Future-looking approach pays off for Singapore VC iGlobe Partners

Photo by Duy Nguyen on Unsplash

The luxury penthouse for sale in eastern Singapore for $11 million may have fewer people walk its deck to look out to the sea at this time. However, it would likely get its fair share of prospective buyers looking through its four bedrooms and double kitchen, thanks to the virtual house tour available on the real estate listings site.

The 3D, 360-degree views of the apartment are powered by Matterport, a digital media and virtual reality startup. It is no doubt one of the businesses thriving despite COVID-19 induced restrictions.

Matterport, founded in the US in 2011, is also one the latest companies to join the portfolio of iGlobe Partners, the Singapore-based venture capital firm.  Half of its portfolio is in the US and Europe, with the rest in Southeast Asia.

While the platform has been in use for a few years by PropertyGuru across the markets it operates in, Matterport’s utility has really come to the fore recently. “With the onset of the pandemic, consumers have shown great response to virtual tours,” said Vivek Kumar, VP Product at the real estate firm.

To be sure, iGlobe was unlikely to have foreseen a global pandemic barring people from gathering, or visiting properties for sale, when it decided to invest in Matterport. But the VC firm’s focus on cutting edge technology in the fintech, smart cities, and synthetic biology industries has shielded it from the vagaries of the current crisis.

In its portfolio also are SWAT Mobility, the Singapore-based startup focused on autonomous transport and logistics systems; Japanese drone manufacturer ACSL; insurtech startup Hippo; and Twist Bioscience, which produces a semiconductor-based synthetic DNA manufacturing process.

“Is this being lucky? Or was it vision? You’re investing into the future; you don’t know what’s coming,” iGlobe’s founder and managing partner Koh Soo Boon told DealStreetAsia in an interview.

Exit record

Koh, who has called herself an ‘accidental capitalist’, founded iGlobe while she was still in San Francisco. She was in Silicon Valley, working for Singapore Technologies. The first fund launched in 2000, backed by Singapore’s Economic Development Board, shortly before the dot-com bust. Yet, Koh said, the fund was still able to return capital to investors, at 1.28x.

Indeed, it seems she has a knack for picking winners early on.

In 2000, way before e-commerce dominated markets, iGlobe invested in enterprise storage company 3PAR. The company, founded in 1999, listed on the New York Stock Exchange in November 2007, priced above range, raising $105 million. It was later acquired by Hewlett-Packard.

VeriSilicon Microelectronics, the semiconductor services company that iGlobe invested in 2002, made a spectacular debut on the STAR Market in Shanghai on August 18, at a valuation of $2.7 billion. The IPO raised $268 million that VeriSilicon says will go towards research and development for chips for wearable devices and Internet-of-Things powered developments.

Then there is San Francisco-based Unity Technologies, which is set for an initial public offering in the US to raise $1.05 billion, according to its filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The listing would value the game engine developer, which iGlobe invested in 2011, at as much as $11 billion.

Has it been luck? “We had an investment theory about digital media, and we went around and searched for which part of digital media we should invest in,” Koh said. “When I say we got lucky, it’s because [Unity] moved beyond gaming.”

Unity’s tools have been used to develop apps for training simulation, education, and architectural visualisation. It has been used in a virtual reconstruction project in Rome, Italy; an app download now allows users to see ancient Roman civilisation as it was.

Still, one is only as good as one’s last deal. “I must say it’s not easy to repeat returns, let’s not be arrogant about it,” she said. “How do you do a deal that is better than your last deal? It’s very difficult. Almost impossible, I can tell you.”

VC impact

The firm is currently in the market for its fourth fund – iGlobe Platinum Fund 3 – that has a target of $100 million. The firm’s limited partners include family offices.

Koh said the firm is already deploying capital out of it.

Apart from Matterport, iGlobe has invested in Huue, a biotech startup making non-toxic, sustainable dye that will hopefully replace the chemical colouring used on most denim today. Another recently-added portfolio company is Inscripta, a genetic engineering company that raised a $125 million Series D round in December, led by Paladin Capital Group.

Koh declined to disclose the size of Globe’s latest fund in relation to its predecessors. In her view, venture capital should not be just about cash. For one, entrepreneurs should seek out VCs for their advice in running a business as well.

“To us, it’s less important managing a huge fund because the quality is important,” she said. “VCs can create an impact on society. We put money in portfolio companies and grow them, create jobs.”

“Do we want to invest in another e-commerce company? It doesn’t make sense, right?”

Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.

Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.