“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.
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.
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.
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.
Check out the 12th episode of the A*STAR TV Series.
Two days after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Zika as a public health emergency, A*STAR researchers got into the action.
The Technology Centre for Offshore and Marine Singapore (TCOMS) is Singapore’s first research and development (R&D) centre for the industry.
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.
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.
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.
A*STAR is taking its partnership with British aero-engine giant Rolls-Royce to a deeper level.
NovogeneAIT and Genome Institute of Singapore say centre will devote its sequencing capabilities to support public research projects and empower super scale sequencing initiatives
A*STAR supports Singapore’s vision to be a leading aerospace hub in Asia-Pacific through its Aerospace Programme.
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.
Singapore faces several challenges, such as uncertain global economic conditions, the rise of regional competition, and an ageing workforce.
Manufacturing is a core industry in Singapore, contributing 20 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Even though the human genome was sequenced in 2000, much remains to be known about how it encodes our development, physiology, and disease dynamics.
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.
Government investment into pharmaceutical research is thus crucial, together with increasing public-private partnerships to commercialise and market new drugs.
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.
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.
For many years, healthcare field practitioners have been trying to search for a New compound kills bacteria in seconds.
At 398 robots for every 10,000 employees, Singapore has the second highest robot density in the world.
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) .
The company 3D Metalforge also signed a new agreement with SIMTech to commercialise large-format Laser Aided Additive Maanufacturing (LAAM) for industrial 3D printing.
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
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Where manufacturers can test ideas that can raise their competitiveness
Pharmaceutical and food ingredient maker to expand staff, team up with A*Star institutes
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.
A roadmap to transform Singapore's precision engineering industry and to build more smart factories.
TELCO Singtel and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have set up a S$42.4 million laboratory to develop and commercialise digital technologies.
Aim to improve care, from risk prediction to managing disease
Advent Access to commercialise device easing access to veins, reducing complications from long-term treatment
Osteopore International, a Singaporean medical technology firm, uses 3D printing to restore the human skeleton and heal wounds.
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.