Southeast Asian startups targeted in Telstra accelerator program

Australian telco's muru-D launches S$400,000 seed funding aimed at recruiting 10 technology startups across the region for a six-month program, which includes housing and mentorship.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

Telstra is dangling S$40,000 in seed funding to recruit technology startups across Southeast Asia, targeting markets that include Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines.

The Australian telco's accelerator program, muru-D, will be looking to sign up 10 startups in the region and has roped in local partnerships to support the initiative. Each successful startup will receive S$40,000 (US$30,214) in seed capital as well as housing within the accelerator's office in Singapore's central business district area.

Speaking to media at the launch Wednesday in Singapore, muru-D's co-founder Annie Parker said her team will soon kick off a roadshow to visit various cities in the region where the accelerator will be speaking with local partners to secure their support for the program as well as startup applicants. Outside of Singapore, the team will be traveling to Hanoi, Kuala Lumpur, Taipei, Bangkok, Jakarta, and Manila.

The roadshow will end in June 15 when application closes, with judging day to be held in Singapore on August 6. Selected startups then will begin a six-month accelerator program scheduled to kick off in late-August or early-September.

Telstra first launched the initiative in Sydney in October 2013 and has since completed two intakes of 20 startups, with nine in the first round generating more than A$3 million (US$2.38 million) in follow-on funding. Technology developed from these startups were focused on various key verticals including agriculture, construction, and "classic" business-to-consumer products and services, Parker said. The second intake will be pitching their ideas next week.

She said muru-D would not focus on any specific verticals in its selection of startups in this region, beyond the basic criteria that they would have to be digital.

Instead, the accelerator would be judging startups based on the quality and merits of their idea, said Jamie Camidge, muru-D's head of strategic partnerships and alliances. It also would identify startups with a dedicated founding team and able to demonstrate clarity in terms of real-world business problems they were trying to resolve.

Selected startups would have to be incorporated in Singapore to be eligible for the program, with muru-D taking a 6 percent equity stake in the company. And the accelerator is offering somewhat of a money-back guarantee should the startup fail to take off.

Parker explained that if the business idea did not work for whatever reason or should the startup decide to move into a different market segment, muru-D would offer to sell back its equity for a single dollar.

Selected startups would receive S$20,000 upfront, with the remaining S$20,000 to be given out when they had achieve an agreed midpoint milestone such as launching its app in an appstore.

Parker said there were plans to recruit more than one intake in Singapore. muru-D also will be able to tap its experience and knowledge from running the program in Sydney with startups in this region, she said, pointing to skillsets such as channel management, pricing, and costing expertise.

Stressing that the accelerator's primary objective was to support the startup ecosystem and community, muru-D's entrepreneur-in-residence Joseph Ziegler said it would be looking for companies it could help the most. A startup that is heavy with fintech relationships, for instance, would likely be unsuitable for its accelerator program, Ziegler said.

Speaking to ZDNet on the sidelines of the launch, Telstra CEO David Thodey reiterated the telco's primary objective of supporting the startup community: "The fact is the world is getting smaller and no one has control of good ideas...and there often are great ideas that don't get the opportunity to bubble.

"So we have no vested interest other than to be part of this ecosystem," Thodey said. He added that startups muru-D supported focused on various segments and not necessarily focused on developing technology for the telecommunication sector.

Thodey said Telstra's own engineering team also regularly interacted with these startups, noting that this injected a refreshing change in corporate culture that benefited the telco, with emphasis on the need for speed to market as well as continued testing and reinventing of products and services.

muru-D decided to set up base in Singapore because Telstra already had operations and established partnerships here, Parker said. In markets where the telco might not have presence, it would work with local partners to support the program, such as Icehouse in New Zealand.

Spotted at the launch were executives from Singapore telco StarHub, which is a close roaming partner with Telstra. Both telcos work closely on various initiatives to drive and test out new applications and services, which either can deploy on its respective network.

According to a StarHub spokesperson, no details were firm regarding StarHub's involvement in muru-D, though discussions were ongoing about any potential tie-up.

The Telstra accelerator has roped in various government agencies and government-led startup initiatives in Singapore to lend their support to the program, including the Infocomm Development Authority's Infocomm Investments, Economic Development Board, and Spring Singapore.

Last month, software vendor SAP also launched an acceleration program in Singapore, giving local tech startups access to a funding pool of S$10 million (US$7.28 million) and mentorship from industry experts.

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