When Sequoia Capital India landed in Singapore quietly in 2012, the buzz around town was that a big-name US fund being in the country was going to really jolt the market and provide serious cred to the startups here.
The Indian team running operations here, however, appears to have spent the last year of its time in the island state helping startups in its India portfolio expand into Singapore, rather than directly investing in startups here.
However, the company just moved into a fancy new co-working space called The Co, and is its anchor tenant, so it could be a sign that it’s trying to get closer to local startups. Previously, it operated out of a service office in High Street.
Singapore is a popular choice as a base for foreign companies looking to expand into Southeast Asia, because it’s a mature market with plenty of infrastructure available. But as a tiny country, it’s not often the main addressable user base, and startups originating from Singapore are also taught to have expansion plans charted. Early last year, Sequoia Capital India MD, Shailendra Jit Singh, expressed interest in having the fund’s companies expand into the region. Sequoia Cap in the US also appeared to have been eyeing activity in Singapore for a while—it had its first offsite meeting in the country in 2011, and was in discussion with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong about its presence here.
The Prime Minister’s Office oversees its R&D arm, the National Research Foundation (NRF), which has been busy backing local venture capital firms here over the past few years. Its Technology Incubation Scheme is a program that distributes seed funding to startups picked by 11 NRF-appointed VCs. The NRF matches investment values in the proportion of 85 percent to 15 percent—the larger portion dished out by the government. This allows the VCs here to provide bigger sums of seed capital to startups, with much of the risk absorbed by the NRF.
Former NRF projects head, Yinglan Tan, was also pulled over to Sequoia Capital India’s team in July last year, where he is now a venture partner based in Singapore.
When I ran into Tan in Manila a couple of months ago, he was evasive about Sequoia’s activities in Singapore, but was happy to try to set up meetings with their existing portfolio companies in Singapore—all Indian-based startups, except for Airbnb and Evernote. Some of these companies that are being incubated in Singapore by Sequoia Cap include Via, Druva, Mu Sigma, Idea Device and Practo.
Two months on, those meetings have yet to happen, but word on the street is that Tan has been meeting with some Singapore-based startups that are looking to raise Series A or B rounds, and are looking to expand beyond the island. One that I know of provides Wi-Fi infrastructure.
As for its current startups here, Via is pretty sizable. It operates a flight booking portal similar to Expedia and Zuji, and has about 1,200 employees, the bulk of which are in India, with some in Indonesia and another team in the Philippines. It also lists hotels, and has about 45,000 listings, with plans to add more.
Druva started in Pune, India and is now operationally HQed in Sunnyvale, according to Jaspreet Singh, its CEO and founder. The company provides a backup system for mobile devices in the enterprise.
Idea Device is also a Bangalore startup, and makes a runbook automation system. Runbook automation is a set of technologies that helps take out some of the manual system administration tasks for IT departments.
Sequoia Cap US declined to comment further on its plans for Singapore.