Talent incubator Antler matches founders, offers start-ups US$100,000 investment

Talent incubator Antler matches founders, offers start-ups US$100,000 investment

By: 
Trinity Chua
13/06/18, 10:17 am

SINGAPORE (June 11): Software developer Alok Pathak is taking a leap in his career, moving from medical devices to combating fake news on social media. Pathak spent the last five years developing software for infrared spectrometers at Attonics Systems, a start-up spun out from the National University of Singapore. But now, with the help of talent incubator Antler, he wants to try his hand building a start-up of his own.

Antler is the third talent builder programme to launch in Singapore. While start-up accelerators look for fledgling companies to build, talent incubators look for founders with good ideas. The other talent builders here are London-based Entrepreneur First (EF), which launched its programme here in 2016, and the Singapore Institute of Management’s Platform E, which is planning to sign up 25 individuals this year.

Spearheaded by Magnus Grimeland, the former managing director of start-up builder Rocket Internet and co-founder of e-commerce platform Zalora, Antler will bring together 50 candidates for its first cohort in July. The programme aims to build 10 to 15 startups and is now looking for the talent to found and run them.

Antler’s programme is divided into two phases. In the first phase, it aims to match co-founders to each other to create a founding team. Once a team is assembled, it gets two months to iron out its game plan. The co-founders are then given an opportunity to pitch their ideas to Antler, which may make a US$100,000 ($133,767) investment for a 10% stake. Antler will also provide founders with a monthly stipend of about US$4,000 each in the first two months of the programme.

The most difficult part will be matching the founders up, Grimeland says. “The only way to know if it works is if we put them together,” he says. “Usually about two to three of them form a team.” Grimeland says having the wrong composition in a founding team is among the common mistakes for young start-ups. For instance, many companies start out with founders who have technical strengths. However, they may not have a founding member who is capable of managing the business aspects of a start-up. Antler hopes to alleviate this problem by pairing the right mix of founders together.

“We see three types of people entering the programme,” Grimeland tells The Edge Singapore. “Some are [domain experts] who have spent their entire life in very narrow fields and are the best people in their field. The other type is people with very strong functional skills such as data scientists. And the rest are business generalists like myself.”

Founders who are part of the programme will receive some training from Antler too. “We are planning to be very hands-on. In the first six months, it is critical to build the right team,” says Grimeland. “Founders will go through topics like growth hacking, performance marketing, how to structure your company, hiring and recruiting and leadership development.”

Founders first

The focus on the founder, rather than the product or the service, holds a certain appeal. “Antler has a lot of emphasis on the founder,” Pathak says. “[The programme has not started], but the mentors are very open to informal chats [to refine my idea] and help me see where I would stand in a [new] industry.”

Collectively, EF, Platform E and Antler are expected to groom at least 50 start-ups this year. Some industry observers see talent incubators catching on and possibly even becoming more popular than accelerator programmes at some point.

“Venture capitalists currently compete for deals in existing companies and that space is very competitive,” says Daniel Thong, founder of office-cleaning start-up Nimbus and former entrepreneur-in-residence at Entrepreneur First Singapore. “But... investing in an idea or founders before they are formed [into a company] creates the opportunity for investors to tap a new source of deal flow.”

EF, which is backed by Silicon Valley-based venture capitalist Greylock Partners, has expanded aggressively in recent years. It also has a presence in Berlin and Hong Kong. And it has a track record of attracting talent from big firms, including Google and Credit Suisse. Among the start-ups that EF counts as its alumni is Magic Pony Technology, which uses machine learning to transform grainy footage into high-quality videos. Magic Pony was acquired by Twitter for US$150 million in 2016. EF has built more than 140 start-ups globally, worth an estimated US$1 billion.

In Singapore, EF invests $75,000 in qualified start-ups for a 10% stake. Each of its founders gets $5,000 a month for the first three months of participation in EF. Almost all of EF Singapore’s start-ups have received follow-up investments from SGInnovate, the government-owned company that helps build deep tech start-ups.

Network of mentors

So, what is Antler offering its startup founders? Grimeland believes Antler’s strength is in its strong network of mentors. “We are growing the number of advisers and venture partners like 1% each week. These are [individuals] who are successful founders of other businesses [and some of them] can open markets for our start-ups in this region,” he says.

Grimeland himself is a successful entrepreneur, credited for helping Zalora enter new markets in Southeast Asia. He also served as chief operating officer of Global Fashion Group — a consolidation of e-commerce fashion companies including Zalora — where he rolled out e-commerce platforms across 26 countries.

Many of the advisers and mentors that have signed on at Antler come from Grimeland’s previous organisations — Zalora, Rocket Internet and Global Fashion Group. Most of them have indicated specific areas of interest. For instance, the managing director of Zalora Philippines, Paulo Campos, is looking to work with start-ups that want to expand to the Philippines.

“For us, there is a clear commitment in terms of time [from them],” Grimeland says. Antler will also help facilitate the legal paperwork if the start-ups and mentors want to continue working together after the programme.

Plenty of funding

Antler raised US$3 million in seed funding earlier this year for its operations, with backing from Indonesia-based Lippo Group’s director John Riady, WeWork managing director Ole Ruch, and Andreas Ehn, the first chief technology officer of Spotify. Grimeland is also on the way to raising a Southeast Asian-focused fund of between US$15 million and US$20 million, which will be used to invest in companies formed through Antler’s programme. The fund has a 10-year horizon.

There is no shortage of capital here, says Grimeland. But he believes there are still many talented individuals who are not getting into the business of entrepreneurship. “We see a lot of talent in the region who want to start a company but are not doing so. Some have good jobs or are waiting for the next promotion. I think they need the extra push,” he says. Grimeland hopes his early investment of US$100,000 would help spur talent to start their own companies.

He is particularly interested in ideas that can have an impact on people. “One example is healthcare,” he says. “Healthcare spending is increasing but we have less than 10% spent on preventive services, which can really reduce the amount of people getting sick.”

Pathak, the budding entrepreneur, may no longer be in the medical field. Nevertheless, he thinks his anti-fake news idea will have a pretty big impact on people too. And he’s hoping the folks at Antler feel the same way.

This article appears in The Edge Singapore (Issue No. 834, week of June 11) which is on sale now. Or subscribe here

Right timing: Temporary pause as STI consolidates gains

SINGAPORE (Feb 22): The recovery by the Straits Times Index that started towards mid-January is likely to continue despite short term hiccups. Quarterly momentum is in rising mode, the 50- and 100-day moving averages are positively placed, and the index remains above its 200-day moving average. ADX is rising and the DIs are positively placed. Interestingly annual momentum has stabilised and could attempt to recover. Prices could ease as short term stochastics approaches the top end of its range and turns down. This may cause a temporary retreat. Support is at the breakout level of 3,19....
Read More >>

UOB is RHB's top pick when it comes to local banks

SINGAPORE (Feb 22): United Overseas Bank is the top pick for Singapore banks, says RHB Research which believes the share price weakness after the results release offers a good entry point. UOB has also declared a final dividend of 50 cents per share and special dividend of 20 cents per share. FY2018 total dividend of $1.20 gives an attractive yield of 4.6%. Rising 18% y-o-y, UOB’s FY2018 earnings of $4.01 billion came in line with RHB’s forecast of $4.16 billion and consensus’ forecast of $4.05 billion. For FY2019, management has guided for net interest margin (NIM) to be flatti....
Read More >>

Pioneer, Merdeka... Next, a Majulah Generation package?

SINGAPORE (Feb 22): Hot on the heels of a $9 billion Pioneer Generation package announced in Budget 2014, the $8 billion Merdeka Generation package is setting up expectations of similar packages for every generation of ageing Singaporeans. Notably, both are geared towards healthcare and broadly available to an entire generation of Singaporeans. Already, analysts are expecting at least one more package to follow. “I suppose when there is only one dot, one can’t extrapolate, but with two dots you can,” says Tan Ern Ser, a sociologist at the National University of Singapore (NUS). ....
Read More >>