Week in Review: A Brick & Mortar giant deepens links to startups

  • Unilever launches global co-working space in Singapore, targeting 50 startups
  • Indonesia’s Moka raises smart money from Bank Mandiri and ride on SME relationships

It was just in my column last week that I was talking about how startups are now increasingly being seen as offering synergy to Brick & Mortar companies instead of being out to grab their customers.

And this week we have yet further affirmation of this with the launch of Unilever’s first co-working space in Singapore. Branded as LEVEL3, it is the physical manifestation of Unilever Foundry, which itself is a platform the FMCG giant created to encourage its 400 over brands to collaborate with innovative startups.

How serious is Unilever about working with startups? Well, the co-working space is actually connected to Unilever’s offices through a staircase, enabling a closer working partnership between the US$56 billion (RM258 billion) revenue company and startups.

And, according to Jonathan Hammond, Global Head, Unilever Foundry, “through LEVEL3, Unilever is looking for startups to partner with and grow together”.

That’s music to the ears of startups that are eager to scale. And with a target of 50 startups to be at LEVEL3, with 15 already in place, the opportunity is there for Southeast Asian based startups to reach out to Unilever Foundry and sell them the value of the problem they are trying to solve and get admitted to LEVEL3.

No doubt some will be dreaming of getting a billion dollar acquisition offer from Unilever as well, just as the Dollar Shave Club did in July 2016.

Meanwhile Indonesian startup Moka is flying high now, not because it raised its next round of funding at US$2 million (RM9 million) but because of where the money came from. As a startup targeting to deliver digital based back-office solutions to SMEs, it scored a smart money hit by attracting Bank Madiri, through its venture arm Mandiri Capital, to invest in it.

The CEO of Mandiri Capital Eddi Danusaputro acknowledges that many of the bank’s SME customers have a tough time in tracking sales and do it manually to boot. “We think that Moka is the right partner and the best startup available to provide such services to oue SMEs," he says.

I’m sure the founders of Moka are smacking their lips in anticipation of the distribution and marketing channel they have just unlocked with this investment. Expect Moka to fly past the 2,500 current customers they have as well.

And speaking of flying, Indonesia could be starting to enjoy the beginnings of a virtuous cycle where the high demand for Indonesians who have overseas experience from the talent hungry high growth domestic e-commerce and digital sectors lures an increasing number of these overseas talent back.

At least that is the prediction of recruitment consultancy Michael Page which says 53% of Indonesian based companies are planning to increase headcount in 2017, which is higher than the 44% average of Southeast Asia.

About 58% of companies have already been employing returning Indonesians and Micheal Page expects this to continue. And let’s not forget the US$100 million R&D centre that Grab announced recently as well, which will only accelerate the momentum of returning Indonesians. At the end of the day, this infusion of experienced talent from overseas will only help add depth to the digital ecosystem of Indonesia and who knows how many of them will venture out and launch their own startups?

Things are looking promising for Indonesia’s digital ambitions. And while funding is in ample supply, especially from venture funds, if Indonesia ever wants to boost Equity Crowd Funding as another funding option for entrepreneurs, it would do well to learn from Malaysia’s experience to shorten its adoption curve.

With over a year gone by since the launching of the six ECF platforms, we reached out to them for a sense of how the Malaysian market was taking to this new funding option. Not surprisingly, educating the market was still the main focus for them but with each player also having different priorities beyond this single common theme.

Anyway, the weekend is already well under way when you read this edition of WiR (Week in Review) which we normally publish Fri afternoon. Enjoy your weekend and have a productive week after.

Editor’s Picks:

Unilever Foundry launches co-working space in Singapore

ECF operators get frank

Carsome all set for new services, expansion of new markets and funding round

Indonesia’s Moka secures US$2 mil funding, led by Mandiri

Gartner: Living in the age of AI

SuitApp puts a personal stylist in your pocket

Boom in digital economy to draw Indonesians home

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