It's talent, not ideas, that turns on new incubators in Singapore

By Jacquelyn Cheok, The Business Times | 02 May 2018

Participants at a session conducted by Platform E, an educational and incubator programme for aspiring entrepreneurs.Participants at a session conducted by Platform E, an educational and incubator programme for aspiring entrepreneurs.

So you've got a great startup idea. But incubators today may just pass on that.

The newfangled ones in particular are no longer interested in growing business ideas. Instead, they are increasingly focused on nurturing individuals who can bring ideas to life.

Talent incubators - as they are called - seek to spot talent, groom them into founders, and accelerate their building of startups. This year, three such incubators will groom some 275 individuals and launch at least 55 new startups in Singapore, The Business Times has learnt.

The three are Antler, a Singapore-based entity which announced its launch this month; Platform E, an educational and incubator programme based in the Singapore Institute of Management (SIM); and Entrepreneur First (EF), a London-headquartered company backed by SGInnovate, the Singapore government-owned firm that nurtures deep-tech startups.

Antler, the newest kid on the block, said it will support 50 individuals and build 10 to 15 startups here this year. It identifies a group of aspiring entrepreneurs, match them with co-founders, and help them start up companies by providing funding and expertise in product management, legal matters and customer validation.

Platform E, which rolled out its first programme in April 2017, said it is looking to groom 25 individuals through its programme this year; it did not specify the number of startups it hopes to build. Platform E's programme is unique in that it offers a syllabus on top of startup mentorship, incubation and funding.

EF, believed to be the pioneer in bringing together talent to form tech companies, said it will take on 200 individuals to its programme and build 30 to 40 startups here this year. Founded in 2011, EF has built over 140 startups globally, which are reportedly worth over US$1 billion collectively.

Alex Crompton, director of EF Singapore, told BT: "EF pioneered a new model of building companies. We fund exceptional individuals to start startups together from scratch. You don't need a team or fully formed idea to join."

Rina Neoh, managing partner of Platform E, agreed that the focus is on the individual rather than the idea. "A person can develop many ideas and build great businesses."

Wong Kee Meng, head of education at Platform E, added that "whether the time is now or later", Platform E helps people who are considering entrepreneurship as a career path. "They can come to Platform E to discover the skills, knowledge and attitudes required of an entrepreneur."

Magnus Grimeland, chief of Antler, described his company as a "startup generator" and "super angel investor". He said: "We offer a lot of hands-on support and a great network of mentors and door openers … to turn the world's best talent into great founders of great companies."

Antler will provide each founder with a monthly stipend of about S$4,000 during the first two months of the programme. When teams have been created, Antler will invest US$100,000 into each company for a 10 per cent equity stake.

At EF, each founder will receive a monthly stipend of S$5,000 during the first three months of the programme. When teams are formed, EF will invest S$25,000 into each company for an 8 per cent equity stake.

Platform E does not invest in its startups. All three platforms offer 24/7 access to office space.

EF has raised £57 million (S$104 million) in funding from investors including LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman and Greylock Partners. Antler has raised US$3 million in seed funding from investors including John Riady, director of the Lippo Group in Indonesia. Platform E has not raised funding, but charges participants S$4,000 each for a three-month programme.

Ms Neoh noted that Platform E is also nurturing angel investors, by partnering South-east Asian angel investment network Bansea. "The ecosystem is producing a lot of founders but getting people to believe and invest in startups is not easy. Angel investors in Asia are usually traditional businessmen. If they don't understand new technologies, it's hard to invest in them."

Mr Crompton, when asked about the new competition for talent in Singapore, said that rival platforms have raised awareness of the EF model and in fact boosted the number of applicants to EF programmes. "We're flattered that the EF model is validated not just by our track record, but increasingly by copycats."

Antler's Mr Grimeland said: "There are several amazing investors and accelerators in Asia. There's also a lot of talent here, but too few actually take the risk to pursue their dreams for financial, social and other reasons.

"The more people and organisations support founders early on, the better for the world and ecosystem in South-east Asia. We have already seen large interest with over 1,000 qualified applications even before our official launch. There's definitely not a lack of talented individuals who want to start a company here."

This article first appeared on‚Äč The Business Times on 2 May 2018