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EXCLUSIVE – Helping promising Singapore-based tech product companies to compete on the global market through Accreditation@IMDA

Above photo (from left): Mr. Edwin Low, Director, Accreditation, IMDA, Mr. Daryl Neo, Founding Director, DC Frontier and Mr. Benjamin Mah, Co-Founder & CEO, V-Key. Photo: Dean Koh/OpenGov Asia. 

 New tech product companies often face the challenges of getting to market in a timely manner, ensuring that their businesses are scalable and most importantly, getting funding from the right partners and investors. These are issues that often stumble young tech product companies, especially if they had not been considered or dealt with at an early stage.                    

In their role towards contributing to the Digital Economy strategy, IMDA realised that one method of developing a strong Infocomm Media (ICM) ecosystem is to support and nurture young and promising Singapore-based ICM companies and helping them to scale their businesses. To that end, Accreditation@IMDA (A@IMDA) was launched in July 2014 to provide promising Singapore-based tech product companies with resources and investment to help them build a track record locally, grow and compete on the global market.            

Origins                    

When asked about the origins behind A@IMDA, Mr. Edwin Low, Director, Accreditation, IMDA, shared:

 "We wanted a more sustainable and impactful way to help tech start-ups grow. The traditional approach is usually to provide them grants but in the long run we felt that grants while helpful it may not take the company through its entire lifecycle. And most start-ups have different challenges at different stages so we wanted something more holistic and sustainable.”                              

Mr. Low mentioned that the approach was to ask what start-ups struggle with at an early stage: they struggle to win work and struggle to establish a track record. The reason behind that is most buyers or even investors are not sure if the product works, they are not sure if the company can deliver to the quality that is expected and they are not sure if they are financially viable. 

Through A@IMDA, two things are being done: firstly, an assurance process, a deep dive where the government puts its reputation behind it and assure buyers and stakeholders that they can rely on these products. The next thing is to put these tech start-ups in front of the right buyers and stakeholders, which helps to shorten the whole sales cycle. Instead of tech start-ups pitching to one agency multiple times and being unsure about the outcome, A@IMDA helps put these accredited companies in front of many government agencies and work with both parties to co-create strategic projects. 

 Mr. Low also added: “Interestingly enough, A@IMDA also has a spin-off effect in how financial investors view Singapore’s start-ups – I think the work that we do changes the risk-reward ratio for them and as a consequence, I think fundraising is more expedient as well. For tech start-ups, once they create a momentum for winning work, there should be a corresponding momentum in fundraising – as they expand, they need to raise more funds.” 

Success stories: V-Key and DC Frontier 

 To date, A@IMDA has accredited 17 companies. Two of them are V-Key and DC Frontier. From the tech companies’ perspectives, both companies agreed that the A@IMDA process proved extremely valuable in helping them prepare to be ready for the global market.                    

Mr. Benjamin Mah, Co-Founder & CEO of V-Key, explained: “A@IMDA is one of the programmes which stood out for me personally - after establishing a number of tech companies, one of the key things that was so essential, the base foundation, was getting ourselves ready for the world.                      

What does it mean? It means that not only do we need to have a solid technology unique proposition, a good business model…more importantly, you need to have an independent party to be able to substantiate your claims. Nothing beats A@IMDA, at the trusted Singapore government level, to go through the due diligence process from technologies to financials to business models and giving you the valuable ‘report card’ for you to talk to customers, partners and investors.” 

Mr. Mah elaborated that the whole accreditation process took about 4-5 months from start to finish. For Mr. Daryl Neo, Founding Director of DC Frontier, the accreditation process took about the same time but he was only successful after the second attempt:                    

“We tried twice – for our first attempt, we went through the process but we were not ready. At that point of time, our business was not yet scalable. So we took in A@IMDA’s inputs, went back and built scalability into our business.                    

That first experience was what prompted us to invest into building AI so that our business will become scalable. 12 months after that, we re-engaged with A@IMDA and it took about 5 months to complete. It was very valuable – that certificate, that stamp of approval as Benjamin said, is very valuable but I think the inputs that we got along the way, they actually helped us to mould the strategy and realise that we need the scalability.”

The Way Forward

About the long term objectives of A@IMDA, Mr. Low mentioned that his team will be expanding to do more:

“We ourselves are very much like a start-up, we’ve learnt to evolve and respond to 2 things that are dynamic: one is the tech start-ups that we’re bringing – their needs change over time so how do we continue to provide value along their journey. What would be really satisfying to me is to see these companies really exit and vie for compelling valuations on the IPO market. We have to continue to be relevant to these start-ups.                    

The second thing is because our Smart Nation aspirations are also gaining momentum, people are now asking for different types of technologies but not the technologies in isolation, rather how do we stitch these different types of technologies together to form something that is scalable, exportable and has some competitive advantages. While we’re seeing more and more companies come to the fore, we’re thinking about how then how to form these ‘discreet samurai’ into an army to win a bigger battle.”                              

At the beginning, A@IMDA focused very much with government use cases and government will form an anchoring part of the demand but we are also expanding our market access platforms into industries like finance (MOIs signed with DBS, UOB and OCBC), urban solutions and healthcare. Ultimately, the goal is to help promising tech product companies/start-ups to make it big in the global arena. 

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