Everyone should know 500 Startups in Southeast Asia or at least, everyone in the startup ecosystem. They are one of the most active global early stage venture capital firms, and recently completed the first batches of their Global Launch for both the Singapore and San Francisco programmes. 

Working with Enterprise Singapore (ESG) under the Global Innovation Alliance network, the goal of the programme is to help global startups expand into Singapore and Singapore-based startups establish a presence in the U.S.. As applications for Batch 2 of the Global Launch is currently open, we had the opportunity to find out more.

Speaking to Lim Ee Ling, Singapore Country Lead, Innovation and Partnerships at 500 startups, we wanted to find out more about the role of accelerators in the entire ecosystem. We also spoke about the success of the programme and how they plan to scale it during the changing ecosystem as we continue into the ‘new normal’.

The Singapore cohort for the 500 Startups Global Launch

Congrats on the new programme. Can I find out more about the programme and what you hope to achieve?

Thank you! In 2019, we partnered with Enterprise Singapore to launch two go-to-market accelerator programmes: Global Launch Singapore and Global Launch San Francisco. 

Through these two programmes, we hope to be able to help startup founders accelerate their expansion plans geographically through our curriculum, mentorship and 500’s global network. Global Launch Singapore is aimed at helping global startups establish their operations in Southeast Asia, using Singapore as a launchpad. Global Launch San Francisco on the other hand is aimed to help Singapore-based startups launch into the U.S. market. 

Both programmes run for 16-weeks and over the course of this time, the 500 team works very closely with each of the startups to help them in areas ranging from fine tuning their value proposition, identifying the right customer segment, understanding local business etiquettes and sales/channel partnership approach as well to helping make the  appropriate connections for their new markets. There’s a lot more in our curriculum but I am just giving you a sneak peek what startups can expect out of these programmes.

How have expectations for the programme changed as many industries are still heavily impacted by Covid-19?

We had startups across different sectors that were impacted to varying degrees. For example, our startups in healthtech and gaming saw significant traction . Naluri, a digital therapeutics startup focusing on mental wellness for corporate clients, was able to raise a USD1.1 million pre-Series A round  and land several key corporate partnerships as a result of prolonged work from home measures across the world. On the other hand, a few travel and hospitality related startups saw  demand for their services get impacted as a result of COVID-19 and had to rethink their expansion strategy to shift focus to extension of their runway. 

Accelerators are a core part of the startup ecosystem. We look at the the accelerators that matter in Southeast Asia.

As a result of this, we had to adapt our programmes. While we continued to offer curriculum, content and mentorship focused on market expansion, we expanded the programme breadth to help startups impacted by COVID-19 in areas such as expense and cash flow management, alternative financing options, and how to maintain productivity in remote work settings. 

What was the initial reaction to the pandemic with regards to the accelerator and how did you manage the situation over the months? 

When we started the two programmes (Global Launch Singapore and Global Launch San Francisco), COVID-19 was still in its early stage. When it turned into a pandemic, we knew we had to prepare to move our programmes to a virtual format. We were able to quickly adapt to the changing circumstances.

The San Francisco cohort for the 500 Startups Global Launch

What are some of the changes that you are putting into place due to the travel restrictions and for safety issues?

The travel restrictions and lockdown were tough for our startups. For both programmes, global travel restrictions and lockdown were implemented half way through. Most of our startups were already either in Singapore or San Francisco participating in Global Launch Singapore or Global Launch San Francisco in person; we had no choice but to move entire programmes to completely virtual. As a result, the startups decided to return to their home countries and attended the remainder of the programmes remotely.

How was your cohort able to deal with the changes?

It was initially challenging but all our startups managed to deal with the change to remote programming well. It just took some time to adjust. The most painful thing was having to adjust to different time zones while dialing into virtual workshops. Our cohort consisted of startups globally (US, Europe and rest of Asia)! 

Furthermore, many of the Global Launch startups have operations across different countries. When lockdowns were announced, some of the Global Launch startups found it challenging to implement remote-based working. I am happy to say that we were able to help these startups through this challenging period by offering our support and resources.     

Do you see the entire accelerator experience being completely different for the foreseeable future? What sort of changes do you foresee and if not, why?

I think that generally people got used to the new norm of virtual meetings. However, I do believe that as the world emerges from lockdown, there could be another new format of accelerator programmes – a hybrid format comprising flexible, asynchronous virtual learning; synchronous virtual or in-person mentorship; and in-person collaborative and networking sessions. There is no denying that a big draw of accelerator programmes is the access to networks and the opportunity to form closer bonds with peers and mentors, in which case the in-person format is still considered the best conductor.