honestbee gets nod to pilot new industrial space concept

Singapore

HOMEGROWN honestbee is the first startup to receive approvals to incorporate a large-scale retail operation as part of its industrial land's ancillary use - a move that suggests greater flexibility from the authorities in dealing with new business models.

In October last year, the startup launched habitat by honestbee, a tech-enabled, grocery and dining concept which occupies 60,000 square feet of space in an industrial building at Boon Leat Terrace.

honestbee is keen to roll out habitat - a marketplace comprising food and beverage concepts as well as a supermarket with an automated cashless checkout system and a robotic collection point - in the seven other Asian markets in which it operates.

Responding to queries from The Business Times, a spokesperson from the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), said: "With business structures and requirements evolving, we recognise the need to provide flexibility for businesses to co-locate ancillary uses that support their core industrial activities, and to pilot new business ideas. With support from Enterprise Singapore, we allowed ancillary retail uses for honestbee to pilot new technologies and innovation for their business in an industrial premise."

Industrial land - that is, land zoned B1 and B2 - is primarily used for industrial activities. The guidelines require at least 60 per cent of an industrial development's total floor area to be used for core industrial activities, while allowing a maximum of 40 per cent for ancillary uses. habitat still follows those guidelines.

The URA said that it evaluates requests for ancillary commercial uses on a case-by-case basis, looking at factors such as the site context, impact on the surroundings, and support from economic agencies when the proposal has strong merits in the areas of business innovation, productivity and technology.

honestbee did not respond to queries from BT.

Cushman & Wakefield's senior director of research, Christine Li, said: "The more liberal approach adopted by the government is encouraging for home-grown startups, as Singapore embarks on the Smart Nation journey and taps on future economic opportunities presented by the rise of the digital economy."

She added: "As the lines blur between logistics and retail, the government shows its willingness to experiment with new solutions which will promote more prevalent adoption of new technology. This will send a very positive signal to the business community that the government is working as a partner alongside them to ensure the success of Singapore's homegrown companies. It will be even more encouraging if the government could widen the support for enterprises which are undergoing digital transformation, but face challenges in the actual execution."

ZACD Group executive director Nicholas Mak highlighted there is widespread recognition that e-commerce is here to stay, at least for another decade.

"The authorities likely feel they should give e-commerce firms some leeway to experiment. However, e-commerce companies must be able to convince the authorities that they are introducing new retail concepts or testing out new technologies in order to get the necessary approvals."

He also pointed out that consumers still appear to prefer a hands-on retail experience for certain categories.

Back in 2015, JTC also developed LaunchPad in Buona Vista to create an ecosystem to support the growth of promising tech startups. It began with Blk 71, a joint initiative between the Info-communications Media Development Authority, JTC, and partners such as NUS Enterprise to support startups in the infocomm and media industries.

A JTC spokesman said: "Building on the success of, and the growing startup community at Blk 71, we expanded LaunchPad to a total of eight blocks in one-north. Today, LaunchPad @ one-north houses around 800 startups, and 50 enablers that support these startups in the areas of mentorship, market access and funding."