Author: vivian

Top 5 Startups in Singapore to Watch

Singapore TOP100 winners were recently revealed and we took a chance to see who are these startups and which next big idea turns out to be the most promising.

On March 7th, 110 startups attended WeWork to join in the Echelon Asia Summit Singapore TOP100 competition where each startup had only three minutes to pitch their startup idea.

Judges who evaluated the startups included:

  • Carmen Yuen, a partner at Vertex Ventures
  • Nikhil Kapur, a principal for Gree Ventures
  • Jeffrey Nah from JN Capital & Growth Advisory
  • James Ong from YCH Group
  • Kim Liu from iGlobe Partners
  • Dave Kwong from Incubate Fund
  • Chow Yee Hong from Monk’s Hill Ventures

These panel of judges were tasked with selecting two winners who would be presented with a free booth at e27’s Echelon Asia Summit from May 23 to 24, 2019, as well as a chance to pitch for over S$100,000 worth of prizes.

As it turns out, Wika Media and StaffAny emerged victorious as the 2019 TOP100 winners for Singapore. So let’s dive and learn more about these two startups who’ve won the judges heart.

  1. Judges’ Favorite: Wika Media
  2. Wika Media

    Wika Media is a startup that enables media companies to extend their reach by making their content understandable in more languages.

    Roland Benzon and Vic Icasas, a studio owner and a software developer, are the two founders of Wika Media who built the startup to aid media companies in gaining and retaining viewers through destroying the language barrier.

    The startup created hardwares that allows spoken, written, ane even signed communication to be calibrated according to user’s language preference.

    For example, if you’re from Thailand and doesn’t understand English, you can still watch episodes of English shows and movies with synchronised Thai subtitles or dubbing.

    Traditionally, these subtitles would have to be done manually and require a laborious amount of work and time. Now this is solved by three Wika Media products engineered to help fracture the language barrier:

    • GlassSign, a pair of smart glasses designed to display video-synchronized sign language or captions for those who have difficulty in hearing.
    • DubHub, an app that delivers synchronized subbing in the user’s preferred language.
    • Subhub, a set-top box counterpart that can overlay preferred subtitles over any input videos

  3. Judges’ Favorite: StaffAny
  4. StaffAny

    A startup that integrates HR and ops management software, StaffAny provides a solution that oversees hourly workers.

    It offers an app that guarantees both employee and employer increased accountability, control of the team on-the-go, and easy integration of schedules.

    Since its inception in January 2018, StaffAny has experienced exponential growth in its deployment with a 25 percent growth every month. As of February 2019, the app has been deployed in 51 companies and has a projected 6x LTV:CAC ratio.

    Moving forward, the company also sees itself as the future of work. The startup looks to provide solutions to problems like payday loans, shift-based hiring, performance-based resumes, part-timer insurance, and blockchain.

    But aside from these two startups, there were three other startups from TOP100 Echelon that have caught our eye and they are:

  5. Education tech startup Codomo
  6. codomo

    Teaching coding knowledge through piracy and potatoes, Codomo is a creative startup that makes learning how to code interesting and exciting.

    Their brainchild Potato Pirates is a strategic battle of potatoes and piracy game, which according to the startup could transform 10 hours of class time into 30 minutes of fun.

    The team conducted coding quizzes pre- and post-game. Within 1 hour of the game, 92 percent of participants could understand and apply loops, while 74% could explain the concept of if-else and nested loops. Overall 9 in 10 players show improvement in their understanding of their fundamental coding concepts.

    Looking at the industry, this fits into the trend whereby computer programming is becoming an essential skill as parents are jumping out of the curriculum and looking into fostering creative thinking and innovation for their children.

  7. Advanced Smart Glass Nodis Pte Ltd
  8. A startup that Shell selected as one of its top 5 IdeaRefinery Companies, Nodis is the creator of the world’s most advanced smart glass.

    The startup develops a TruTint smart glass technology that allows users to instantly switch color, tint, and temperature.

    By doing so, occupants can control how much sunlight or heat they want to let into their office or room making living environments more suitable.

    At the same time, users are also saving the world as the startup claims that it is able to reduce building CO2 and energy consumption by an average of 20 percent with sustainable design.

  9. Deep Learning Startup Untangle AI
  10. Untangle ai

    Deep learning is quickly becoming the standard in every industry, and Untangle questions why do models make a decision?

    A deep learning platform to analyze other deep learning models, Untangle is solving the problems of understanding why AI models think the way they do.

    The startup built a comprehensive platform and developer tools to allow companies to understand, modify, compress and explain their deep learning models.

    This adds both transparency and alleviates huge problems for companies that limit wider adoption and trust of AI solutions, which is why we think it is imperative as AI is planting its root in every figment of the market.

Traveloka expands services beyond Southeast Asia

Travel-booking giant Traveloka, one of Indonesia’s four startup unicorns, officially announced its expansion to Australia on Wednesday.

Users in the country can now access Traveloka through the website or mobile application. The online travel company said it is currently offering five features including flight ticket reservation, hotel accommodation, airport transfers, and admission tickets to travel attractions and activities.

For Traveloka, this development marks Traveloka’s second foreign expansion this year as the firm opened a new R&D office in Bangalore in late January. However, in terms of offering its service, Australia would be its first country outside of Southeast Asia.

In the last few years, Traveloka has been aggressively spreading its influence in Southeast Asian countries like Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Southeast Asia’s Travel Stop

One of Southeast Asia’s leading technology companies, Traveloka is present in Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, SIngapore, and the Philippines

has forged partnerships with more than 100 domestic and international airlines that serve more than 200,000 routes worldwide.

The company offers more than 40 payment options for consumers in Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines.

Its mobile application has been downloaded more than 40 million times from Google Play and Apple’s App Store. This makes the platform one of the most popular travel booking apps in the region.

Wonderful Indonesia Tourism

Traveloka is one of the co-branding partners of the government’s Wonderful Indonesia tourism promotion program. It is committed to help the country reach its target of attracting 20 million overseas visitors this year, and hope its expansion to Australia will introduce more tourist attractions in Indonesia to Australian travelers and vice versa.

“The government’s target to attract 20 million foreign tourists will not be achieved if it does not synergize with players in the industry,” said Edy Wardoyo, the deputy of marketing development at the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism.

“Together with Traveloka, we hope this synergy can help our mission, and we will continue to support Traveloka to exist in this new market,” Edy added.

According to, Indonesia ranked second after New Zealand in 2018 as the travel destination of choice for Australian tourists. Traveloka also notes that the Australian market is one of the promising tourism markets, where foreign tourist visits from Australia to Indonesia has shown an increasing trend year-on-year.

Data provided by Indonesia’s Central Statistics Agency (BPS) shows that 1.3 million Australian tourists visited the country last year, while the figure is expected to have a 15% increase to 1.5 million this year.

It seems like Bali still tops the list for many Australians who visit Indonesia as the island welcomed at least 763.000 Australian travellers in the period from January-August 2018, according to the agency.

With this, the company’s presence in Australia will further facilitate travel access and answer the diverse travel needs of users.

“Today we are thrilled to be able to add new countries outside Southeast Asia. In general, Australia is a country that has better infrastructure in terms of connectivity, payment, and internet adoption,” said Yady Guitana, the Head of Global Partnership for Traveloka.

“We hope that our presence in Australia and can further enrich the lives of users by empowering them to discover the world around them by offering various travel and lifestyle products on one platform,” she added.

The Growth Strategy After Australia

The company has raised at least US$500 million to grow its business. The lead investor in its latest round was US travel giant Expedia. Traveloka is said to be seeking another US$400 million for its expansion.

Expanding to Australia is part of an effort to support the Indonesian government in its goal to attract 20 million foreign visitors to Indonesia. Traveloka is an official partner of the Indonesian tourism board’s Wonderful Indonesia campaign.

Three Southeast Asian Startups Poised to be the Next Unicorns

It’s two months into 2019, and more startups are poised to join Southeast Asia’s old guard of unicorn companies as funding are flooding into the regional startup scene.

Majority of capital are continuously associated with a few familiar names. Late-stage companies are raising larger rounds and putting them closer to the US$1B billion valuation.

Here are three potential unicorns that you have to keep an eye out for in 2019:

1. Fashion Supply Chain Zilingo

A potential Southeast Asian unicorn is 3.5-year-old Zilingo. The ecommerce startup announced on Tuesday that it has secured a US$226 million Series D round.

The funding is provided by existing backers including Singapore sovereign fund Temasek, Germany’s Burda and Sofina, a European backer of Flipkart-owned fashion site Myntra.

EDBI, the corporate investment arm of Singapore’s Economic Development Board also joined the round as a new investor.

This Series D round takes Zilingo total proceedings since its inception to US$308 million, making it one of Southeast Asia’s highest capitalized startups.

According to TechCrunch, Zilingo is close to unicorn status with just a rounding error away from US$1 billion (a number the startup is likely to come across sooner or later given that its Series D was made so rapidly).

Zilingo app

Zilingo is the brainchild of CEO Ankiti Bose and CTO Dhruv Kapoor who founded the service capitalizing on Southeast Asia’s growing mobile adoption and internet connectivity.

The two aim to bring small fashion vendors from the street markets of cities like Bangkok and Jakarta into ecommerce.

However what contributed to its speedy growth since its founding was its expansion moving from consumer ecommerce to business-to-business service.

The startup ventured into a network of supply chain pieces for retailers or brands, including manufacturing, logistics, and even payment.

With this, anyone interested in private labels or fashion selling could use Zilingo as a one-stop solution to make and source their product.

Since setting up its first presence in Thailand and Cambodia in 2015, the startup has grown to have offices in eight countries with 400 employees.

The latest proceedings will continually propel the startup as they are preparing to launch in Australia soon and further aim to digitize Asia’s fashion supply chain.

2. Asian Sports Media Company ONE Championship

One Championship

Crushing the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) market, Singapore-headquartered ONE Championship is Asia’s largest sports media property.

Since its inception in 2011, the startup has emerged with the largest selection of elite Asian martial artists practicing various martial arts originating from Asia such as Silat and Lethwei.

It wasn’t smooth sailing at first. The first three years of ONE Championship for founder Chatri Sityodtong was living hell.

People at the time did not understand ONE Championship’s vision then, broadcasters, brands, advertisers, and even potential employees turned him down.

It was when they finally realized their platform is based on humanity that they started to grow.

“We finally figured out that people don’t watch because of the punch or the kick or the submission. People watch because their heroes are representing their country on the global stage of martial arts,” Sityodtong said.

ONE Championship succeeded in creating Asian martial arts heroes, having discovered local Asian Stars such as Angela Lee, Eduard Folayang, and Shinya Aoki.

Martial arts aside, technology has also been a big part of what ONE Championship does. The media company leverages online broadcasting and social media to hold live events every month across cities all over Asia.

Through this online strategy, the startup has seen a 58% increase in total fans year on year, nearly five times more video views at 299 million, and more than 3 times social media shares at 746K.

Currently, One Championship has a global broadcast to over 1 billion potential viewers across 128 countries.

The startup’s latest funding is its US$166 million-worth Series D led by Sequoia which has placed the startup near US$1 billion valuation.

3. Mobile Community Marketplace Carousell


Expanded across 19 cities and seven countries around the world, Carousell solves a pain point for consumers by making the exchange of goods and services more accessible.

Its founders are three young Singaporean entrepreneurs – Marcus Tan, Siu Rui Quek, and Lucas Ngoo – who initially set out to build technology that served the world.

“We still have a long way to go in realizing our vision for Carousell,” Carousell’s co-founder and CEO Quek Siu Rui said.

“Carousell’s purpose is to be more than just a transactional platform. Our end goal is to grow a community of millions of people around the world who share our belief that changing the way we consume things can make life more meaningful.”

To this point, the startup has so far raised about US$126.8 million in funding from seven venture capital firms in the process including Sequoia Capital, 500 Startups, and Quest Venture.

In related news, Carousell has been strong at forging partnerships. The startup teamed up with GoJek in January to offer new riders $13 in vouchers when they download the app through ads on Carousell.

Who is Winning in the Battle for E-Wallet Domination in Southeast Asia?

With a rapidly increasing population of 600 million smartphone savvy users, Southeast Asia has been the hotbed for e-wallet startups that looks to change the society way in payment.

While we have all seen how you can pay for street food in Beijing with a quick scan of the QR code via WeChat Pay or Alipay. This is still yet the reality in most parts of Southeast Asia whether it is in affluent Singapore or an emerging market like Indonesia.

The trend, however, looks like the definitive future for the region, with more than hundreds of e-wallets startups taking station in the Southeast Asian region.

Besides, retail, financial and on-demand services like ride-hailing giants Grab and low-cost airline AirAsia are also pushing for digital wallets.

Grab is ramping up its efforts to increase transactions using its e-wallet service GrabPay, which can be used to pay for rides and foods, as well as transfer money between users.

Go-Jek, on the other hand, had also recently made an acquisition of, a cryptocurrency pioneer in Southeast Asia which is also the first firm to be regulated in the region as a Virtual Currency Exchange and Electronic Money Issuer (e-wallet).

The potential of the Southeast Asian market, with its huge unbanked population, rising middle class, and high smartphone penetration is what propelled the region to become home to many digital payment startups.

Despite that, Southeast Asia, for now, is still a battleground for e-wallet companies.

E-wallets in Southeast Asia


Singapore is moving towards cashless payments, with mobile wallets like PayNow nd Dash gaining momentum, however most still prefer contactless card payments.

One of the most common ways to pay is through Nets, a local firm founded in 1985 with over 100,000 acceptance points nationwide. Although Nets started off as a card payment company. The startup recently embrace QR code payment technology.

On the other hand, cash is still dominant in Malaysia, but digital payment players are working hard to change the market, from Grab to WeChat to Duit Now.

PayNow and PromptPay – Singapore and Thailand government supported e-transaction systems that allow peer-to-peer transfer of funds using only identification numbers and mobile phone numbers.

The two countries are facilitating their transition to a cashless society. The PromptPay system is part of Thailand’s National ePayment plan which seeks to integrate formal financial transactions such as welfare payments and taxation into an electronic system.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore recently made public that it would facilitate a partnership for cross-border transactions between PayNow and PromptPay.

In Singapore, Grab is trying to integrate hawker stalls into the GrabPay system.

In Thailand, SCB Easy of Siam Commercial Bank and Kasikornbank’s K Plus are two active mobile payment providers. Non-banks include Line Pay, Garena’s AirPay and AIS’s mPay.

In Indonesia, Go-Jek has also launched Go-Pay. In December last year, Go-Jek bought over three fintech firms in a move to dominate the Indonesian digital payments market.

In Myanmar, only 5% of the population have bank accounts. The majority of the public deposit or withdraw their money through authorised agents with their identity card without the need for registration. These agents include the thousands of SIM card point of sales and small businesses like grocery store merchants that are scattered around the country. The major mobile payment players are EasyPay; TrueMoney; MyanPay; WaveMoney.

In Cambodia, mobile payment application Pi Pay has scaled quickly to become a ubiquitous digital wallet solution and the first e-commerce app to gain real traction in the city.

Vietnam most promising E-Wallet solutions: Mo Mo and Payoo. Uber has signed a deal with Mo Mo that will let riders to pay for their rides with the e-wallet.

Loas, BCEL One mobile application and e-wallet OnePay launched by Banque Pour Le Commerce Exterieur Lao Public (BCEL) allow customers to transfer funds between accounts, pay utility and phone bills, pay taxes, and more, right from their own mobile phone.

While OnePay allows users to pay anyone, anywhere, directly from their account by simply photographing a QR code.

E-wallets influence from Outside Southeast Asia

China’s e-wallets have their eyes on Malaysia for expansion.The country, for now, is the only nation in the world that is able to use WeChat pay in their local denomination.

The environment is also fertile ground for payments in Malaysia to flourish, a renaissance of the ecommerce boom circa 2015 that led to the rise of payments fintech.

In terms of external competition, we see digital wallets or e-wallets from Temasek and Google taking off in Southeast Asia.

Meanwhile, Tencent (the group that owns WeChat Pay) and Alibaba’s Alipay are looking to expand their market to Southeast Asia.

WeChat Pay, the wallet service that is included as a feature in their messenger app has been cleared for a Malaysian electronic payment license that would allow transaction in ringgit.

While Ant Financial (the company that runs AliPay) is working with merchants to supply services to travellers from China, and forming joint ventures with local partners for e-wallets using their brands.

Alipay’s e-wallet partnerships in the SEA: TrueMoney Wallet, Thailand; GCash, Philippines; Touch’n Go, Malaysia; and Emtek, Indonesia.

Lack of a Dominant E-wallet Startup

While there’s a bunch of mobile payment startups in the countries, the dominant spot is still empty for the taking.

The use of cash and bank transfers remain prevalent in the region, and digital payment penetration is still only concentrated in cities.

Another big problem with online payments in Southeast Asia is that each market in the region has multiple digital wallet services from different players, making the payment sector highly fragmented and frustrating for consumers who wish to pay online.

Even a small market like Singapore has some 27 different digital wallet services, Zack Yang Zhan, the co-founder of Singapore-based FOMO Pay told SCMP.

Southeast Asia seen as best investment destination this year

A poll at the Asian Financial Forum revealed that 39 percent believe Southeast Asia to be the best investment prospect in 2019, favored over other choices like China (35 percent) and the United States (16 percent).

This vote took place during the 12th Asian Financial Forum held on January 14 and 15 in Hong Kong and respondents of the poll view Southeast Asia to have the best potential investment returns, as businesses are shifting production out of China to countries in the region.

At the same time, another poll for Chief Executives at Asia-Pacific companies by PwC identified Vietnam as the hotspot among Southeast Asian countries.

“We surveyed CEOs across the region where they wanted to put their money in the next 12 months. For two years in a row, Vietnam has come out on top,” said Raymond Chao, the Chairman for PwC in the Asia Pacific and Greater China.

He added that this has much to do with what is happening around the world, and some CEOs are making adjustments to their supply chain in response to the ongoing trade war between the United States and China.

Victor Fung Kwok-king, Chairman of the Fung Group and moderator of the event panel, said his companies are seeking to find a new base for manufacturing outside China.

“We really need to think twice before finishing your products in China and attaching the ‘Made in China’ label, which will have tremendous duty problem in the US,” explained Fung.

However, he also pointed out that the manufacturing sector in Vietnam has capacity constraints which may cause some manufacturers to max out their production capabilities.

“Then the question becomes, which country is the one you would pick after Vietnam. Eventually, this could be countries within the ‘Belt and Road’ region,” said Fung. Southeast Asia is included in this extension.

Other factors also play a role in driving investor interest in the region, which includes an emerging middle class and economic growth.

Thanks to smartphones, increasing internet users has pushed the forecast for Southeast Asia’s digital economy to reach US$240 billion by 2025.

This leaves plenty of opportunities for tech and online businesses, and by extension investment and venture capitalists. In fact, investors have already taken action.

A look at the report by Cento Ventures on 2018 Southeast Asia tech investment revealed that there is a sustainable growth momentum for technology funding in the country, with last year record crossing US$11 billion.

Venture capital deals in Southeast Asia

Source: Cento Research

This amount almost doubles the US$5.8 billion investment in 2017 and suggests a healthy and growing interest in the investment and innovation space for Southeast Asia. For 2019, Cento Ventures predicts that that internet technology-related startups like Grab, Go-Jek, Tokopedia, and Traveloka will continue to attract capital this year.

In fact, it is these five companies which accounted for 70 percent of that total – Grab (US$3 billion), Lazada (US$2 billion), Go-Jek (US$1.5 billion), Tokopedia (US$1.1 billion), and the SEA Group (formerly known as Garena) which raised a US$575 million convertible note offering.

Unicorn asides, late-stage companies in the region are also raising larger rounds and inching towards a billion dollar valuation, with some of the notable deals being:

  • PropertyGuru US$145 million Series D funding round in 2018 which placed its valuation at more than US$368 million
  • Ninja Van’s US$85 million funding backed by DPDgroup
  • Carousell US$85 million Series C funding co-led by Rakuten Ventures and EDBI

Besides, follow-on Series B funding round is also gradually growing as various startups move into a more mature ecosystem.

Surprisingly, looking at last year accounts — Indonesia takes up more than 70% of the capital invested in Southeast Asia.

“Jakarta becomes Southeast Asia’s startup capital surpassing Singapore in terms of the number of deals and investment amount,” Wilson Cuaca from East Ventures told TechCrunch.

The early stage investor further predicts that as Indonesia’s startup scene heats up, regional seed and series A funds will move away from Indonesia and target Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines.

In 2018, the distribution of deals had illustrated activity across the region. By deal count, allocations to Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam appear to be consistent with the past few years. whereas the Philippines has been cooling off in both investment amount and number of deals since 2016.

Looking ahead, Southeast Asia in 2019 remains a very attractive region for investors, as it will continue to gain the attention of institutional investors looking for growth markets outside of China and India.

With high-quality startups exits in the plan, it is likely that the year ahead will bring more successful exit stories that will help inspire more founders to start companies and attract investors in Southeast Asia.

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