Talent investor Entrepreneur First launches US$20m fund targeting Asian startups

TALENT investor Entrepreneur First (EF) has launched a US$20 million fund to lead seed rounds in companies that emerge from its Asia programme.

EF's programmes bring its applicants together through a "highly charged environment", and aims to help these individuals form a founding team to build their new technology startup. Each startup then pitches to EF and other investors at the end of the programme for funding.

Its programmes, which run every six months, gather 50 to 100 people in each cohort.

The company has already made its first three commitments from the EF Global Bridge Fund in companies from India and Singapore, said the general manager of Entrepreneur First Singapore, Bernadette Cho.

EF is prepared to fund about 50 to 75 per cent of the round by being the lead investor, she said, adding that seed rounds usually stand at around US$1 million.

EF will also take a 15 to 25 per cent equity stake, which is typical of seed investors, she said. Previously, EF could only take up to a 15 per cent stake as a follow-on investor in a company's seed round.

Ms Cho also noted that there has been a growing interest in Singapore-based startups, especially from the US.

"Covid-19 has accelerated the flight to quality. In the first half of 2020, our global portfolio raised about 80 per cent more than it did in 2019 ... Extrapolating from that, we are seeing investors from the US, China, Europe and Australia looking to place bets in South-east Asia as well.

"Additionally, investors haven't been as limited by the geographical constraints as before. Now, more things can be done through a Zoom meeting."

South-east Asia has been identified as a region that is going to grow massively in the next decade or so, and probably beyond that, she told The Business Times.

"People are looking to get involved in a region that is certainly flourishing."

She added: "I think what makes a big difference here in Singapore is just the stability and the full sight of the government ... with schemes and grants put in place designed to pull in tech talent globally into Singapore.

"All this really helps to catalyse a rich environment for investment."

Since its entry into Asia in 2016, EF has helped over 600 co-founders build more than 140 companies across the region. More than 20 venture funds - including 500 Startups, Vertex Ventures and Wavemaker - have led funding rounds for portfolio companies; more than half these teams have gone on to raise average seed funding of US$1 million.

In 2019, EF first announced the US$115 million first close of its global fund, which will enable it to invest in more than 2,200 individuals across the globe over three years, it said at the time.