Deal Street Asia featured an article based on interviews with industry experts and startup founders, including responses from an email interview with Pang Heng Soon, Head of Venture Building at SGInnovate, on the funding struggles that Southeast Asian Deep Tech startups are facing. Although the region is awash with venture money, Deep Tech startups are seeing little of it. To illustrate the laggard of Deep Tech startup growth, the article featured a graph from the SGInnovate Insights paper, “Deep Tech Investments: Realising the potential”, showing that the percentage of Deep Tech startups continue to hover around 5-6 percent for the last 15 years. Heng Soon highlighted that while there are strong and consistent investments from the public sectors in areas like AI, MedTech, Quantum Computing and agrifood tech, he wishes to see a better rate of investments from the VC community. Meanwhile, the lack of risk-on investing among VCs is being filled up by the Singapore Government. Rohit Jha, CEO and co-founder of Transcelestial, said that government-backed agencies like Enterprise SG have shown themselves willing to take early bets. He added that seed investors should lead the rounds, which will make the biggest difference for a Deep Tech company trying to get off the ground.
TTG Asia reported that Expedia Group has announced a collaboration with AI Singapore (AISG) under its flagship 100 Experiments (100E) programme to develop an AI solution to transform the online search experience for Asian travellers. For a start, Expedia Group and AI Singapore project team will leverage NLP and ML to develop an AI-based model to enhance search query understanding and resolution in the Japanese language, before extending the model to other Asian languages to enhance online search efficiency. AISG’s 100E programme matches companies which are keen to use AI to address their problem statements with local researchers. AISG is driven by a government-wide partnership comprising NRF, the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office, the EDB, the IMDA, SGInnovate and the Integrated Health Information Systems.
SCMP featured an article on how Singapore has transformed itself into a regional tech hub. According to Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran, the transformation of Singapore is thanks to “enabling conditions”, such as business-friendly policies, a coordinated approach between IHLs with private companies to provide a trained workforce, and a high quality of life to attract globally-mobile entrepreneurs and top-grade talent who can call anywhere home. Singapore has also shifted its focus from a knowledge-based economy in the early 2000s to a focus on deep tech. As part of Singapore’s move into deep tech, the government slated S$19 billion as investment capital to build the country into a global R&D hub, and in 2016 set up SGInnovate to nurture deep tech startups in the country. In March, an additional S$500 million was set aside to expand investments into AI, national supercomputing and robotics programmes, as well as cell therapy and food technology. Today, there is also a deep pool of private capital willing to back startups. Thanks to the government’s matching and co-financing schemes, early VC funds were attracted to Singapore, and that pool of capital is now well-placed to invest in the multibillion-dollar Southeast Asia market.
Bloomberg published an interview with Sutapa Amornvivat, CEO of SCB Abacus, Soo Boon Koh, Founder and Managing Partner of iGlobe Partners and Steve Leonard, Founding CEO of SGInnovate on Bloomberg Live’s ‘Sooner Than You Think’, where Dr Sutapa shared that AI is part of the major force behind the latest developments in not just the financial services but also in manufacturing and agriculture. Founding CEO of SGInnovate, Steve Leonard, shared that SGInnovate believes that AI is not just going to be omnipresent but that we ought to embrace it. Although there are issues such as data privacy, ethics and guidelines which need to be discussed, these are concepts that people need to think about along a journey, not something which must be answered in advance.
Singapore Business Review reported that Reefknot Investments, a Singapore-based joint venture between Temasek, and the transport and logistics company Kuehne + Nagel, plans to invest $69.15m on supply chain and logistics tech startups globally. The firm is looking to support the growth of series A and series B stage startups in particular by providing market and resource access and guidance. Apart from Temasek and Kuehne + Nagel, Reefknot is also working with global Asian-based investors EDBI, SGInnovate, Atlantic Bridge, Vertex Ventures, PSA unBoXed, Unilever Foundry and NUS Enterprise.
ZDNet reported that even as AI comes increasingly under the spotlight for its adverse potentially adverse impact on human lives, Singapore is advocating the need to hold off judgement whilst the technology continues to evolve and focus instead on building trust. Speaking at the Bloomberg Live’s ‘Sooner Than You Think’, S. Iswaran, Singapore's Minister for Communications and Information and Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations shared that Singapore was focused on verticals that were relevant to the nation and, hence, on developing applications that could be scaled locally, regionally, and worldwide. These domains included healthcare, education, and transport, and its initiatives encompassed research and development work, skillsets and training, and working with the private sector to build applications. Founding CEO of SGInnovate, Steve Leonard, echoed the minister’s call for trust and explainable AI, noting that the technology was an ongoing development and important concepts would surface along the way. He added that it would be ineffective to attempt to react to issues in advance and that societies have to be open as this concept was “imperfect” and know that some people would “misbehave”, and address these with rules and guidelines. Otherwise, they would miss opportunities in tapping AI to solve real-world problems.