Accelerating FinTech startup success and catalysing international collaboration
Nothing has been normal in the year since the world shutdown - but that hasn’t stopped the fintech engine of Singapore from continuing to accelerate. According to PWC’s annual tech startup trends report, Singapore startups raised funds in line with 2019 levels, regardless of the global economic instability. In a year marked by uncertainty, F10 Singapore still saw 300 applications - an impressive number for a new name to the region - with an almost 50/50 split between serial entrepreneurs and first-timers.
Having pivoted our program to virtual, our startups were able to join us from where they felt comfortable, freed from the distractions of commutes or networking events. This accessibility empowered our founders to really focus on what matters: building.
The products they’ve been working on reflect these changing times. Digitisation remains key, with payments, processes and customer onboarding all in the crosshairs of F10 startups. The progressive policies and innovation-friendly environment of Singapore has brought experimental innovations into the mainstream, and we’ve seen the legitimisation of digital assets, digital banking and tokenization across the board.
With all this growth, F10 Singapore’s first year has undoubtedly been a success. But what were the key ingredients in this process?
F10 is an international organisation, with hubs in Singapore, Spain and Switzerland. Our local connections enrich the experience. But as we unanimously retreated into bedrooms and home offices, we were able to extend our programs, and offer the experience to a more diverse range of startups.
Fencore, a streamlined data management system, were able to bring on a Philippines-based development team, while Staple, an AI-powered data extraction tool, were collaborating across India, Indonesia, Singapore, and Vietnam. While few people were able to cross borders, the sharpest minds in the industry have still been able to exchange knowledge cross-border.
This enriched the experience by bringing together Southeast Asian startups with experienced international mentors from Switzerland and the UK. It’s not just F10 startups who benefitted from this increased accessibility of experts - 2020 saw an explosion in virtual conferencing, networking and relationship-building platforms. Lunchclub, the AI-powered introductions engine, saw 10x growth as its valuation topped US$100M, while Zoom users clocked up a staggering 7.9 trillion minutes of calls between January and September 2020.
Slowly rolling out digitisation programs or offering incremental change is no longer an option in 2021. Corporations have been forced to change at startup pace - and that acceleration has created new market opportunities. From the F10 startups helping banks to remotely onboard customers, to Swiss Bank Julius Bär moving more than CHF15 million into virtual wealth management, the way that money moves has changed for good.
With innovative startups and industry stalwarts facing down the same challenges, collaboration has emerged as a winning model to leverage knowledge and agility. F10 accelerator startup Covergo teamed up with DBS bank Hong Kong to create an iPad app to automate client onboarding both swiftly and securely. In 2020, startups were no longer seen as disruptive forces, but as allies in innovation, bringing in new ideas unhampered by legacy infrastructure.
The ongoing economic uncertainty driven by the pandemic has inspired leaders across the world to “build back better”. In Singapore, this has seen an increased focus on policies that encourage digital-first global trade and sustainable growth. Necessity is the mother of invention - and nothing necessitates change more than a global upheaval of unprecedented scale.
With an increase in support from government and the fintech industry at large, and less networking and social pressures distracting startups from their product, entrepreneurs are able to focus all their energies on tackling the problems at hand.
The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent disruption exposed significant gaps in global supply chains, weaknesses in customer experience journeys and the limitations of systems that relied on a good old-fashioned handshake. A global crisis has forced everyone to look local, and refocus their attention on longer-term societal trends of automation-incurred job losses at the hands of automation, and irreversible climate damage that needs dramatic and immediate action.
In Singapore, MAS is prioritising jobs and access to financial innovation for Singaporeans by making significant investments in the fintech sector. With industry support, startups are free to focus on what they do best: innovate. This focus has helped companies retain a laser focus on that critical product-market fit. These generate opportunities for startups to explore new business models that can make an impact while positively contributing to the COVID-19 recovery.
The pandemic forced a lot of change, but we have seen startups and corporate partners alike seize the opportunity to embrace new ways of working. The disruptions and challenges have created new opportunities to collaborate and leverage the focus on the immediate issues at hand.
At F10, our startups have thrived on the opportunity to network with corporates, mentors and investors in a more accessible medium, while the worldwide pause enabled them to immerse themselves in fundraising and business development. We are leaning further into the flexible opportunities of the virtual realm with a blended offering that offers 50 per cent on-demand content to complement the interactive workshop events that make up the other half of the program. While adaptability is a winning trait for every budding entrepreneur, we are committing to offer flexibility to really ensure added value where it matters most.
I won’t hazard a prediction for what this year will offer - but look forward to seeing the innovation that transpires in the rapidly digitising financial world.
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