Subscribe

Search

From math-hater to programmer and veteran technopreneur

Published on 2 Oct 2017 – 8:00 | By Pearl Lee | Source: Tech in Asia

math-hater to programmer and veteran technopreneur Photo credit: Christopher Yeo.

“I’m a greenie,” says Christopher Yeo, founder and CEO of AI startup Sentient.io. He turns to a plant next to him, holds a leaf, and shakes it like a hand. Everyone in the room chuckles.

“I was only interested in canoeing then. I really had fun outdoors,” says the serial technopreneur and investor who runs his own venture fund. “I mucked around a lot and didn’t quite like math. I got through A-levels by the skin of my teeth.”

To most, the dislike for math would last a lifetime. For the programmer, change came in a surprising form in university — religion.

“I said, OK, God, you need to help me like math because I hate math!” He laughs.

After praying, he experienced a “180-degrees change.” In fact, he became really good at the once-dreaded subject.

“There was no turning back. The second year of university onwards, I had no subjects apart from math and computer science,” he says.

Yeo decided to do a double major and got first class honors in both. He started his own software venture just four years out of school, and then became the CTO of Comex Frontier, which was acquired in 2005.

He joined ETPL – the commercialization arm of Singaporean science and tech research agency A*STAR – in 2006. After a year, Yeo left for the National University of Singapore’s NUS Enterprise to learn how to encourage students to create startups.

Ten years on, the veteran entrepreneur is giving back. He is mentoring and creating startups for the venture co-creation (VCC) initiative together with ETPL.

veteran technopreneur Image credit: Pixabay

 

A chance encounter in Starbucks

The idea for A*STAR ETPL’s venture builder wasn’t formed in a corporate meeting room. Yeo says it was created in Starbucks at Fusionopolis, home of A*STAR and a major research and development complex in in Singapore’s One-North tech district.

“I was just daydreaming while waiting for a meeting,” Yeo says. By chance, he bumped into his ex-colleague, Tng Tai Hou, vice president of technology development from A*STAR ETPL.

“We haven’t met for a while, but we ended up talking for one and a half hours and forgetting our meetings.”

Tng (together with another partner, Lee Han Boon) belonged to the digital technologies commercialization division in A*STAR ETPL. Together with Yeo, the trio is now back together as a team to run the VCC framework.

While startups are usually created before entrepreneurs seek investors or a CTO, the VCC framework matches promising pre-seed technologies with entrepreneurs and investors even before new startups are created.

Most venture capitalists and angel investors are reluctant to invest in pre-seed companies as they’re riskier. But Yeo plans to turn the entrepreneurial process on its head.

 

“One way to get things cooking is to figure out what technology the industry needs, raise the funds for that, and then find the entrepreneurs,” Yeo says.

 

Being veterans in the field, they knew Singapore’s technologies like the back of their hands. But taking them “from mind to market” was a problem.

Yeo thinks the VCC model is more proactive compared to the conventional method, as it “match-makes” entrepreneurial teams with partners and investors, and also helps these startups get a foot into regional markets.

While venture capitalists usually just cherry-pick, VCCs go out, do market research, and identify gaps in the market, go-to markets, and investors. They even round up the potential startup founders.

“Venture capitalists scour around and find what they can get deals for. We’re creating the deal itself,” Yeo says.

Eventually, Yeo aims to link startup founders to overseas markets, investors, and clients through the VCC framework.

“We were first specifically thinking of how to create a company in the AI space,” Yeo says.

Sentient.io, an AI-as-a-Service platform that businesses can leverage on for their own applications, is one of the first co-creations of ETPL and Origgin – a local investment holding company focused on Southeast Asia.

One of the by-products of Sentient.io is a naturally intelligent digital assistant which engages customers through various types of end-user interfaces and channels.

Math hater A*STAR ETPL plans to create 7 to 10 startups within three years with each VCC partner. Image credit: Tech In Asia.

 

Once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur

Yeo’s two years in ETPL and NUS Enterprise were formative to his current efforts. “I know many researchers by name now. These are my go-to people,” he says.

Exactly ten years later, the VCC framework was born. Yeo plans to tap on researchers to help nurture technologies and bring them to practical fruition.

One of the startups Yeo is mentoring now is in agriculture – an area he has been passionate about since his school days. Archisen combines urban farming systems with internet-of-things technology and data analytics.

Sven Yeo, co-founder of Archisen, says they want to adopt technology from A*STAR ETPL into their platform. The VCC framework would allow the startup to expand their technical capabilities rapidly.

With so many areas of tech to be developed and contextualized for agriculture, it’s difficult for the startup to spread their resources. For instance, Archisen is looking into autonomous machines that can identify anomalies or diseases through photos. These anomalies would otherwise be difficult to detect with the naked eye.

With A*STAR as a partner, Sven Yeo says they can assimilate helpful tech and reap benefits quickly. “We can go to market faster than if we were to organically raise funds and develop the intellectual property ourselves,” he says.

Micro Grids Yeo shows Singapore’s Minister of Finance Heng Swee Keat how Sentient.io system can be integrated with business applications, for instance the smart system co-created by Singapore-based home appliances manufacturer Ryker. Photo credit: A*STAR.

Christopher Yeo eventually hopes to “create a more informal community of startups that can work together, get projects together, and cross-license technology together.”

They’re looking long-term, where startups last for ten to fifteen years, get traction, and establish a global reach.

“If startups don’t manage the exit properly, they become zombies. Ai si bui si, ai wa bui wa (a Hokkien proverb which means one can neither die nor live)!” Yeo says.

 

Collaborate with ETPL
Visit ETPL’s website for technology offerings and startup portfolio or write to tech-offer@etpl.sg with your comments or questions.

 

Related Information

/Portals/81/Data/News And Events/ASTAR Innovate/Suggested Pages Img/3-tech.jpg
A*STAR TV: Episode 12

Check out the 12th episode of the A*STAR TV Series.

/Portals/81/Data/News And Events/ASTAR Innovate/Suggested Pages Img/zika.jpg
Fighting Zika

Two days after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Zika as a public health emergency, A*STAR researchers got into the action.

/Portals/81/Data/News And Events/ASTAR Innovate/Suggested Pages Img/tcom.jpg
Singapore marine and offshore R&D centre to boost innovation

The Technology Centre for Offshore and Marine Singapore (TCOMS) is Singapore’s first research and development (R&D) centre for the industry.

/Portals/81/Data/News And Events/ASTAR Innovate/Suggested Pages Img/space.jpg
Space Satellite Sector Growth

Singapore's space and satellite sector is one of the new industry clusters groomed for future growth. Find out how A*STAR's T-up scheme helped Addvalue Technologies transition from consumer to leading edge satellite communications.

/Portals/81/Data/News And Events/ASTAR Innovate/Suggested Pages Img/green.jpg
Beat The Heat And Noise

Noise and heat pollution are inevitable in urban areas. A team of A*STAR researchers are developing ‘green’ building solutions for walls and windows so that city-dwellers can soon enjoy quieter, cooler homes and offices.

/Portals/81/Data/News And Events/ASTAR Innovate/Suggested Pages Img/McKinsey.jpg
Project Lighthouse Analytics and Machine Interaction in Manufacturing

With the dawn of digitisation in Singapore’s manufacturing industry, McKinsey & Company partnered with A*STAR’s Advanced Remanufacturing and Technology Centre (ARTC) to develop ‘Project Lighthouse’, a digital capacity platform where companies can test-bed Industry 4.0 solutions.

/Portals/81/Data/News And Events/ASTAR Innovate/Suggested Pages Img/rollsroyce.jpg
Partners To Champion Smart Manufacturing

A*STAR is taking its partnership with British aero-engine giant Rolls-Royce to a deeper level.

/Portals/81/Data/News And Events/ASTAR Innovate/Suggested Pages Img/genome.jpg
Giving Local Biotech Firms A Boost

NovogeneAIT and Genome Institute of Singapore say centre will devote its sequencing capabilities to support public research projects and empower super scale sequencing initiatives

/Portals/81/Data/News And Events/ASTAR Innovate/Suggested Pages Img/aerospace.jpg
Singapore Aerospace Aspirations Fly High

A*STAR supports Singapore’s vision to be a leading aerospace hub in Asia-Pacific through its Aerospace Programme.

/Portals/81/Data/News And Events/ASTAR Innovate/Suggested Pages Img/pauwels.jpg
Spotlight How To Turn Failures Into Success

Sometimes, being too comfortable is a risk. Because you don’t realise what is at stake, and you think that it’s someone else’s money.

/Portals/81/Data/News And Events/ASTAR Innovate/Suggested Pages Img/digital2.jpg
Budget 2017 helps SMEs go digital

Singapore faces several challenges, such as uncertain global economic conditions, the rise of regional competition, and an ageing workforce.

/Portals/81/Data/News And Events/ASTAR Innovate/Suggested Pages Img/factories.jpg
Embracing transformation: Factories of the Future

Manufacturing is a core industry in Singapore, contributing 20 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

/Portals/81/Data/News And Events/ASTAR Innovate/Suggested Pages Img/digital.jpg
Going digital: Singaporean genes go big

Even though the human genome was sequenced in 2000, much remains to be known about how it encodes our development, physiology, and disease dynamics.

/Portals/81/Data/News And Events/ASTAR Innovate/Suggested Pages Img/sme-future.jpg
Preparing SMEs for the future

A*STAR announced an enhanced Headstart programme, where local SMEs can enjoy royalty-free and exclusive licences up to 36 months for industry solutions co-developed with A*STAR.

/Portals/81/Data/News And Events/ASTAR Innovate/Suggested Pages Img/biomedical.jpg
Getting the formula right to boost Singapore’s health and biomedical sector

Government investment into pharmaceutical research is thus crucial, together with increasing public-private partnerships to commercialise and market new drugs.

/Portals/81/Data/News And Events/ASTAR Innovate/Suggested Pages Img/headstart.jpg
A*STAR’s R&D gives Singaporean biomedical firm a headstart

Drug testing is important to help companies develop drugs more accurately, save time and reduce the risk of investing in something that may not eventually work.

/Portals/81/Data/News And Events/ASTAR Innovate/Suggested Pages Img/sme-innovation.jpg
Strategic partnerships key to SME innovation

Speakers from both public and private sectors spoke at the recent A*STAR-SPRING SME Day 2017 on how strategic partnerships can help pave the way for SMEs to adopt as well as develop technology.

/Portals/81/Data/News And Events/ASTAR Innovate/Suggested Pages Img/Issue4.jpg
New compound kills bacteria in seconds

For many years, healthcare field practitioners have been trying to search for a New compound kills bacteria in seconds.

/Portals/81/Data/News And Events/ASTAR Innovate/Suggested Pages Img/ros.jpg
Robots Walk Among Us

At 398 robots for every 10,000 employees, Singapore has the second highest robot density in the world.

/Portals/81/Data/News And Events/ASTAR Innovate/Suggested Pages Img/microgrid.jpg
Micro Grids Powering Asia Growth Story

Erratic power supply has often caused Asia’s economic growth to hit speed bumps. Find out how A*STAR, through Institute for Infocomm Research (I2R) and Experimental Power Grid Center (EPGC) .

/Portals/81/Data/News And Events/ASTAR Innovate/Suggested Pages Img/home.jpg
Home Grown Company Opened Singapore First Printing Facility

The company 3D Metalforge also signed a new agreement with SIMTech to commercialise large-format Laser Aided Additive Maanufacturing (LAAM) for industrial 3D printing.

/Portals/81/Data/News And Events/ASTAR Innovate/Suggested Pages Img/smartech.jpg
Using Smarter Technology To Enhance Estate Services

HDB, Imperial College London and A*STAR's Institute for Infocomm Research collaborate on a $5.3 million research programme to study how smart sensing and analytics can enhance housing estates services

/Portals/81/Data/News And Events/ASTAR Innovate/Suggested Pages Img/bridge.jpg
Bridging the Innovation Gap

At the recent Leaders in Science Forum – organised as part of the one-north Festival, a four-day celebration of research, innovation, creativity and enterprise – industry leaders shared what might be driving this phenomenon and what more can be done to tackle it.

/Portals/81/Data/News And Events/ASTAR Innovate/Suggested Pages Img/factories2.jpg
New Sharing Scheme by ASTAR to Empower Small Factories

Smaller manufacturing players who want to try the latest hardware without breaking the bank can take advantage of a new sharing scheme set up by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star).

/Portals/81/Data/News And Events/ASTAR Innovate/Suggested Pages Img/pharma.jpg
A shot in the arm for Singapore Pharma Industry

A new scheme unveiled yesterday is primed to give drug-makers and the wider manufacturing sector a shot in the arm as disruptive change roils industries and poses huge challenges to bosses.

/Portals/81/Data/News And Events/ASTAR Innovate/Suggested Pages Img/smartwatch.jpg
Singapore future wearables beyond the smart watch

In Singapore, researchers are already developing wearables that have other applications, such as for healthcare, brain training and social & adventure photography. The 360-degree cameras on your wrist and a headband that knows when you are tired may soon be a reality, thanks to inventive researchers in Singapore.

/Portals/81/Data/News And Events/ASTAR Innovate/Suggested Pages Img/aerolab.jpg
New Smart Manufacturing Joint Lab

British engineering giant Rolls- Royce, the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) and Singapore Aero Engine Services (SAESL) are investing up to $60 million to set up a facility to develop new technologies for the aerospace industry.

/Portals/81/Data/News And Events/ASTAR Innovate/Suggested Pages Img/learning_factory.jpg
New Model Factory by ASTAR SIMTech

Where manufacturers can test ideas that can raise their competitiveness

/Portals/81/Data/News And Events/ASTAR Innovate/Suggested Pages Img/roquette.jpg
Roquette opens Regional HQ and Innovation Centre in Singapore

Pharmaceutical and food ingredient maker to expand staff, team up with A*Star institutes

/Portals/81/Data/News And Events/ASTAR Innovate/Suggested Pages Img/tup1.jpg
Local researchers make strides in medical and construction technologies

This year's winners have made a difference in fields as diverse as cancer detection, health and construction. Here's how their T-Up projects contributed to their companies.

/Portals/81/Data/News And Events/ASTAR Innovate/Suggested Pages Img/JEP.jpg
Smart factory by JEP Precision Engineering

A roadmap to transform Singapore's precision engineering industry and to build more smart factories.

/Portals/81/Data/News And Events/ASTAR Innovate/Suggested Pages Img/SINGTEL.jpg
Singtel partners ASTAR and NTU on AI robotics and IoT

TELCO Singtel and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have set up a S$42.4 million laboratory to develop and commercialise digital technologies.

/Portals/81/Data/News And Events/ASTAR Innovate/Suggested Pages Img/singtelMOU.jpg
Partnering SingHealth to fight diseases with smart tech

Aim to improve care, from risk prediction to managing disease

/Portals/81/Data/News And Events/ASTAR Innovate/Suggested Pages Img/Advent02.jpg
Advent Access raised $2.6m to make kidney dialysis safer

Advent Access to commercialise device easing access to veins, reducing complications from long-term treatment

/Portals/81/Data/News And Events/ASTAR Innovate/Suggested Pages Img/osteopore.jpg
Bringing bones back to life

Osteopore International, a Singaporean medical technology firm, uses 3D printing to restore the human skeleton and heal wounds.

/Portals/81/Data/News And Events/ASTAR Innovate/Suggested Pages Img/ArticleSBF.jpg
One in three companies investing in the future

Thirty-six per cent of those polled in the latest survey said that they are satisfied with the current business climate in Singapore - up from 20 per cent a year earlier.