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December 15, 2018
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Singapore

TNB Aura closes $22.7M fund to bring PE-style investing to Southeast Asia’s startups

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TNB Aura, a recent arrival to Southeast Asia’s VC scene, announced today that it has closed a maiden fund at SG$31.1million, or around US$22.65 million, to bring a more private equity-like approach to investing in startups in the region.

The fund was launched in 2016 and it is a joint effort between Australia-based venture fund Aura and Singapore’s TNB Ventures, which has a history of corporate innovation work. It reached a final close today, having hit an early close in January. It is a part of the Enterprise Singapore ‘Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering’ scheme which, as you’d expect, means there is a focus on hardware, IO, AI and other future-looking tech like ‘industry 4.0.’

The fund is targeting Series A and B deals and it has the firepower to do 15-20 deals over likely the next two to three years, co-founder and managing partner Vicknesh R Pillay told TechCrunch in an interview. There’s around $500,000-$4 million per company, with the ideal scenario being an initial $1 million check with more saved for follow-on rounds. Already it has backed four companies including TradeGecko, which raised $10 million in a round that saw TNB Aura invest alongside Aura, and AI marketing platform Ematic.

The fund has a team of 10, including six partners and an operating staff of four. It pitches itself a little differently to most other VCs in the region given that manufacturing and engineering bent. That, Pillay said, means it is focused on “hardware plus software” startups.

“We are very strong fundamentals guys,” Pillay added. We ask what is the valuation and decide what we can get from a deal. It’s almost like PE-style investing in the VC world.”

A selection of the TNB Aura team [left to right]: Samuel Chong (investment manager), Calvin Ng, Vicknesh R Pillay, Charles Wong (partners), Liu Zhihao (investment manager)

Another differentiator, Pillay believes, is the firm’s history in the corporate innovation space. That leads it to be pretty well suited to working in the B2B and enterprise spaces thanks to its existing networks, he said.

“We particularly like B2B saas companies and we believe we can assist them through of our innovation platforms,” Pillay explained.

Outside of Singapore — which is a heavy focus thanks to the relationship with Enterprise Singapore — TNB Aura is focused on Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, four of the largest markets that form a large chunk of Southeast Asia’s cumulative 650 million population. With an internet population of over 330 million — higher than the entire U.S. population — the region is set to grow strongly as internet access increases. A recent report from Google and Temasek tipped the region’s digital economy will triple to reach $240 billion by 20205.

The report also found that VC funding in Southeast Asia is developing at a fast clip. Excluding unicorns, which distort the data somewhat, startups raised $2.6 billion in the first half of this year, beating the $2.4 billion tally for the whole of 2017.

There are plenty of other Series A-B funds in the region, including Jungle Ventures, Golden Gate Ventures, Openspace Ventures, Monks Hill Ventures, Qualgro and more.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Japan’s Sansan raises $26.5M to help Southeast Asia get more from business cards

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The humble business card is a target for disruption in Southeast Asia after Japanese contacts management startup Sansan raised JPY 3 billion ($26.5 million) to expand its business into the region.

Founded way back in 2007, Sansan helps bring business intelligence to companies through a system that helps build connections between users and both internal employees and external contacts using, among other things, business cards.

“Our purpose is to use tech to enhance the utility and value of business cards,” Sansan co-founder and CEO Chikahiro Terada told TechCrunch in an interview. “They are customary for business in most parts of the world, esJapanlly japan, but there’s no easy way to digitize them.”

This new round will bring that focus to Southeast Asia, where Sansan already has an office in Singapore. The capital — which is a Series E round — was provided Japan Post Capital, T. Rowe Price, SBI Investment and DCM Ventures, and it takes Sansan to around $100 million raised to date.

Sansan claims that 7,000 corporations use its core product — also called Sansan — which helps build and organize networks. At its core, users scan another person’s business card which is then digitized, uploaded to the cloud and made part of their database. The Sansan system then allows interactions, such as meetings, calls, notes and more to be added to the entry to help track interactions. The resources are held within companies, rather than employees themselves, which means strategies around sales, marketing and more can be kept organized and centralized.

In addition, Sansan operates a LinkedIn -like service called Eight which is available for free and is linked to the core product, allowing users to update their job, company, etc without having to provide a new business card. Eight has some two million users today, according to Sansan.

Unlike LinkedIn, however, which is commonly used for finding jobs, Terada suggested that Eight and Sansan help maintain networks and increase communication and engagement.

Sansan CEO Chikahiro Terada started the business in 2006 alongside fellow co-founders Kei Tomioka, Joraku Satoru, Kenji Shiomi and Motohisa Tsunokawa

Terada — who previously worked for Oracle in Thailand — said that he sees much potential for the services in Southeast Asia, where the region’s digital economy is expected to triple by 2025, albeit with a greater focus on SMEs rather than Japan-style mega corporations.

Already, Sansan has picked up some 100 or so clients in the region — mostly by targeting Japanese corporations in Singapore — while Eight has reached 100,000 registered users across Southeast Asia since a soft launch in October 2017.

“We want to expand to globally and Singapore is our first step,” said Terada, indicating that there are future plans to look at business in India, Europe and potentially the U.S. further down the line. Elsewhere, the firm is hiring data scientists as it aims to bring additional smarts to its services.

The proposition is interesting — personally speaking I have multiple stacks of business cards sitting idle — but it remains to be seen how open businesses in Southeast Asia will be to paying for the service, even with clear benefits. Saas as a model is still establishing its roots among SMEs while there are already popular options. LinkedIn is, of course, the de facto professional social network while Facebook, which has been ramping up its efforts in that space lately, is also a popular option.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Neuron Mobility raises $3.7M to bring e-scooters to Southeast Asia’s cities

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Despite the rise in electric scooters in the U.S., you’d be forgiven for thinking that Asia — the region where bike-sharing foreshadowed the rise of e-scooters — has been left off the party. But e-scooters have quietly been in the region for some time and now they are beginning to ramp up.

Singapore-based Neuron Mobility is one such riser, and the company announced today that it has raised a SG$5 million ($3.7 million) seed round to explore overseas growth opportunities. The money comes from a collection of investors that include SeedPlus, 500 Startups, SEEDS Capital, ACE Capital, undisclosed angels and family offices.

Founded in 2016, Neuron has offered electric scooters in Singapore since last year. That fleet is currently downsized, CEO Zachary Wang told TechCrunch in an interview, because the startup is awaiting new regulation from the Singapore government. He expects that to take another one or two months. At its peak, Wang said, Neuron was Singapore’s latest provider with around 1,000 e-scooters on the island nation, although the number is down to “a few hundred” right now.

Scooters from Neuron and other rivals have been impounded in Singapore in recent times because they have been parked in illegal areas. Singapore currently prohibits scooters from being left in public places, such as subway stations, but pre-defined adjacent spaces are OK. As such, Neuron charges users a $5 fee when they leave their ride in the wrong place. That’s detected by geo-fencing tech and the charge covers the cost of sending a staffer to move it, Wang explained.

Despite it forcing the startup to slim down its operations, Wang is supportive of the Singapore government’s moves. Admitting that on-demand bikes and scooters can pile up “like rubbish on the streets in many cities,” the Neuron CEO said that “multi-use of sidewalk pavements [from scooters and other services] is here to stay and regulation brings rights to operate, which is a good thing.”

[Left to right] Neuron Mobility founders Harry Yu and Zachary Wang started the Singapore-based company in 2016

While it is liaising with the Singapore government, Neuron is also taking its first steps overseas. That’s seen it deploy scooters in Thailand — capital Bangkok and northern city Chiang Mai — with an expansion to Malaysia set to happen before the end of this year.

It has trodden carefully, however. In Bangkok, Neuron is working with real estate giant Sansiri to offer last mile options around one of the developer’s main sites that includes retail, residential and education facilities in close proximity. In Chiang Mai, it is offering transportation in the old part of the city, which is popular with Chinese tourists and where bike-sharing services like Mobike are popular.

When pressed on safety, Wang said that keeping the focus on specific parts of the city is important. Indeed, Asia’s mega cities are frankly dangerous for even seasoned motorcycle or bike drivers, let alone part-time electric scooter riders, while a number of people in the U.S. have died following collisions with e-scooters. With that in mind, Neuron said it is also planning a “ride responsibility” campaign.

Looking beyond Malaysia, Wang said that Neuron aspires to be in other parts of Southeast Asia — which houses more than 650 million people — as well as cities that are comparable to Singapore, such as those in Australia. Those expansions, however, won’t happen until the startup raises another round of funding; that’s something that he anticipates could come in the first half of 2019, although Wang is coy on details at this point.

Speaking more broadly about the expansion of e-scooter startups like Bird and Lime, which have moved into Europe and most recently Asia, Wang — the Neuron CEO — stressed the importance of local players.

“The Southeast Asia game must be played by Southeast Asia players because the region is so fragmented,” he said. “Traditionally, it is very difficult to penetrate markets, so the hyper-local approach becomes all important.”

Beyond working with regulators, Wang said another example of its local approach is that it is developing its own bespoke scooters, rather than going with off-the-shelf products from the likes of Xiaomi -owned Ninebot, which is outfitting most U.S. startups. Neuron’s “next-gen” scooter will “come to market pretty soon,” he said.

Neuron has occupied a unique position since it has been around since before bike-sharing startups flooded Southeast Asia last year following the trend in China. Unlike Ofo, oBike and countless others who expanded and then fled Southeast Asian markets, Wang believes that e-scooters are more sustainable as a business because the unit economics are healthier.

“Our rides can be benchmarked against taxi rides,” he explained. While, more generally, e-scooters are “priced between public transportation and taxis” rather than being cheaper than both, as is the case for dockless cycles.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Easyship, a Stripe for global e-commerce shipping, raises $4M

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Easyship, a Hong Kong-based startup that aims to make international shipping for e-commerce as easy as payments, has closed a $4 million Series A round.

The company was founded in 2015 by former Lazada duo Tommaso Tamburnotti and Augustin Ceyrac, and ex-banker Paul Lugagne Delpon. From their time with Lazada, the then-Rocket Internet -owned e-commerce site in Southeast Asia that was later bought by Alibaba, Tamburnotti and Ceyrac came to realize that there was no ‘plug in’ solution for shipping in the same way that Stripe and others enable payments online.

In Lazada’s case, that was crucial. The company was trying to enable cross-border commerce in Southeast Asia and, as a part of that, seek out retailers in more mature markets like China. But, if sending product to Indonesia — Southeast Asia’s largest country with a population of over 250 million — was fraught with challengers, then both retailers and consumers would be put off using the service.

That’s how Easyship was born. Today, the startup works with over 50 couriers, it also deals with the likes of Amazon, Shopify, eBay, Etsy, Magento and more. Its team of more than 50 people is spread across offices in New York, Singapore, the Netherlands, Australia, and Hong Kong.

Its service adds shipment options to e-commerce pages to make it simple for retailers to offer overseas shipping, and customers to receive product in any market. They simply input a line of code, which then offers international shipping options for customer when they check out. Not only does it simplify shipping routes but Easyship claims it can help cut shipping costs by up to 60 percent. Its base of 40,000 SMBs have seen their overall sales increase by 40 percent on average.

“We saw there was an opportunity when we couldn’t find a solution that was a gateway for international
shipping,” Ceyrac said in a statement. “For example, it’s easy for sellers to find payment gateways that can be activated in minutes so they can start accepting all major forms of payment. Yet, there was no equivalent tool for logistics, where you could just mobilize on global sales.”

“At the time, the only choices for small business owners were to use large enterprise solutions that were meant for Fortune 500 companies, or to integrate with multiple players to achieve a truly global solution,’ he added.

Easyship founders (left to right) Paul Lugagne Delpon, Tommaso Tamburnotti and Augustin Ceyrac

Tamburnotti told TechCrunch that the new funds will go towards developing the company’s technology — which helps to find cost-effective shipping routes — as well as adding more shipment and logistics partners, and reaching more customers, particularly in the U.S.

The sources of the round are interesting in themselves, too. Maximilian Bittner, who founded Lazada and was its long-time CEO, led the deal alongside Richard Lepeu, the former CEO of luxury firm Richemont and a board member of Yoox Net-A-Porter Group. Existing investor Lamivoie Capital Partners and funds Rubicon Venture Capital, One Way Ventures, Kima Ventures and Picus Capital also joined the round. 500 Startups is another investor in the business.

Easyship’s solution is so logical it almost seems obvious, but it is a business that has been created because it is outside of the U.S. and Silicon Valley. U.S. e-commerce firms have woken up to overseas opportunities, but they tend to be focused on obvious and huge markets like China. Logistics to other parts of the world are fiddling (it’s hugely fragmented) and likely not worth the initial investment unless the investment in a patient one.

But, for Easyship’s founders, the issue of fragmented logistics in Asia became such a critical one that they jumped ship from their full-time jobs — with the blessing of their CEO, Bittner — to tackle the problem. The firm is making ambitious moves in the U.S., having opened a New York office this year, and it’ll be a company to watch. The company has already fielded acquisition offers, but it is aiming to stay independent and grow its share of the U.S. market by enabling retailers, and particularly smaller players, to expand their sales globally.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Topica raises $50M for its online learning services in Southeast Asia

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Vietnam’s startup ecosystem is making forward progress. Just a week after 500 Startups’ local entity closed a $14 million fund for early-stage investments, one of the country’s elder statesmen of startups — educational service Topica — has closed its $50 million Series D.

The round — which is one of the highest to date for a Vietnamese tech company — comes from PE firm Northstar Group. Northstar, which manages some $2 billion in assets, is already linked to Topica via Openspace Ventures, the Singapore-based VC firm that is already an investor in the startup and counts Northstar among its LPs. (Openspace rebranded from NSI earlier this year, prior to which it was an arm of Northstar.)

Northstar’s total ownership stake is described as a minority but the exact size, and the valuation of the Topica business, hasn’t been revealed.

Topica was founded a decade ago at a launch event attended by Bill Gates, and since then it claims that it has helped more than one million adults through its online education platform. The business counted Microsoft and Qualcomm among its original sponsors and today it covers the six largest countries in Southeast Asia — Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines. It offers a range of different services that include English-language tutoring and university-level courses, but it has expanded to less traditional disciplines including a ‘founders institute’ accelerator program and a 3D ‘technologies’ program.

On the higher education focus, Topica works with 16 universities to offer Batchelor degree qualifications. That program has graduated some 6,200 students, the company claimed. Its dropout rate is above 90 percent, according to its data.

Deputy Prime Minister Pham Gia Khiem, Head of Microsoft General Embassy Bill Gates and other sponsors’ launching the program in April 2006 [Image via Topica]

More recently, Topica has also opened a marketplace that includes over 2,000 “short skill courses” to help users learn to master Microsoft Office or video editing, for example.

Topica has 1,700 staff and 2,000 teaching instructors across offices in Bangkok, Danang, Hanoi, HCMC, Jakarta, Manila and Singapore. There’s no specific aim for the investment other than to further the company’s ongoing mission of helping reach more students using digital mediums.

“We have been blessed to work with great partners like Northstar and our existing investors, who are all enthusiastic about our vision of investing in the long term to help bring quality education to millions of learners in Southeast Asia and beyond,” Dr. Tuan Pham, Topica chairman and CEO, said in a statement.

Topica employees regularly take part in marathons, ironman competitions and more across Southeast Asia

In particular, you can likely expect that Topica will continue to push its business-building initiatives as Southeast Asia’s startup ecosystem continues to grow. A recent report co-authored by Google forecast that the digital economy for the region — which houses over 650 million people — will triple over the next seven years. Topica claims that already it is invested in one-third of the startups in Vietnam that raised seed or Series A funding in 2016, so it seems entirely logical it’ll work to expand that to other markets.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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