Business

Singapore — a hub for technology startups?

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“Singapore — a hub for technology startups” might seem like a message lifted straight from marketing brochures and not in tune with reality on the ground. But we got to experience this phenomenon firsthand by organizing one of the leading technology conferences in Asia,  Echelon 2010.  While there is a lot of talk about the burgeoning Asian tech-startup scene, this event showcased the continent’s diversity of startup ventures by featuring 50 startups, 40 speakers, and 650 attendees from over 20 countries.

Above: Dave McClure on Funding and Investment Models panel at Echelon 2010

Echelon 2010 brought together a diverse mix of people from startup founders to investors, industry professionals from various sectors, and technologists. e27, the organizers, wanted to provide a platform for startups, entrepreneurs, investors, and technologists around the region to come together to share the discuss the latest trends in the spheres of Web and mobile startups.

“Events like this make a huge difference and put Singapore on the technology map,” said Michael Smith, director of technology initiatives for Yahoo.

Smith has been plugged in to the startup scene in Asia for more than six years. He led Yahoo’s recent acquisition of Indonesia-based location based startup Koprol. This, along with Travelocity’s acquisition of Singapore-based travel search startup Sprice, provided a huge boost to the thriving startups in this region.  With both these acquisitions happening two weeks prior to Echelon 2010, excitement among the startups was palpable. This, along with the presence of luminaries such as investors Dave McClure and Joi Ito who have years of experience in the consumer Web industry, contributed to ongoing discussions on the different funding and incubation models relevant to the Asian scene.

Above: Joi Ito on Funding and Investment Models panel at Echelon 2010

Ito thinks setting up incubators in Asia is significantly different from other countries, McClure disagrees with that particular sentiment. Ito’s take on incubators is that they are useful when there are elements in the ecosystem that are missing or when there are barriers to entry. He gave the example of the high aversion to risk among Japanese entrepreneurs that discourages startup efforts. Ito runs Neoteny Labs in Singapore, a hybrid incubator that provides early-stage venture funding and a hands-on incubator.

Saeed Amidi’s Plug and Play Center in Singapore, on the other hand, offers a real-estate-centered approach to incubating startups by charging them low rental rates and utility fees so that the startups can focus on raising funding and building products.

Above: Social Gaming panel at Echelon 2010

One of the key sectors where a lot of Asian startups are growing is social gaming. With the explosive pervasiveness of social networks, social gaming has witnessed exponential growth in Asia. About 10 social gaming companies in Asia are listed on the Nasdaq Stock Exchange. Vishal Gondal, an angel investor, believes this is a huge trend startups can tap into.

The panel on social gaming involved the people behind Indiagames, 6 Waves, Gameventures and Paradise Paintball. Bret Terill, a former director at Zynga, shared interesting insights into the gaming company that makes hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.

Other interesting case studies from Echelon 2010 included lessons from a failed startup, product-management philosophies, and the implication of cloud computing on Enterprise 2.0. In the last panel, speakers from Amazon.com, Voxel, Rackspace, and Webvision shared their experiences serving enterprise customers.

As with any technology event, it’s imperative not to just talk, but to demonstrate a product. Fifty startups from 11 countries exhibited at Echelon 2010’s Startup Exhibition, at which 10 companies launched their products. These ranged from productivity tools, project management software, and location-based services to e-commerce  applications.

When asked about his experience with echelon, Jonathan Buford from Hong Kong-based startup Tasksee, said, “I’d say it was an awesome event, well-planned with equally great people attending it. I think the overall theme was that Asia has a developing startup ecosystem that will support the needs locally and can expand globally.” This has been the mantra of startups incorporating their business in Singapore and making inroads into other Southeast Asian markets.

Above: Startup Exhibition at Echelon 2010

Some of the startups from Echelon 2010 that got a lot of attention from the press and attendees alike were Insync from the Philippines, Foound and Creately from Singapore, and Flutterscape from Japan. “Singapore has a great ecosystem,” said Flutterspace’s Ari Awan. “It’s imperative to set up base here for our world-domination plan.”

Above: Danny Tan, cofounder of Foound, showcasing his application at Echelon 2010

Echelon 2010 was a true reflection of the hyped wave of innovation in Asia and it seems for once, this hype isn’t misplaced. Entrepreneurs are charging down the beach to ride this particular tsunami.

e27 is a technology blog focused on startups and Web innovation in Asia. It is also the organizer of a Echelon 2010, a two-day, pan-Asian startup and Web technology event. The article is an overview of the talks and startups showcased at the event.

Sneha Menon is the community manager at e27.


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