Exclusive: East Ventures partners IBM to grow portfolio startups

FILE PHOTO - A woman passes by the IBM offices in New York City, U.S. on October 17, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

IBM and Southeast Asian venture capital firm East Ventures are partnering to help startups develop and commercialise new solutions for the market. The IT major will also provide the VC’s portfolio startups access to its technology offerings, including its full suite of Cloud services.

According to IBM, the collaboration will serve to bolster the growth trajectories of the startups in East Ventures’ portfolio and enable go-to-market strategies and expansion beyond Singapore.

The partnership was announced during a panel discussion at IBM’s Singapore office.

Speaking on how the collaboration between East Ventures and IBM would extend beyond technology, Willson Cuaca, co-founder and managing partner of East Ventures, said, “It’s about access to corporate clients; IBM will be our proxy to their corporate clients.”

Asked about whether he saw this as part of a larger trend of corporates exploring the startup space through partnerships with institutional VCs, Cuaca told this portal that he saw it eventually increasing, with IBM concentrating on sectors such as Big Data, artificial intelligence and cognitive platforms.

Notably, for emerging and frontier markets, Cuaca said the services most likely to benefit from access to cognitive computing were “financial services like credit scoring and financial inclusion, transportation, and market research”.

This development comes at a time when business leaders in Southeast Asia are calling for greater collaboration between venture capitalists and corporates, while corporate venture capital units are recalibrating their relationship with institutional VCs.

East Ventures has been an active investor in the human resource (HR) technology space, as well as the financial technology (fintech) sector. From 2012 to Q1 2017, East Ventures was the most active Southeast Asia fintech investor with 12 unique investments, followed by 500 Startups and Golden Gate Ventures.

The partnership with IBM will see portfolio firms of East Ventures access an array of scalable and customisable solutions and platforms such as the IBM Marketplace, through which startups can access products like the IBM Watson Virtual Agent, which allows easier development of a chatbot.

IBM says it is keen to engage with startups and software developers across the region and identify the “digital transformation levers within the community”.

In addition to this, the IT major aims to build out its corporate and services ecosystem through ensuring that startups can adopt and become advocates for its platforms and technology. The international corporate also intends to capitalise on East Ventures’ extensive startup networks and connections to amplify this initiative, which aligns with IBM opening up access to its APIs to fintech ventures.

Additionally, with its current push to define itself as a “cognitive solutions and cloud platform company”, the partnership is part of IBM’s overarching emerging markets strategy as part of which it seeks to establish a footprint in emerging and frontier markets.

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