Travel chatbot wins SWSG Mega top prize

A travel chatbot has won the top prize at Startup Weekend Singapore (SWSG) Mega 2017 - a three-day hackathon that ended on Sunday.

The chatbot, called Kecap, can help you prepare for your trip through sharing local tidbits, recommending food and activities, and planning itineraries.

Chatbots are computer programmes that mimic human conversations using artificial intelligence.

"Winning both the first prize and GIC Prize at SWSG Mega is the best form of validation for us," said Mr Abhilash Murthy, team leader of Kecap. "We believe we now have credibility to reach out to investors, develop contacts and grow our project."

The three-day event at NUS University Town involved 250 participants pitching more than 100 ideas. They then formed 36 teams around the top ideas and received guidance from around 40 mentors.

Some ideas pitched in the early rounds of judging included an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered photography assistant, and a virtual home-based solution for caregivers of dementia patients. Five winners were named.

SWSG is organised by Startup Weekend, a global network of community leaders and volunteers dedicated to fostering the growth of entrepreneurship in local communities. The event was held in partnership with sovereign wealth fund GIC.

Although GIC invests outside of Singapore as a rule and not in local firms, it said it embraces innovation and enterprise.

GIC chief executive officer Lim Chow Kiat said: " GIC is inspired by the spirit of courage and enterprise exhibited over the last 54 hours."

Online marketplace Carousell, cashback reward company ShopBack, and online tour operator Flocations are among the companies that got their start at Startup Weekend Singapore.

Urban farming firm raises $2 million

Urban farming start-up Packet Greens has raised US$1.5 million (S$2 million) in funding from Spring Seeds Capital, the investment arm of Spring Singapore, and cleantech-focused fund Trirec.

The firm combines hydroponics with automation, and also makes use of vertical farming - racks of crops stacked on top of one another - to improve land-use efficiency.

It delivers precise dosages of nutrients and water to minimise wastage. Crops are bathed in LED light, eliminating the need for pesticides.

The company grows 51 types of crops in a 167 sq m farm located in Boon Lay Way. It claims to be able to grow five times the crops on the same amount of land compared with traditional farms, and in half the time.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 03, 2017, with the headline 'Start@SG'. Print Edition | Subscribe