Singapore-based VC firm SeedPlus has surpassed its target of S$25 million ($17.9 million) for its debut fund, SeedPlus Fund I – with backing from Cisco Investments, the investment arm of Cisco Systems Inc., and Eight Roads Ventures, the proprietary investment arm of Fidelity International Limited.
SeedPlus is a seed stage venture fund launched by Jungle Ventures, a Singapore-based venture capital (VC) firm. Seedplus is backed by SGInnovate, Accel Partners (India) and Ratan Tata’s RNT Associates, among others.
(Update: The original statement from the company described the fund as closed. SeedPlus has updated DEALSTREETASIA and advised that the fund is oversubscribed but not closed.)
IFC, a unit of the World Bank Group, had also recently announced its participation with a $2 million investment.
“The SeedPlus investment aligns with IFC’s Venture Capital group’s strategy to invest in venture capital funds that support innovative technology companies across emerging markets,” said Pravan Malhotra, IFC’s venture capital lead for Southeast Asia and Asia Internet investments.
“Today, there are several fast-evolving, transformative technologies disrupting key industry sectors, enabling entrepreneurship and innovation to flourish in emerging markets, particularly in Southeast Asia, which we see as a growing market for us this year,” Malhotra adds.
SeedPlus is run by three operating partners — Michael Smith Jr, who was CTO at streaming service HOOQ, former Spotify product manager Gabriel Lundberg and Tiang Lim Foo, who led Evernote’s market development in Asia Pacific.
The firm also announced the joining of Chirayu Wadke as a Partner leading IoT investments. Prior to this Chirayu led strategic business development for a number of product areas at Google in Mountain View.
In an interview with DEALSTREETASIA, Foo explained: “Given the experience and network of the team, we tend to look at ourselves as operating partners to the start-up teams we work with. There’s definitely a huge element of bringing our past operating experiences from companies like Spotify, Google, Yahoo and Evernote where I was from, to partner with product and deep tech-driven founders and startups.”
Given the limited partners (LPs) backing the fund, Foo also notes the potential for co-investments. He said, “I think this continues the trend of working with world class limited partners that bring not just capital but amazing expertise, a global network and a unique viewpoint on the global marketplace. It’s exciting to engage Cisco across many divisions in Singapore to help our portfolio companies get exposure to Cisco in very unique ways.”
“With Fidelity, their Eights Roads division is very instrumental in funding and helping growth stage companies around the world and with this partnership we can bring their expertise to seed stage companies in Southeast Asia. The same spirit of partnership extends across our other LPs, as well,” he adds.
SeedPlus is also supported by Google and PwC Singapore, given its focus on investing in and helping build startup ventures operating across software-as-a-service (SaaS), financial technology, artificial intelligence (AI), cyber security and other emerging technology areas.
SeedPlus invests up to S$1 million in each startup in Asia and is focused on investing in companies that target large addressable markets in Asia or globally.
Some recent examples include Moglix, an Indian B2B e-commerce platform specialising in maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) industry; Mimetic.ai, a Singaporean technology startup responsible for creating Evie, an artificial intelligence (AI) scheduling assistant; and Homage, a Singapore-based startup that connects in-home caregivers with elderly people seeking assistance.
Overall, how are deal flows in ASEAN looking like? Most VCs say the region is not producing requisite deal flows for deployment – do you agree?
Deal flow remains healthy in our perspective. One encouraging development is the advent of deeper tech focus accelerators such as the recent Entrepreneurs First program, whom we work closely with. I’m excited to see more deep tech focus startups to appear in the near future.
For the companies that you have invested in & will invest in – since you are part of Jungle Ventures – does that mean that they can get follow-on investments – Series A & B from Jungle?
There is no exclusivity on follow on capital from our partners when a company receives funding from us. Where companies raise from is up to them, but we hope to show them the value of our network and in the case of our first company we funded, Moglix, they successfully raised Series A from our partners.
Any views on the current exit architecture of the ASEAN region?
Exits, either via trade sales (M&A) or IPOs (initial public offers), tend to increase as markets mature, but are also a function of how healthy the ecosystem is at all levels.
Exits are a key ingredient to building a healthy and robust ecosystem and the more success stories SEA can generate, the higher the awareness of the region and, hopefully, more active participation by the larger global acquirers, such as Google, Microsoft, Alibaba, or local startups which are larger such as Grab, PropertyGuru etc. I remain optimistic in the evolution of the ecosystem, as we’ve seen a steady pace of exits and I do anticipate the volume to pick up as the ecosystem in Southeast Asia matures.
How do you see the launch of startup stock exchanges impacting exit activity in the region?
Fundamentally I believe that meaningful exits will happen when and only when start-ups focus on creating valuable businesses. As some might say, companies are bought, not sold – which means to say that startups should focus on building and creating value rather than focusing too much on exits.
Overall, many VC portfolios seem heavily weighted towards IT-related ventures in ASEAN. Do you see any shift towards manufacturing, hardware and robotics as manufacturing shifts out of China, or will most ASEAN VCs continue to focus on the software sweet spot?
That’s exactly what SeedPlus aims to do. Our investment areas are pretty broad-scope in that sense, spanning across software-as-a-service (SaaS), financial technology, artificial intelligence, cyber security and other emerging technology areas, including IOT and connected devices. We do think that there’s unique opportunities we can tap by addressing innovation gaps in manufacturing, hardware and robotics.
What do you make of the view that VC funds are increasingly adopting a hedge fund-like approach, rather than investing in disruption and innovation?
There are different VCs who invest at different stages, serving different needs for the various life cycle of a startup. Specifically in Southeast Asia, where the ecosystem is still comparatively young, VCs are earlier stages compared to our counterparts on Silicon Valley and the likes.
Ultimately this is ecosystem building at its earliest stages still – and it’s fair to say that the healthier the ecosystem is, more dollars will circulate back into the ecosystem to fund innovation.
Moving forward, can Singapore truly become the Silicon Valley for Asia – what are the challenges – is it talent pool, small market, supporting ecosystem?
Venture and innovation is tough. To achieve continuous, sustained and long-term value creation, every actor in the ecosystem has a role to play, from founders, early startup talent, funding etc. Again, I remain optimistic that Singapore and the wider Southeast Asia region is moving in the right direction.
Another perspective here is that different venture ecosystems have different natural characteristics. One uniqueness of the Singapore ecosystem is the connectedness with other startup hubs across the region, and even globally. This is a bright spot that I think we should double down on.