Christian Koschil, Digital Trade Attaché at US Embassy Singapore

In this year’s SelectUSA Investment Summit, an annual flagship event organised by the US Department of Commerce to promote foreign investment to the country, four startups from Singapore drew attention and won top places.

Sophie’s BioNutrients (alternative protein company) and (an AI-powered hyperlocal solutions startup) came in top at the CleanTech and Software industry pitch sessions, wheras NDR Medical Technology (aims to simplify surgery using AI and robotics) and Zero-Error Systems or ZES (develops ultra-low soft-error solutions for space and autonomous vehicles) bagged second place in the MedTech and Asia Pacific regional sessions at the event, which saw US President Joseph Biden making welcome remarks.

A total of eight Singaporean startups competed against more than 100 early to mid-stage global startups from 46 countries in 12 categories and pitched to VCs, corporate investors, and tech ecosystem partners based in the US.

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These startups stand to gain several benefits, including assistance in expanding and growing to the US market.

In this email interview, Christian Koschil, Acting Senior Commercial Officer, US Department of Commerce, US Embassy, Singapore, talks to e27 about the summit, the four Singapore startups, and compares the ecosystems of the two countries.

Edited excerpts:

What is SelectUSA? What are the key objectives of this competition? How many startups from Southeast Asia get selected every year?

SelectUSA is a US federal-level programme dedicated to facilitating and promoting high-impact business investment into the country.

The event provides services to two primary clients: economic development organisations (EDOs) at the regional, state, city, and local levels; and business investors from outside the US.

The SelectUSA Tech programme connects early-stage and global tech startups/companies to prospects for advancement in the US market.

This year’s summit was held virtually from June 7-11. Startups that fulfilled certain criteria were picked to take part in the industry-focused and regional pitching sessions. The criteria were: 1) they needed to be less than eight years old, 2) had up to US$10 million in revenue, 3) had up to 40 employees, and 4) were developing a new technology product or service, or delivering an existing technology to a market in new ways.

This year, startups from around the world competed across 13 pitching sessions. Four regional pitching sessions allowed winners of in-market pitching events held earlier in 2021 to compete against other winners from their region.

Meanwhile, over 200 companies worldwide applied for a spot in one of the nine industry pitching sessions. More than 110 companies representing 46 markets took part across these 13 pitching sessions.

Eight Singapore-based startups and eight more startups from the rest of Southeast Asia were selected to participate.

Sophie’s BioNutrients and emerged winners in the cleantech and software industry pitch sessions. NDR Medical Technology and ZES came in second in the medtech and Asia-Pacific regional sessions.

The top-placed startup for each session was awarded legal and investment structuring advisory services sponsored by the International Network of Boutique and Independent Law Firms.

What potentials does the US government see in these four Singaporean startups?

Singapore has one of the most vibrant startup ecosystems in the world and it focuses on cutting-edge technologies that address global business challenges.

Singapore-based tech startups have successfully scaled and commercialised their products in the US by tapping on strategic market opportunities, a talented workforce, strong R&D and intellectual property protection systems, and robust supply chains in the US.

Similarly, the four Singapore startups that won have great potential to grow their businesses in the US market.

Will the government assist these build and grow in the US?

We work closely with EDOs in 50 different states across the US. We connect companies to the EDOs based on the states they would like to establish a presence in. The local economic developers can share information about the available grants and incentives, which foreign companies can leverage.

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SelectUSA also provides bespoke market research reports and helps companies navigate the federal system and regulations.

Since it is a government-run programme, will the government closely monitor these companies? Will the US government partner with these startups on their new business and projects?

We provide the companies with the initial support they need to enter the US market, and we provide continuous support as they expand their operations across the country.

The SelectUSA programme does not monitor their business in the US and does not require any partnership agreements to provide support.

Does the US government plan to further boost bilateral relations with Singapore through new programmes and initiatives?

A trade financing and investment cooperation MOU was signed by the US Department of Commerce and Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI), Singapore, in December 2020. The US Commercial Service in Singapore works closely with MTI and Enterprise Singapore (ESG) on several initiatives.

One good example is the SelectUSA Tech ASEAN event, which took place January 26-27, 2021. Minister Chan Chun Sing was a key speaker during the event and he shared with the participating tech companies on investment and business opportunities in the US.

Moving forward, would you be looking to partner with more startups and bring them to the US market?

We work closely with our partners such as Enterprise Singapore, IMDA, startup accelerators, venture capitalists, and local universities, and we share with startups on US market entry strategies and the support we can provide as they expand into the US.

What are the key differences between the US and Singapore’s startup ecosystems? What lessons can Singapore’s startups draw from their US peers?

Both the US and Singapore have strong, vibrant, and diverse startup ecosystems. Startups in the US practise a global mindset that drives them for exponential growth from day one. This is supported by access to funding but is also supported by other driving factors like risk tolerance, and an open and collaborative mindset, where there is a flow of information and ideas.

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The US has some of the highest-valued startups in the world and access to alternate funding sources through crowdfunding, angel investors, and VCs in comparison to European and Asian startup ecosystems.

Singapore has one of the fastest-growing startup ecosystems, globally. As per Startup SG, an initiative by Enterprise Singapore, the local ecosystem comprises 3,458 startups, 635 investors, and 199 incubators. Singapore government agencies such as Enterprise Singapore and IMDA organise many initiatives and programmes in collaboration with public and private sector partners to provide the local startup community with tools and resources to innovate, test, and scale their ideas.

We will continue to work closely with Singapore-based startups to help them launch and expand their presence in the United States. The U.S. market provides abundant opportunities for foreign companies to scale their businesses globally.

Image Credit: US Department of Commerce, US Embassy, Singapore.

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