October 22, 2019
It takes an entire village to raise a child. The same can be said about startups, who can be considered younglings in the eyes of established multinationals and entrepreneurs.
The community is of vital importance to a startup’s life. It not only injects much-needed capital for growth – it also provides guidance and support for their founders. Many of them are first-time entrepreneurs, who are often early in their experience needed to run their own company effectively.
Incubators such as The Sandbox at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, lay the foundations for success by introducing them to an extensive network of partners and providing them support needed to grow a startup.
The Sandbox provides opportunities for startups to showcase their products or services through exhibiting at tech and innovation events, such as the Singapore Week of Innovation TeCHnology (SWITCH), where they get to interact with peers and potential investors.
We talk to three startups to find out what life is like as a founder, and the highs and lows that come with being an entrepreneur.
One such startup that The Sandbox brought to SWITCH was Eezee, launched in 2017 as an online business-to-business marketplace for industrial hardware and supplies. Eezee enables companies to buy industrial supplies such as gloves and safety helmets direct from the source.
Before setting up his startup, founder Logan Tan, the former banker at DBS joined an SME to learn about the realities of running a business. This would prove useful when he started Eezee with co-founders Jasper Yap and Terrence Goh.
“It was then during my role that I saw first-hand the procurement issues between businesses and the idea came to mind when I was shopping on Qoo10 one day. I wanted to use e-commerce to reimagine procurement in the business world and I was lucky to have that lightbulb moment,” says Tan.
As a Ngee Ann Polytechnic graduate, Tan joined The Sandbox programme to gain a headstart. They identified that he needed a strong technical team to build the business, and introduced him to Terrence Goh and Jasper Yap. Both then became co-founders of Eezee in a week.
In September, Eezee announced that it had secured an undisclosed amount in seed funding from Insignia Ventures for its overseas expansion. Tan advises founders to put their egos aside when they startup a new business and be open to collaborating with competitors, to work hand-in-hand to disrupt industries.
Eezee met Ken Ooi, director of TenderBoard, an online e-procurement system that supports B2B marketplaces, at SWITCH. TenderBoard helped Eezee set up its tendering and procurement platform to make it user-friendly for clients.
“Singapore is one of the most ideal places to start a business. Apart from startup initiatives available, events like SWITCH enabled me to meet some of my current partners and an investor. There is also a ready talent pool in Singapore where we could leverage on such as interns and graduates from The Sandbox programme. We should count ourselves lucky that there is a thriving ecosystem that is enabling startups to grow,” says Tan.
3PlayGrounds, a travel tech company, was started by Chong Lee Ling as she wanted to bring like-minded travellers together. The online venture organises trips from nearby locations to somewhere as faraway as South America.
Members go on intrepid adventures such as diving in Raja Ampat(in Papua, the westernmost part of Indonesia), or a hike to the Canadian Rockies.
Chong, who is a former project manager at Citibank, launched 3PlayGrounds with Britta Hummel, former director of engineering at Silicon Valley startup Aquifi, as well as a third co-founder, in 2016. Today, 3PlayGrounds has 29,000 users, without spending a cent on marketing.
However, it was not an easy journey. One of the key challenges 3PlayGrounds faced was securing funding in its early years. Furthermore, Chong had virtually no experience running a startup.
Through the support and vote of confidence from government agencies like Enterprise Singapore and the Singapore Tourism Board, it helped 3PlayGrounds to navigate through the financing landscape and made it easier to secure a lead investor.
To acquaint themselves with the startup ecosystem, they joined The Sandbox programme. They were only expecting to hire a few computer studies students for help with programming. But more than that, they received mentoring, an office space and connections with other startups under the incubation programme as well.
“Collaboration is crucial to the success of startups. We were fortunate enough to have worked with good industry partners which prevented us from making costly mistakes,” says Chong.
Their exhibition at SWITCH led them to meet potential investors. Needless to say, they made it a point to step out of their comfort zone, and events like SWITCH is a safe environment for them to do so.
“It is also important to be nimble. As we were inexperienced, we did not understand what our marketplace strategy should be. But when we switched our focus, the strategy to scale our business became clear and we began to attract partners and investors,” Chong recalls.
Education startup Kalpha aims to make learning fun, accessible and affordable to everyone. Whether it is coding or ukelele lessons, founders Jack Soh and Jaden Teo started Kalpha to connect learners and skill sharers through its app, enabling one-on-one learning at an economical cost and time-flexible schedule.
In February, Kalpha announced that it had secured a six-figure seed sum from Vietnamese venture capital firm Nest Tech. Soh revealed that Kalpha actually met Nest Tech at SWITCH 2018, and that played a huge part in Kalpha’s growth plans.
“Some key milestones in the near-term are to achieve at least 30,000 users and to collaborate with agencies and large corporates within the regions of Singapore,”
“This will give us enough exposure and user base to optimise our product to ensure users get the best experience out from our platform. Likewise, we’re prime to enter the Vietnamese market come 2020,” says Soh.
As an alumni of Ngee Ann Polytechnic and new to the startup world, Soh roped in Teo to join the incubator program at The Sandbox. “People [at The Sandbox] were generally positive of the idea, which motivates me to take the leap of faith into the startup world that is filled with uncertainty,” he recalls.
Building a strong team is essential in turning an idea into a business, and this is especially so in the startup environment, says Soh.
“During Kalpha’s early days, it was really just an idea on paper. A tech company without a tech team.” he explains. But things changed when they joined The Sandbox. This was where Kalpha found its tech partner, designer, and the rest was history.
Their participation at the Sandbox eventually led to their exhibition at SWITCH 2018. “It was by far the most enjoyable event we have exhibited among the many roadshows and conferences that we have attended.” says Soh.
His advice for startups who attend tech events is to embrace the energetic atmosphere and interact with as many people as they can. They can strike up collaborations or arrange meetings, even check out other startups to understand market trends. “Build more relationships and connections, and most importantly, have fun!” he says.
This year will see a first for SWITCH, as it joins hands with the Singapore Fintech Festival, coming together as SFF x SWITCH. Expect to see the latest trends, innovations and the most cutting-edge of startups at SFF x SWITCH, happening from 11 – 13 November at Singapore Expo, with an innovation lab crawl and industry events on 14 and 15 November.
SWITCH 2020 will continue to take place as planned from 9 – 13 November 2020 in Singapore. The organising committee is closely monitoring the situation arising from COVID-19 outbreak and will keep the public informed of any updates. More details here.