Start-ups get leg-up from SPH Plug and Play accelerator programme

Start-up members from the second batch of the SPH Plug and Play boot camp meeting investors, venture capitalists and business leaders last Friday at the Ground Theatre at *Scape.
Start-up members from the second batch of the SPH Plug and Play boot camp meeting investors, venture capitalists and business leaders last Friday at the Ground Theatre at *Scape.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

A start-up boot camp by Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) has bolstered the local entrepreneurial scene, going by the response from investors and venture capital firms

The media company has developed 16 media, advertising and e-commerce innovations through the SPH Plug and Play (PnP) boot camp over the past 18 months.

The start-ups that developed the innovations will collectively raise over $6 million in follow-on funding, an indicator that the new businesses have potential.

The second batch of eight start- ups graduated last Friday and they are on target to raise about $3 million from angel investors and venture capitalists, said Mr Rudy Lim, who manages the SPH PnP boot camp, or accelerator in industry jargon. The first batch of eight start-ups that "graduated" last year raised over $3.6 million, including pocket tutor Snapask, which raised more than $2.5 million.

"The media landscape is in the midst of unprecedented rapid change. SPH needs to work with start-ups which have new ideas on how people are consuming media and using digital technologies. Some of these ideas may be useful to us too," said Mr Lim.

With its assets and experience, SPH can then support and accelerate their offerings in the market, he added.

  • Fresh start-up ideas

  • The SPH Plug and Play accelerator programme takes in eight start-ups in each batch. The latest "graduates" include:

    FIXIR (

    Fixir ( allows motorists to find the best quote for car repairs and the most conveniently located workshop.

    It will announce on-demand services such as car valet and polishing services.


    This portal combines a crowdfunding platform with a service to help craftsmen design, create prototypes and market items such as wallets, shoes and bags. Craftsmen submit their designs and Makerscut does the rest, from raising funds and production to logistics management and customer support. The portal is still being tested and the services are not open to public yet.


    Optimate offers marketing-campaign automation and optimisation using artificial intelligence and machine learning. Its software targets customers by tracking how they interact with advertisements on websites. Insights gained from the data point to the success of the marketing campaigns.

    REFASH (

    This fashion portal helps women get rid of clothes they do not want. In the six months it has been in business, it has rung up $250,000 in revenue. Of the 40,000 items of "like new" clothing it has processed, it has sold more than 20,000.

    Refash collects clothes from sellers and processes them, including snapping photos of each item before listing them on the website.

    RESERV (

    This is an application for on-demand home services, including facilities bookings and payments. It offers managers a way of managing the use of facilities, and residents the option of online bookings in real time.

    It also provides facility managers with reports on usage, as well as easy tracking of payments undertaken online and offline.

Started last year, the SPH PnP programme is a joint venture between SPH, global accelerator Plug and Play from Silicon Valley, and Infocomm Investments (IIPL), the venture arm of the Infocomm Development Authority.

Participating start-ups receive $30,000 and go through a 12-week course where they receive guidance from experienced mentors and business leaders.

IIPL chief executive Alex Lin said the programme shows that SPH has the internal capabilities to develop good start-ups, and that it is part of a shift in the start-up ecosystem where the industry will play a greater role in developing start-ups.

"This trend is a strong encouragement for SPH PnP and ourselves to continue energising the Singapore economy through building more innovative start-ups together," said Dr Lin.

Mr Jupe Tan of Plug and Play said SPH plays an important role as it allows start-ups to learn from its experience and business.

"Investors provide funding but start-ups also need a place to pilot their products and technologies. Large corporations like telcos, banks and retailers should work with start-ups. Both will learn from this experience," said Mr Tan, who oversees international operations.

Working with large corporations also give the start-ups a chance to sell their new products and services to the corporations, he said, adding that his firm is interested in working with SPH to extend the accelerator concept to other industries and regional countries.

The people behind the start-ups agree that the SPH accelerator has helped refine their ideas and business models.

Co-founder Ivan Chang of software start-up Wondertech said he entered the programme with one idea and finished it with another.

"We had a technology that trawled the Web to pick up information based on names, places and organisations. Our mentors told us this idea would not bring in any revenue," he said.

The start-up changed its business strategy and used its expertise in natural language processing to develop a small programme that could be embedded in media websites to establish how long readers stayed on the sites. In its pilot trials, Wondertech discovered that the longer a reader stays, the higher the advertising revenue earned.

"SPH helped us learn the media business. We had discussions with its staff and it arranged for meetings with business mentors. This let us learn what we needed to succeed," said Mr Chang.

Mr Jeremy Lim of private tutor Snapask said that the SPH PnP accelerator provided a good network into schools so that it could understand what students needed from tuition.

Snapask was from the first batch of the accelerator programme last year. "Even though the programme has ended for us, the team at SPH is still actively seeking out business collaboration opportunities for us."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2016, with the headline 'Start-ups get leg-up from SPH's accelerator programme'. Subscribe