Singapore AI firm NextBillion.ai clinches top prize at start-up competition

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SINGAPORE – Local artificial intelligence (AI) start-up NextBillion.ai was crowned the winner of Enterprise Singapore’s start-up Slingshot on Wednesday (Dec 9).

It beat nine other finalists from such countries as Canada, Israel, and the United Kingdom (UK) to take home a $200,000 SG grant, $50,000 in cash and six months’ use of a serviced office space.

About 7,500 start-ups from 159 countries took part in this year’s competition, and the 10 pitched their ideas virtually to a panel of judges on Wednesday at the Singapore Fintech Festival x Singapore Week of Innovation and Technology 2020.

The five-day hybrid event ends on Friday.

Among the judges were B Capital co-founder and managing partner Eduardo Saverin, a co-founder of Facebook, and Mr Forrest Li, founder of tech giant Sea, which has businesses in digital finance and owns e-commerce platform Shopee.

Two UK-based start-ups, medical device maker GyroGear and cyber-security company Keyless Technologies, came in second and third respectively.

More than $900,000 of and cash prizes were given out this year, the fourth edition of Slingshot.

NextBillion.ai, which builds mapping and other AI-based services, was founded earlier this year by former Grab executives Gaurav Buna, Ajay Bulusu and Zheng Shaolin.

In June, it raised US$7 million (S$9.35 million) in its Series A funding round led by venture capital firms Lightspeed Venture Partners and Falcon Edge Capital.

Mr Bulusu said: “The real work starts now and our aim is to build a global deeptech SaaS (software as a service) company out of Singapore.

“Location will and always be at the heart of NextBillion.ai and we hope we enable enterprises across the world with the best ecosystem possible to run their businesses.”

Each of the 10 finalists, including Singapore-based start-ups Knowledge Navigator, Crayon Data and TransferFi, were also awarded a $50,000 Startup SG grant.

Dutch digital solutions start-up Surfly won the Slingshot Covid-19 Challenge, a new category in this year’s competition. It garnered the most interest in terms of investment and co-innovation from judges.

The has developed co-browsing and video chat technology which enables people to connect and collaborate online quickly and securely, and took home $60,000 worth of prizes.

In the lead up to Wednesday’s finals, the top 100 start-ups attended a week-long virtual programme which comprised preparatory workshops and mentoring sessions.

Eligible international start-up founders among them will also receive an EntrePass, a work visa for entrepreneurs to set up a new business in Singapore.

The100 impressed Mr Saverin: “It’s inspiring to see the passion and conviction the founders bring to solving problems in vastly different industries – from improving the quality of life of those suffering from chronic medical conditions to driving improvements in logistics via mapping innovation.

“I am particularly encouraged by the global representation, diversity of age and experience of the founder teams – reinforcing the message that anyone can be an entrepreneur or be part of that journey.”

Beyond the prize money, such competitions are important drivers for entrepreneurs as they also help founders connect with companies, potential customers and mentors, he added.

“Additionally, founders get to connect and learn from other founders, enabling a community of entrepreneurs to help each other along the very challenging start-up journey.”

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