'Stay and start up' at DBS

From left: Mr Li, 50, Ms Feng, 28 and Mr Sung, 37, are among the entrepreneurially inclined DBS staff who have taken advantage of the bank's Hotspot Pre-Accelerator programme to launch their own start-ups, all while remaining full DBS employees.
From left: Mr Li, 50, Ms Feng, 28 and Mr Sung, 37, are among the entrepreneurially inclined DBS staff who have taken advantage of the bank's Hotspot Pre-Accelerator programme to launch their own start-ups, all while remaining full DBS employees.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Entrepreneurial types keen to start up the next big thing usually leave safe and stable jobs, but DBS Bank wants such staff to stay and start their businesses under its wing.

Several start-ups have already been born through one of its latest programmes, called the DBS Hotspot Pre-Accelerator.

It is open to everyone, but DBS employees are encouraged to participate too, for a chance to get $25,000 from the bank for zero equity.

Start-ups by DBS staff include HugProperty, which facilitates the buying and selling of fire sale properties via an online platform; PopTick, which will sell last-minute cinema tickets, and Flide, which automates the process of creating effective presentations.

HugProperty founder Jeffery Sung, 37, a senior vice-president at DBS Private Bank, told The Straits Times: "The extensive programme allows us to immerse ourselves in the start-up world and I learnt new things which I can apply back at work.

"I also deal with venture capitalists and successful tech founders for my work at DBS, and now connect way better with them since being exposed to their 'tribe' and lingo."

He joined the programme earlier this year with his best friend and co-founder Winston Lam, a former property agent.

"We went for an eight-week bootcamp and came out as one of the nine finalists to get the $25,000 in seed funding from the bank."

So far, 40 start-ups have gone through the programme and 20 teams, of which 10 had staff from DBS, have received the $25,000.

Mr Sung works on the start-up over the weekends, with duties such as testing out HugProperty and relaying the feedback to Mr Lam and his other co-founder, data scientist Andy Teoh.

The platform went live in the first week of August and already has a couple of thousand users, and has selected $991 million worth of potential deals according to the budgets of buyers.

DBS' programme also inspires staff to continue working on their "babies" even if they do not get seed funding.

PopTick was one of the top 29 start-ups that did not make it to the final nine, but founders Li Zhiyong, 50, vice-president in technology and operations, and Ms Feng Yan, 28, a technology and operations associate at the bank, continue to press on. PopTick is now in talks with local cinemas to test the app.

Ms Feng said the experience has taught her not just about business, but also how DBS runs the show, and she has come to better understand its strategies.

DBS chief innovation officer Neal Cross said: "We want to build a culture of innovation at DBS, and Hotspot is a key part of that.

"Hotspot helps us bring start-up culture to everyone in DBS, and allows them to turn passion into action. The success of the Hotspot programme is testament to the talents we have in DBS, as well as the support we have gotten from the start-up ecosystem."

Mr Li fully appreciates the opportunity to work on his own start-up while holding his full-time job.

He said: "There's a clear priority to make sure it doesn't affect our current jobs and it's all about time management as we work after office hours and weekends.

"Even without the seed funding, we get to work at our own pace and are still getting support from the bank."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 14, 2016, with the headline ''Stay and start up' at DBS'. Print Edition | Subscribe