI and Chloropy will focus on scaling their startups while building the right products for customers. Although the program has ended, these companies can continue to enjoy coaching sessions with mentors. “The program only ends on paper, but the relationship that we have built with the Antler family is going to stay there forever,” said Mehta.
Antler’s first Singapore program was held in 2018. So far, it has generated 61 new high-growth tech companies from Southeast Asia. Since last year, the firm has also invested over USD 26.9 million in early-stage companies globally, despite concerns of a slowdown in venture capital investment due to the COVID-19.
KrASIA is a media partner for Antler Singapore Demo Day