Singapore blue-chip veteran Koh Boon Hwee's firm raises $175m tech fund

Mr Koh's firm drew in investors including Singapore and South Korean sovereign wealth funds, Razer, and a Europe-based fund of funds. PHOTO: NTU SINGAPORE

SINGAPORE (BLOOMBERG) - The venture capital firm co-founded by former Singapore Airlines chairman Koh Boon Hwee closed its first fund at US$130 million (S$175 million) to back start-ups in South-east Asia's fast-growing technology industry.

The firm, Altara Ventures, drew in investors including Singapore and South Korean sovereign wealth funds, Razer, and a Europe-based fund of funds, said one of the firm's five general partners Dave Ng in a phone interview. It exceeded its initial target of US$100 million, he said.

Mr Koh, 71, also the former chairman of DBS Group Holdings and Singtel, founded Altara in 2020 with four fellow investors to tap South-east Asia's tech boom. About 70 per cent of the fund has been earmarked for the region, with the firm focusing on areas including fintech, consumer Internet, healthcare, logistics, enterprise software and education.

"We saw many consumer-focused fintech and logistics start-ups chart the way during the first decade," Mr Ng said. "As the region matures, we're also looking to help build the next wave of tech companies."

Mr Ng and fellow partner Gavin Teo previously worked at B Capital, Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin's venture capital house. The other three partners are Mr Koh, Mr Tan Chow Boon and Mr Seow Kiat Wang, who founded Omni Industries, an electronics components maker acquired by Celestica in 2001.

Altara's portfolio companies include Vietnam-based education technology start-up Clevai, Malaysia digital insurtech platform PolicyStreet and Philippine digital bank Tonik. Together, the quintet has backed more than 100 companies, including Razer, Ninja Van and Twitch.

South-east Asia, a region with about 650 million people, is seeing rising interest from investors scouting for companies that can capture the surge of online activity amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"The venture and start-up ecosystem really started gaining traction in South-east Asia only within the last decade, so we have a long runway ahead of us," Mr Koh said via e-mail. "Today, the debate has shifted from 'do we need entrepreneurship and technology transformation?' to 'how do we do it?'"

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.