Alibaba extends startup cloud program to Singapore

Chinese tech giant offers its cloud services for startups in Singapore, taking the scheme beyond its domestic market for the first time, with plans to include other regional markets still being explored.

Alibaba has taken its cloud startup scheme global for the first time, launching the service in Singapore with a US$10,000 credit for selected startups.

Valid for a year, the coupon can be used to purchase any service on the Chinese vendor's Aliyun cloud platform, according to Yu Sicheng, vice president of Alibaba Cloud. Top-performing startups would be offered a higher US$18,000 credit, he added.

Startups would be selected based on a set of prerequisites that the company was still finalising and would be made available via its website when ready.

Speaking at the launch Monday in Singapore, Yu said local startups that signed up on its public cloud platform also would be able to access help with its IT infrastructure design for the first year, including dedicated support every six weeks. He added that Alibaba engineers would help startups build cloud-enabled apps.

In addition, there would be opportunities for co-marketing and branding with the Chinese tech vendor, which also would provide access to its global resources dedicated for startups, including incubation services, working spaces, fundings, and industry partnerships. Silicon Valley Association of Chinese Entrepreneurs, Hanhai Investment, and Hong Kong Science Park were among its current crop of program partners.

A similar startup program was launched in China in March 2015, pulling in more than 40 venture capital and investment funds, according to Alibaba. To date, the initiative had funded nearly 10,000 startup projects and partners more than 200 incubators in the Chinese market.

Having established a cloud footprint in China, Alibaba had been looking to replicate its success in other global markets, he said, pointing to the "same market space" in which Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google currently played.

Alibaba was betting on its strong presence in China as a competitive differentiator, positioning the company as "the only cloud player" able to help its customers deploy their services globally, including China.

Foreign-owned cloud organisations were required to partner local infrastructure companies to serve the China market. The Chinese government in December 2014 also announced plans to rate the trustworthiness of cloud vendors, allowing only those with full security clearance to partake in government projects. The move was said to leave foreign companies out of government procurement contracts.

Yu added that Alibaba was looking to set itself apart from the competition with its capabilities in big data.

"Our focus has always been to empower our global customers with our cloud expertise to achieve greater global coverage and expansion into international markets," he said. "Through our program, we hope to make our sophisticated networking solutions and big data intelligence also available to startups and small enterprises to accelerate their business growth."

Asked if it was looking to extend the startup program to other markets in the region, Yu said it was "closely monitoring" Asean countries including Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia, which offered "huge growth potential" for the company. Its aim was to enter these markets eventually and would be looking to establish local data center partnerships as well as other industry partners, he added.

It currently operates a cloud data center in Singapore, which also serves as the international headquarters for its cloud business, and has plans to set up a second facility in the city-state slated to be finalised next quarter.

Yu said it recently inked a partnership with a telco in Singapore, but was unable to reveal more details until the official announcement was ready.

Singapore startup, K Wizdom, signed up for Alibaba's cloud program last year and ported all its applications to the platform early this year. Running its operations on the cloud allowed for better collaboration between its two R&D teams, located in Singapore and China, said CTO Sun Wenting, who was also at the launch.

The Alibaba platform would further enable the startup to support its clients and investors as well as deploy its services in China, where it was looking to expand into, said Sun. Her startup touts an advertising platform that consolidates and automates the management of media campaigns such as Google and Facebook.

She said K Wizdom was currently drawing down from its US$10,000 credit with Alibaba, spending an average of about US$1,000 a month depending on the number of app instances clocked.