Think about companies like Uber, Airbnb, and Canva. They all started out as small startups, developing disruptive, innovative solutions that addressed real-world problems and changed up the way things work.
However, the startup life is not easy. Even as companies pursue these innovations, they face numerous hurdles such as raising funds and building credibility.
Fortunately, governments are well aware of how they can make a difference for startups and the importance of innovation. Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), for one, has enacted a comprehensive set of programs and schemes to support young companies on their journeys.
Singapore-based firms raised S$1.4 billion (roughly US$985.8 million) in funding in 2021, so it’s clear that the city-state has laid the groundwork to support this growth.
Here’s a look at three startups in the country that have launched innovative solutions to change up the way people live, work, and play.
1. EliteFit.AI: A personal trainer in your room
When Ani Bhalekar was a junior partner with McKinsey & Company, he used to travel frequently. All the time spent on the road made it difficult for him to develop a regular workout routine. While he could exercise on his own using fitness apps, he wasn’t sure if he was going about it the right way.
“Users love online fitness, but there’s the unmet need of personal training. Many complain that they do not know if they are working out correctly and worry about injuries,” shares Bhalekar.
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit and online fitness took off, Bhalekar and his co-founders saw the opportunity to start EliteFit.AI.
The firm created an AI-driven virtual personal trainer that uses computer vision to track an individual’s workouts. It then provides feedback on posture and technique through web browsers without needing special wearables or equipment. Its customers include fitness studios, sports companies, and insurance firms, which integrate EliteFit.AI’s solution into existing apps to increase client revenues and user engagement.
According to Bhalekar, EliteFit.AI has “over a thousand full-length workouts that support tens of thousands of movements.” But getting to this point was no easy feat.
“Building a generalized virtual personal trainer across all types of workouts – zumba, taichi, yoga, pilates, the list goes on – is not an easy AI problem to solve,” he says. The firm also needed to make its user interface (UI) easy to understand since the solution would basically be new to end users.
So EliteFit.AI tapped into the resources available at Pixel, IMDA’s innovation hub, to fix this problem.
“Pixel provided us with extensive project-based coaching from a user design consultancy that helped us build a world-class user interface that was intuitive and easy to use and helped subsidize the cost of engaging them by 70%,” shares Bhalekar. “We also work out of Pixel’s complimentary co-working space, and met one of our first content creator partners through the collaboration space.”
EliteFit.AI is also one of the companies under IMDA’s Spark program, an initiative aimed at addressing key challenges and supporting the growth of promising Singapore-based tech startups.
“The IMDA Spark program validated our B2B approach by evaluating our tech and commercial viability,” adds Bhalekar. “Being enrolled in the program also increased the confidence of prospects who were exploring working with EliteFit.AI and helped us close bigger deals sooner.”
2. Vouch: Changing up the hospitality game
Founded in 2016, Vouch is a travel tech startup that works with hotels and other tourist attractions to streamline operations through the use of digital solutions. It’s best known for its digital concierge product, which allows hotels to respond to and meet customer needs through a chatbot, whether guests need to book a taxi or have extra towels sent up to their rooms.
“Manpower has always been a challenge for the hospitality industry, and it was massively exacerbated by the pandemic,” says Joseph Ling, co-founder and CEO of Vouch. “Our solutions are able to significantly ease the load on the hotel’s operations through our chatbot service.”
While Vouch has grown by leaps and bounds since its early days – now having operations in South Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam, and China – Ling shares that it had its fair share of hurdles to overcome, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We realized that our key customers – hotels – would not be able to pay for our services because they had no revenue,” he says.
So the firm adapted its chatbot to support takeaway and delivery services for hotel restaurants. It also shifted its attention toward the government, deploying its solutions with Singapore’s National Heritage Board and other attractions such as the Singapore Zoo.
On its journey, Vouch was able to benefit from an accelerator program run by Pixel in collaboration with Meta (then known as Facebook). It also gained valuable opportunities from IMDA’s Open Innovation Platform, which matches corporations looking for innovative solutions with over 12,000 promising technology firms.
Vouch was also recently accredited by IMDA through the agency’s accreditation program, which helps startups establish their credentials as qualified solutions providers to the government and large enterprises.
“These programs helped us to learn how to navigate early-stage startup problems through mentorship and the networks they provided. They also gave us market access to both hotels and attractions,” Ling shares.
3. BetterData: For data sharing and privacy protection
Data is often described as “the new oil,”, and being able to share information both internally within a company and externally with partners can help organizations work more effectively. However, privacy laws have created a challenging environment for companies to operate in.
BetterData helps with this problem. Founded in 2021, the startup can create synthetic data sets modeled on real data that can be shared globally without violating privacy laws. This opens up data licensing and monetization opportunities for companies. The firm leverages technologies such as deep generative models, privacy-preserving techniques, and blockchain in order to do this.
“We are challenging the notion that data sharing and privacy protection are mutually exclusive,” says Uzair Javaid, BetterData’s co-founder and CEO.
But data privacy is tricky to navigate, and many of BetterData’s customers operate in regulated industries. As a young startup, it faced challenges establishing its credibility, which is where its participation in the IMDA Spark Program helped.
“IMDA really helped us establish credibility from a regulatory perspective,” shares Javaid. “Through the Spark program, we learned how to position our product for public agencies as well as large enterprises, while also refining our narrative for fundraising.”
IMDA also helped introduce BetterData to potential customers in Singapore as well as trade organizations and associations in South Korea and Japan, allowing the firm to explore different market dynamics. The program also connected the startup with its extensive investor network.
BetterData is based in the Pixel co-working space, which Javaid says opens up opportunities for networking and fostering connections with other founders and potential customers.
“This helps us learn, build, and grow together in a much more productive manner,” he says.
And as BetterData grows, Javaid hopes to be able to give back.
“We will keep contributing back to the community to the best of our abilities through sharing our learnings and mistakes and about the newest technologies,” he adds. “As the old adage goes: ‘Alone we can go fast. Together, we can go far.’”