Singtel Innov8’s New Program Seeks Startups Tackling Business Problems

Asian telecom giant Singtel has introduced a new program aimed at increasing its interaction with tech startups worldwide.

We’ve all seen some startups that chase ‘problems’ which seem fairly frivolous, and that’s the polar opposite of this new strategy. Innov8 Connect, which is run by Singtel’s Innov8 venture capital arm, invites startups that are focused on specific sectors and business challenges to collaborate with the telecom company to move their business forward. It’s predominantly aimed at the telecom and mobile spaces where Singtel sits.

The program includes both financial support — Singtel Innov8 will invest up to SG$75,000, US $52,000 per project — and access to Singtel’s userbase (over 575 million customers in APAC and Africa), expertise and other resources.

Beyond that, Singtel Innov8 said companies could land later funding from the VC firm, while it has global alliances — such as a recent tie-up with Orange, Deutsche Telekom and Telefónica — that can help, too.

The program will act as another funnel for identifying and working with promising companies, Edgar Hardless, CEO of Singtel Innov8, told TechCrunch.

“We’ve been around for five years, we’ve seen many pitches and companies, every one is solving a problem and offering a solution. Sometimes problems are perceived, [and founders and investors ask] what is the demand. We decided to flip it on the head and come up with real world problems and put them out there and ask startups if they have solutions,” Hardless said in an interview.

One of the biggest challenges for founders is to win investors over and convince them that their idea answers a legitimate problem, and is the solution that the market needs. Hardless said that by listing problems it wants to focus on, the Innov8 Connect program can “validate market demand for a particular problem [and give founders] someone within Singtel who they can work with.”

“We think this is an exciting way to deepen our engagement with the startup community across the world,” Hardless added, pointing out that the program is open to applicants that are located anywhere in the world, not just Asia.

The first 10 projects for the program are listed online now, and Hardless said others will be added over time.

The briefs cover consumer and enterprise projects, and includes specific topics like ‘Delivering an Enhanced In-Home Wi-Fi Experience,’ ‘Boosting Communication with Enterprise Customers,’ and ‘Delving Into Drone Detection and Management.’

Screenshot 2016-01-12 16.26.28Each one is live for a month, during which companies can apply to take part.

Here’s how Singtel Innov8 said the process works:

Startups with relevant solutions are welcomed to submit their applications through the portal. Selected startups will then be invited to pitch to a panel of management representatives from the Singtel Group. After a rigorous selection process, one company per brief will be chosen to work with Singtel to trial its solution.

Singtel Innov8 was set up as an initial $160 million in 2010, but Singtel itself has been bullish on startups for some time. It allocated $1.3 billion for investment in companies back in 2013, and some of its acquisitions to date have included mobile ad companies Amobee ($321 million) and Adjitsu, social photo service Pixable ($26.5 million), and cyber-security firm Trustwave ($810 million).