Asia is leading the way in the adoption of the new wave of financial technology. Irish Tech News travels to Singapore, to meet with Felix Tan, Managing Director of The FinLab leading a new round of innovative Singaporean FinTech. We learn more about how The FinLab is planning for future success, speak to a couple of their recent graduates and learn what is in store for the second batch of fintech entrepreneurs.
Singaporean Felix Tan originally started out as a trader, firstly in palm oil, before moving to the less exotic foreign exchange markets. In 1995, he then became part of the early wave of internet entrepreneurs, founding Silkroute Ventures with $140,000 USD with its last valuation in 1999 coming in at a tidy $100 million USD. During those heady days, Felix and team would make regular trips to Silicon Valley which he describes as a “stepping in to a time capsule, except 6-9 months ahead of everyone else.” It was this desire to peer in to the future that has shaped so much of Felix’s career thus far. Indeed, he was ahead of his time, taking a 6-year sabbatical to spend time with his family, returning to the workforce in 2007. It was to join OCBC Bank, who were looking to rebrand their online presence. Using prescient foresight, Felix proposed building an entirely online bank – unheard of at that time. Unfortunately, these plans were scuppered by events outside his control as the Global Financial Crisis hit and plans were shelved. Undaunted, Felix moved in to consulting and mentorship, finding a passion yet again for shaping the future of technology. This segued in to his current role, shepherding 10-12 startups through the rigours of The FinLab accelerator programme.
As for The FinLab itself, this initiative was the meeting of minds between Singaporean bank UOB and the government investment arm, SGInnovate. SGInnovate recognised that corporate accelerators were the way to go, leveraging their extended networks and domain experience. For UOB, it was the realisation that with the coming wave of financial technology, the industry must adapt or die. It also wanted to imbibe innovation as a culture in to its own organisation. An aspiration which has been a tangible success. For its first internal hackathon, in October 2015, a respectable 12 teams participated. By the following August, following the first FinLab cohort, the numbers shot up. They received 220 internal applications from their offices throughout the region. Of these, 21 were finally chosen to spend a weekend at The FinLab hacking away, devising real solutions to client problems.
What of The FinLab participants themselves? We spoke to Nicki Ramsay, founder and CEO of CardUp, about her experience in The FinLab 2016.
Nicki explained “We were able to make operational improvements to CardUp’s technology with access to UOB corporate banking solutions.” The association with UOB also gave credibility to a young brand with the addition of exposure both in terms of PR and to the wider investor community. Since then, CardUp has raised funding and continues to grow the business, acquiring users in the local Singapore market, with sights set on regional expansion. David Moskowitz is a New Yorker who has lived in Asia for the past 20 years. He is CEO and co-founder of Attores, a fellow The FinLab alum. “With the help of The FinLab we have been introduced to an enterprise level customer with whom we will be entering into a pilot” shared David. “Even after the programme has ended, The Finlab continues to be engaged and supportive. Through this, we have been able to continually refine our product offering and gain new clients.”
The next batch of The FinLab attendees can expect support validating business assumptions and product-market fit. There will be assistance fine-tuning business and revenue models along with access to the business domain and soft skill expertise of UOB mentors and the strong VC networks of SGInnovate. More importantly, The FinLab’s acceleration programme will also bring in regulators and legal experts to help share insights and explain the potential implications regarding the regulatory framework being put in place. Successful applicants will receive $30,000 SGD in funding, in exchange for a small equity, along with assistance with grants provided by the Singapore government. There will be technical resources supplied; connections to business opportunities; and free co-working space in the heart of Singapore’s startup community.
This year, The FinLab acceleration programme will take place in Singapore over 3 months, from May to July. It is open to strong teams, from across the fintech spectrum, with the requisite technical abilities. Applicants should boast a minimum viable product that is ready for the rigours of a Proof of Concept along with a robust and scalable business model. If your fintech business is ready to broaden its horizons, be sure to check out details here, with the closing date for applications on March 17th.