PE firm Northstar confirms investments in Vietnam’s Tiki, UPGen

Northstar Group managing director Bert Kwan speaks at DealStreetAsia's Asia PE-VC Summit 2019 in Singapore. Photo: DealStreetAsia

Singapore-based private equity firm Northstar Group‘s latest bets in Vietnam include e-commerce major Tiki and coworking space provider UPGen.

Northstar managing director Bert Kwan confirmed the two investments, which have not been previously disclosed, but refused to divulge further details.

We had earlier reported that Northstar was seeking to lead a $75-million round for Tiki, which Kwan referred to as the Amazon of Vietnam. The round was later upsized to $100 million. We have reached out to Tiki for comment on Northstar’s investment disclosure.

We understand Northstar’s investment in co-working space provider UPGen, which was closed in November last year, was in the region of $15 million.

UPGen founder Nam Do declined to comment on the amount the startup raised from the PE firm in what he said was the company’s first institutional round of funding. The company recently bagged venture debt financing from Innoven Capital.

UPGen, formerly known as Up, currently operates workplaces in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam and plans to expand to Bangkok, Thailand and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia this year.

The Northstar-UPGen deal is the latest in a series of early investments in Southeast Asia by PE firms, which typically like to back more mature startups and cut larger cheques. Other such deals include buyout major KKR backing a $10-million funding round for Thai e-commerce firm aCommerce and Kaizen PE’s $10-million financing for education startup YOLA in Vietnam.

Speaking at DealStreetAsia’s flagship Asia PE-VC Summit 2019 in Singapore this week, Kwan said opportunities in Vietnam and Indonesia outstrip the supply of capital.

“What we’re looking at, in many cases, is that we are making an investment into a business plan that is not fully funded. Not to say that it is venture [capital] territory, but we have to take the view that as our capital goes in, the return on capital is going to be high and the company will go on to raise additional capital,” Kwan said.

Northstar had invested $50 million in Vietnam’s education technology startup Topica Edtech last year.

Opportunities in co-working space market in Vietnam 

Shared workplaces in Vietnam have grown on the back of the boom in the local startup ecosystem. In addition to local players such as Dreamplex, Toong (backed by Indochina Capital), CirCo (backed by East Ventures), COGO and others, foreign brands have also entered the market, including SoftBank-backed WeWork and Australian startup Kafnu.

However, funding for Vietnamese co-working space companies has been modest compared to the capital invested in regional peers. Singapore-based JustCo announced a joint $177-million investment with Singapore wealth fund GIC and Frasers Property last year, while Indonesia’s CoHive has to date raised around $37.2 million in funding.

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.