Local AI firm NextBillion.ai wins start-up competition

Firm, which builds mapping and other artificial intelligence-based services, beat nine other finalists

Enterprise Singapore chairman Peter Ong (foreground) with Slingshot winners (from left) GyroGear founder Faii Ong, NextBillion.ai co-founder Ajay Bulusu and Keyless Technologies co-founder Fabian Eberle.
Enterprise Singapore chairman Peter Ong (foreground) with Slingshot winners (from left) GyroGear founder Faii Ong, NextBillion.ai co-founder Ajay Bulusu and Keyless Technologies co-founder Fabian Eberle. PHOTO: ENTERPRISE SINGAPORE

Local artificial intelligence (AI) start-up NextBillion.ai was crowned winner of Enterprise Singapore's start-up competition Slingshot yesterday.

It beat nine other finalists from such countries as Canada, Israel and Britain to take home a $200,000 Startup SG grant, $50,000 in cash and six months' use of a serviced office space.

About 7,500 start-ups from 159 countries took part in this year's competition, and the top 10 pitched their ideas virtually to a panel of judges yesterday at the Singapore FinTech Festival and Singapore Week of Innovation and Technology. Among the judges were B Capital co-founder and managing partner Eduardo Saverin, a co-founder of Facebook, and Mr Forrest Li, founder of tech giant Sea, which has businesses in digital finance and owns e-commerce platform Shopee.

Two British-based start-ups, medical device maker GyroGear and cyber-security company Keyless Technologies, came in second and third respectively.

Over $900,000 of grants and cash prizes were given out this year, the fourth edition of Slingshot.

NextBillion.ai, which builds mapping and other AI-based services, was founded earlier this year by former Grab executives Gaurav Bubna, Ajay Bulusu and Zheng Shaolin. In June, it raised US$7 million (S$9.4 million) in its Series A funding round led by venture capital firms Lightspeed Venture Partners and Falcon Edge Capital.

Mr Bulusu said: "The real work starts now and our aim is to build a global deep tech SaaS (software as a service) company out of Singapore.

"Location will and always be at the heart of NextBillion.ai and we hope we enable enterprises across the world with the best ecosystem possible to run their businesses."

Each of the 10 finalists, including Singapore-based start-ups Knowledge Navigator, Crayon Data and TransferFi, were awarded a $50,000 Startup SG grant.

Dutch digital solutions start-up Surfly won the Slingshot Covid-19 Challenge, a new category in this year's competition. It garnered the most interest in terms of investment and co-innovation from judges. The firm has developed co-browsing and video chat technology that enables people to connect and collaborate online quickly and securely, and took home $60,000 worth of prizes.

In the lead-up to yesterday's finals, the top 100 start-ups attended a week-long virtual programme that comprised preparatory workshops and mentoring sessions. Eligible international start-up founders among them will receive an EntrePass, a work visa for entrepreneurs to set up a new business in Singapore.

The start-ups impressed Mr Saverin, who said: "It's inspiring to see the passion and conviction the founders bring to solving problems in vastly different industries - from improving the quality of life of those suffering from chronic medical conditions to driving improvements in logistics via mapping innovation."

Beyond the prize money, such competitions are important drivers for entrepreneurs as they also help founders connect with companies, potential customers and mentors, he added. "Additionally, founders get to connect and learn from other founders, enabling a community of entrepreneurs to help each other along the very challenging start-up journey."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 10, 2020, with the headline Local AI firm NextBillion.ai wins start-up competition. Subscribe