Outlook 2017

Outlook 2017: Five Singapore start-ups to watch

Mr Oliver Tan, co-founder and CEO of ViSenze, which will use its funds to invest in proprietary image-recognition technology. PatSnap CEO Jeffrey Tiong (left), with Asia-Pacific SV-P Guan Dian and head of research Markus Haense. The latest fund infus
Cialfo co-founder and CEO Rohan Pasari (second row, first from left) and co-founder and chief operating officer Stanley Chia (second row, second from right), with their Singapore team. The education technology firm, which was founded in 2012, opened its first China office in October. PHOTO: CIALFO

Start-ups come and go, but a rare few manage to raise funds, scale up and could eventually become household names. Economics Correspondent Chia Yan Min identifies five under-the-radar young firms that you could be hearing a lot more about in the coming year.

Cialfo

Tapping opportunities

Singapore-based education technology firm Cialfo, which helps students apply to universities in the United States and Britain, opened its first China office in October, in Shanghai.

This came after the company raised an undisclosed amount in pre-Series A funding.

Cialfo, founded in 2012, streamlines the university application process through an online platform coupled with expert mentoring. Consultants also provide help for university essays and admission interviews.

"Cialfo's vision is to help a million students find their dream college through our platform by 2020," said co-founder and chief executive Rohan Pasari in October, when the China expansion was announced.

"Key to this is to partner with the right education consultancies to tap into edtech opportunities in Asia, particularly in China and India where opportunities are most apparent."


ViSenze 


Mr Oliver Tan, co-founder and CEO of ViSenze, which will use its funds to invest in proprietary image-recognition technology. PHOTO: BUSINESS TIMES

Growing visual tech reach

Artificial intelligence company ViSenze announced a US$10.5 million (S$15 million) funding round in September, led by Rakuten Ventures, WI Harper Group and Enspire Capital.

ViSenze, founded in 2012, develops visual search and image recognition solutions for e-commerce, retail and content publishing. For instance, it can recommend visually similar items to online shoppers when they browse or search for products.

The firm has grown from strength to strength over the years, working with several big names in e-commerce such as Zalora and India's e-commerce giant Flipkart.

The new funds will be used to invest in proprietary image-recognition technology, expand headcount, and grow its offices in the United States and India, as well as open new ones in Britain and China, the company said. 


Nugit


Nugit CEO David Sanderson said the funds raised will be used to hire more engineers and data scientists, and is looking to expand into Australia and Japan.PHOTO: NUGIT

Fine-tuning data analytics

Singapore-based data analytics start-up Nugit has developed an app that helps marketers consolidate data collected from digital marketing channels such as Facebook, and turn it into easy-to-read reports.

Nugit automates the entire process from data extraction to collation and presentation.

The company, which was founded in 2013, counts Facebook, Johnson & Johnson and advertising firm Publicis among its clients.

It raised US$5.2 million (S$7.5 million) from Sequoia India in October. The money will be used to hire more engineers and data scientists to further develop the product, founder and chief executive David Sanderson said back then.

The company also said it was looking to expand into Australia and Japan.


Spark Systems


Mr Wong (seated), Spark Systems chief, with Mr Wang (right) and Mr Ye. The firm will beta test its foreign exchange platform next year. PHOTO: SPARK SYSTEMS

Improving forex trading  

Fintech start-up Spark Systems is building a foreign exchange platform to make trading less costly and more efficient for institutional investors.

The company has raised US$5 million (S$7 million) in funding and is working with a major hedge fund to beta test its platform early next year.

Co-founder and chief executive Wong Joo Seng, who is also a partner at venture capital firm Vickers Venture Partners, said Spark Systems aims to eventually develop a Singapore-based foreign exchange marketplace.

He co-founded the company with chief operations officer Jason Wang, previously head of institutional sales at KGI Futures, and chief technology officer Ye Ting Song, who joined from US hedge fund Pine River Capital Management.

The company, which has also received a grant from the Monetary Authority of Singapore, plans to bring its solution to the market by the middle of next year.


PatSnap


PatSnap CEO Jeffrey Tiong (left), with Asia-Pacific SV-P Guan Dian and head of research Markus Haense. The latest fund infusion will be used for R&D. PHOTO: PATSNAP

Building R&D centre here 

Patents database platform PatSnap raised an undisclosed Series C funding round last month, led by Sequoia Capital and participated by Shunwei Capital and Qualgro.

This came after the company - founded in 2007 - raised a Series A round of US$3.6 million in 2014 and a Series B round of US$11 million (S$16 million) last year.

The latest fund infusion will be used for research and development (R&D) and to grow the team.

PatSnap is also building an R&D centre in Singapore.

The company spent several years building early versions of the PatSnap platform within an accelerator programme at the National University of Singapore.

It now has about 400 employees in its Singapore, London and Suzhou offices, and serves over 3,000 customers worldwide, including Nasa, Vodafone and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 30, 2016, with the headline 'Five Singapore start-ups to watch '. Print Edition | Subscribe