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SPH Plug and Play exec on Singapore’s media startup crunch: ‘There are more accelerators than startups’

An executive involved in Singapore Press Holdings’ media startup accelerator, SPH Plug and Play, said today that the programme has met with challenges that reflect a startup ecosystem in which demand greatly outstrips supply.

Jupe Tan talks at the launch of Publicis Media's NextTechNow

Jupe Tan talking at the launch of Publicis Media’s NextTechNow

Talking to Mumbrella after a panel debate at Publicis Media’s NextTechNow launch event, Jupe Tan, SVP of global operations for Plug and Play, said that Singapore has become a “crowded” space for accelerators, and SPH’s accelerator programme had “needed to evolve”.

The future of SPH Plug and Play was brought into question in September, when sources informed Tech In Asia that the viability of the accelerator was being reviewed.

SPH Plug & PlayTan said that Silicon Valley-based Plug and Play, which forged the deal with SPH Media Fund and Infocomm Investments to form SPH Plug and Play in April 2015, had broadened its focus beyond media and Singapore to other verticals in Southeast Asia.

His comments come just a few months JFDI, a pioneer of Singapore’s startup scene, shut down its accelerator. JFDI had nurtured the likes of Tradegecko and BoxGreen.

Commenting on the early progress of SPH’s startup venture, Tan noted that the programme had completed two investment cycles. “We were very happy with the startups that came through. We delivered two batches of eight. The majority of them were doing well. We don’t expect all of them to be unicorns, but that’s the nature of the business.”

“But as we were running the second programme we could see that the ecosystem was expanding very quickly and was becoming very crowded for early stage accelerators,” he said.

“We started to see a situation where demand was chasing supply – there were more accelerators, more investors, than startups.”

“The parties decided that we did not want to continue the programme in the same form; we agreed that the model needed to evolve – SPH through the Media Fund doing more investments, and us expanding the programme in the region, going outside of Singapore to look at more verticals.”

Image: sphplugandplay.com

Image: sphplugandplay.com

SPH announced in April that eight startups from 320 applications, 70% from local entrepreneurs, had been selected in the second Plug and Play batch.

Tan was later asked if he thought that the startup ecosystem in Singapore had been over-hyped.

He commented: “I think Singapore has to use a hub and spoke model. With us [Plug and Play] being in Silicon Valley, we see 60-70% of startups founded by immigrants. The same applies here [Singapore] to some extent,” he said.

Plug & Play SVP of global operations Jupe Tan talks at the launch of NextTechNow in Singapore

Tan said stability for Singapore’s startup ecosystem is ‘just around the corner’

“The immediate market is not here yet,” he said, but added that the infrastructure is in place to support startups from around the region to locate their businesses in Singapore.

How long will it take before Singapore’s startup ecosystem is on more stable ground?

“It’s a tough question to answer,” Tan said. “I think we’re just around the corner. It will not necessarily be about locally-produced startups, rather regional startups headquartered here.”

“If you look at Singapore over the past 10-20 years, we’ve been very successful at bringing the large corporations to town. We have a lot of MNCs here, and that has brought with it decision-making power and media buying power,” he added.

“We need to do something similar for the startup ecosystem; bring more of them here [Singapore] to engage and to grow.”

Ian Loon at the launch of NextTechNow

Ian Loon at the launch of NextTechNow

The leading man in Asia for NextTechNow, Publicis Media’s new initiative to give its clients access to startups, is Ian Loon, the group’s business transformation lead – digital. He suggested that NextTechNow could be an alternative to Google and Facebook as the drivers of innovation in media.

“Often startups get shot down because the stakeholders don’t believe in new solutions. They always want to stick within their comfort zone, with companies like Facebook and Google,” he said.

“The industry is relying a lot on Google and Facebook to innovate the media experience that we’re delivering.”

NextTechNow, he said, would help clients solve problems by getting access to the right startups, which when they’re big enough would spend media dollars with Publicis Media.

“Rather than throwing them [clients] out to sea to catch fish, the fish are going to be placed in curated tanks to see which fit a brief,” he explained.

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