Series B deals point to interest in early growth-stage startups

Over US$70 million in funding reached recently by homegrown or Singapore-backed startups

Singapore

MORE than US$70 million in Series B funding has been reportedly raised by Singapore or Singapore-backed startups of late - pointing to a plausible growing interest among investors in early growth-stage companies with an already proven product and internationalisation plans.

  • InstaReM, a cross-border payments firm headquartered in Singapore, announced last week that it has bagged US$13 million in funding led by GSR Ventures, and participated by Vertex Ventures, SBI-FMO Emerging Asia Financial Sector Fund, Fullerton Financial Holdings and Global Founders Capital.

The three-year-old startup said it will use the money to build its global payment infrastructure and deepen its presence in Singapore, Europe, the US, Australia, Hong Kong and Canada by end-2017.

Prajit Nanu, co-founder of InstaReM, said: "This is an important investment for the company to propel our next phase of growth and expansion. We aim to make cross-border payments a level playing field for all operators in the ecosystem."

That is, whether the client is a bank, telco, mobile wallet or a money transfer operator, by accessing InstaReM's payment infrastructure, it will be able to send payments to over 50 markets with transparency on cost and destination amount. This enables the client to compete with global players, Mr Nanu said.

  • Ruangguru, an Indonesian education technology startup, last week announced that it had secured Series B financing led by UOB Venture Management, the private equity arm of United Overseas Bank. The investment sum was undisclosed, but is believed to be under US$10 million.

The company, founded in 2014, offers a learning management system with services such as learning video subscriptions, on-demand in-app tutoring and online exam simulations.

With the new money, Ruangguru will explore the use of artificial intelligence to deliver personalised education services and mine the academic data that it has come to possess.

Seah Kian Wee, chief of UOB Venture Management, said: "Ruangguru is an appealing investment due to the passion and capabilities of its founders, scalability of the business, and the positive impact it can have on students' learning experience.

"We believe Ruangguru can be a game changer given the large-scale adoption of its learning management system and the potential of its products for the Indonesian education sector."

  • Drive.ai, a self-driving tech company, said last week that it has snagged US$50 million in Series B funding from investors including New Enterprise Associates, GGV Capital and Northern Light Venture Capital. Its vision is to bring autonomous mobility to business fleets.

Drive.ai said that it will use the new money to boost its tech development and global reach, which includes international pilot programmes and new partnerships.

The Business Times understands that it is exploring setting up an office in Singapore, which would make the Republic its first overseas market.

The San Francisco-based startup has also added Andrew Ng to its board of directors. Mr Ng, who graduated from Raffles Institution in Singapore in 1992, co-founded online course platform Coursera and was formerly chief scientist at Baidu. He is the husband of Carol Reiley, co-founder and president of Drive.ai.

Mr Ng said: "The cutting-edge of autonomous driving has shifted squarely to deep learning. Even traditional autonomous driving teams have 'sprinkled on' some deep learning, but Drive.ai is at the forefront of leveraging deep learning to build a truly modern autonomous driving software stack."

Commenting on the deals, Eugene Tan, managing director of Sirius Venture Capital, told BT that the Series B theme suggested a growing interest among investors in startups that can scale overseas, as well as a slowdown in seed financing for very early-stage startups.

He said: "Most of Series B funding is for market growth and internationalism, while Series A funding is typically used for product development.

"Also, there are fewer seed and startup funds that have raised funds recently; most of the funds closed are for Series A or B rounds."

Chua Boon Ping, chief of the SPH Media Fund, noted that startups at Series B stage are ready to take their product and expand beyond one market; they are still in the early innings, and would typically raise capital between US$7 and US$10 million.

He added: "Series C onwards will see a shift in focus to inorganic growth opportunities, such as mergers or acquisitions, and is when all the heavy hitters will join."