Two start-ups get leg-up from venture capitalists

Mr James Chan with a colleague at robotics start-up Grey Orange, which has won US$30 million (S$42 million) in funding led by United States-based Tiger Global Management.
Mr James Chan with a colleague at robotics start-up Grey Orange, which has won US$30 million (S$42 million) in funding led by United States-based Tiger Global Management. PHOTO: JAMES CHAN

One is in the robotics business, the other helps patients make doctor appointments

Two Singapore-based start-ups celebrated SG50 with lucrative funding deals led by A-listed venture capitalists (VCs), enabling them to grow more quickly.

Robotics start-up Grey Orange won US$30 million (S$42 million) in funding led by United States-based Tiger Global Management. Indian VC Blume Ventures also participated in this round of funding. Tiger previously backed social network giant Facebook and India's largest e-commerce company Flipkart.

The other winner last week was healthcare start-up Practo, which secured US$90 million in funding led by Chinese Internet giant Tencent. Other investors included VC giants Sequoia India and Google Capital and Russian investor Yuri Milner, who has invested in social network Twitter and Chinese smartphone company Xiaomi.

Grey Orange and Practo will use the funds to undertake further product development and expand their business operations.

Mr Lee Fixel, a partner in Tiger Global Management, said e-commerce and logistics companies can dramatically drive up operational efficiencies to levels similar to that of top warehouses in the world.

Grey Orange's vice-president (international), Mr James Chan, said that unlike manual order fulfilment where operators go to the warehouse to collect goods, the start-up's automated system enables the goods to be delivered to the operator via a robot, an unmanned vehicle. When an order is received, the robot's software commands it to pick up the racks with the goods and take them to the operator.

The automation can result in a 60 to 80 per cent reduction in manpower. Each operator can also handle between 400 and 800 items an hour, compared with just half that using a manual process, he said.

"E-commerce is exploding. Order fulfilment is critical because the faster online retailers can fulfil orders, the more orders they can clear and the more business they can get," said Mr Chan.

"E-commerce lets customers buy what they need at any time and anywhere. This leads to a new level of complexity. Data shows that customers buy in a piecemeal fashion, averaging three to four items per order," he added.

"The mix of items in each order has also increased. For example, they may buy snacks, toothpaste and a book. So the online retailers face a rise in orders, but the quantity per order has dropped."

Grey Orange's customers include Hong Kong's logistics firm Kerry Logistics and Flipkart.

Mr Chan said the start-up will expand to China, South Korea and other Asian countries.

Practo, which was founded in 2008, helps patients make appointments with doctors and helps doctors manage their clinics.

More than 200,000 doctors are listed on Practo in Asia, including Singapore, the Philippines and India. In Singapore, it has more than 5,400 doctors listed. People use it for more than 10 million monthly searches, said a press statement.

It will be expanding its service to 10 other countries over the next few months, it said in a media statement last week. It will expand its product lines and continue to look for potential acquisitions to include other healthcare segments such as medicine, wellness and fitness, said the statement.

Mr Hongwei Chen, Tencent's senior director of investment and mergers and acquisitions, said this is one of its first few investments in India.

"We look for ambitious, visionary Internet companies that are improving people's lives on a global scale. Practo is a digital healthcare leader and we want to help it become one of the fastest-growing healthcare companies in the international markets," he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 12, 2015, with the headline 'Two start-ups get leg-up from venture capitalists'. Print Edition | Subscribe