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Downtown Singapore. Image credit: Swapnil Bapat / Unsplash

Singapore offers $206m Covid-19 boost for startups that “contribute to national priorities”

June 10, 2020

The investment arms of Enterprise Singapore and the city-state’s Economic Development Board are launching a SG$285 million ($206 million) fund to provide financial support to startups working on “national priorities” such as food security amid the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.

The Special Situation Fund for Startups (SSFS) was first announced late last month as part of the Singaporean government’s supplementary ‘Fortitude Budget,’ which outlined a variety of spending plans aimed at softening the impact of the pandemic on the city-state’s economy.

Under the scheme, Enterprise Singapore’s SEEDS Capital and the Board’s EDBI will administer the fund, which will “support early- to late-stage innovative startups with strategic capabilities that can contribute to Singapore’s national priorities” and co-invest alongside private-sector partners.

As for what those “national priorities” are, EDBI said they could include those sectors outlined in the Singaporean Ministry of Trade & Industry’s Industry Transformation Maps — which include areas such as food manufacturing, food services, and logistics, to name just a few — or “those creating good jobs for our population.” Applications for SSFS funding will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Covid-19 has accelerated the country’s efforts to enhance food security, so agrifoodtech startups are among those that could benefit most from SSFS funding. In March last year, the Singapore government unveiled its ‘30 by 30‘ policy objective of producing 30% of its nutritional needs domestically by 2030. Currently, the city-state relies on foreign imports to fulfill over 90% of its population’s nutritional requirements. Food imports were significantly impacted as countries imposed border closures and movement restrictions amid Covid-19, while recent research has found that the pandemic is compounding existing supply chain frailties in Singapore and the wider ASEAN region.

Applicants for SSFS support should be incorporated in Singapore as a private limited company, with their headquarters and “key value-added activities” in the country. To be in with a chance of securing funding, they should be able to demonstrate “strategic capabilities” in terms of things like technology, innovation, and competitive advantages.

In addition, applicants need to own, or have developed, “substantial” innovative content or intellectual property, and need to have a commercially viable business model. They should also be able to clearly state their value proposition and potential for international scalability, and have good corporate governance and a management team on board with all the relevant skills and expertise required to run their business successfully.

“We want to ensure that the funds are directed at viable startups. Involving private sector co-investors will double the deployable capital, and ensure that only startups with strong growth potential are supported,” said Ted Tan, chairman of SEEDS Capital and deputy CEO at Enterprise Singapore.

“Collectively, the SSFS will enable these companies to continue their early product development and innovations to build a strong foundation for growth.”

EDBI president and CEO Chu Swee Yeok added that her organization will work with SEEDS Capital and their private-sector investor partners to support tech startups so “they can continue to execute on their growth plans [and] continue with their innovation activities and expansion” both domestically and overseas.

“In this difficult financing climate, even startups that were doing well pre-Covid can have cash flow difficulties, with many facing financing challenges given the more cautious funding approach that most VCs and PEs are adopting. SSFS will allow Singapore to build on the momentum of our thriving start up innovation ecosystem,” she said.

Prospective applicants should reach out directly to either EDBI or SEEDS Capital via their websites. The SSFS scheme will end either by 31 October 2021, or earlier once the available funds are fully committed.

In April, the Singapore Food Agency launched the SG$30 million ($21 million) ’30×30 Express’ grant scheme to fund “local agrifood players” working towards the country’s ’30 by 30′ food security goal.

GROW – the Asia-Pacific agrifoodtech accelerator backed by AgFunder – recently launched Singapore Food Bowl. A bespoke accelerator program supported by Enterprise Singapore and Dole, it’s aimed at furthering the ’30 by 30′ initiative and building more resilient, decentralized food ecosystems in the wake of Covid-19. [Disclosure: AgFunder is the parent company of AFN].

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