Antler’s founder on its vertical AI wager in Southeast Asia


A rising roster of vertical AI startups is rising in Southeast Asia to serve sectors starting from seafood to finance. Singapore-based enterprise capital agency Antler lately made a wager on 37 of them, investing $5.1 million in whole for pre-seed offers. This included a strategic partnership with Khazanah, Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund, which invested into seven startups.

“Should you have a look at the remainder of the world, there’s a lot of horizontal AI and it’s turning into insanely aggressive,” Antler co-founder and managing associate Jussi Salovaara tells Information World. “What founders are more and more trying to clear up on this a part of the world are sensible issues in several industries.”

He provides that though Southeast Asia doesn’t have the expertise pool to construct one thing like OpenAI but, they will take a customer-first method to AI apps, fixing ache factors distinctive to completely different sectors and markets.

Inside verticalized AI, completely different tendencies are rising in every nation. For instance, Vietnam has a big pool of technical expertise. Founders there who’re engaged on a client startup normally focus extra on the home market at first, however B2B startups are extra globally-oriented from the start, Salovaara says. However, Indonesian startups have a tendency to not goal worldwide growth as a result of their home market is so massive, however Antler hopes to see extra of them increase internationally.

Considered one of Antler’s investments is BorderDollar, which is constructing an bill financing platform for cross border logistics. Since funding constructions are completely different in Southeast Asia than the remainder of the world, BorderDollar used their very own coaching knowledge to construct a credit score scoring system.

“You possibly can’t actually take one thing from the West after which simply plug it in right here and use that,” says Salovaara.

One other member of Antler’s portfolio is CapGo, which Antler backed largely due to the founders’ backgrounds: CTO Chen Yu labored on machine studying at Seize and CEO Yichen Guo earned a Harvard MBA and labored at Citi, Almanac and VIPKid as a product supervisor. CapGo automates knowledge acquisition for market analysis, a ache level Salovaara is accustomed to as a result of he used to work at an funding financial institution.

“It’s tremendous unclear why you’d throw infinite quantities of human hours into researching a market when AI can achieve this rather more successfully and effectively,” he says, including that CapGo’s aggressive moat is its capability to construct knowledge sources which can be tailor-made first for Southeast Asia. It plans to increase into the remainder of the Asia Pacific area.

Each Zolo and Seafoody have been created to unravel issues in Southeast Asia’s meals provide chain infrastructure. Based mostly in Malaysai, Seafoody was based by Eleen Kee, Samantha Ooi and Zach Leong. Kee, its CEO, comes from a household that has labored within the seafood trade for a number of generations. Seafoody is concentrated on utilizing AI to get rid of middlemen within the seafood provide chain and promote on to companies. Zolo, in the meantime, can be simplifying the meals provide chain through the use of AI to shorten the order administration course of, which normally entails lots of back-and-forth between suppliers and eating places on WhatsApp.

One other startup Salovaara highlights is Malaysia-based Coex. It makes use of AI to digitize undertaking claims and payments of amount, so approvals, communication and getting ready supplies can all be carried out extra rapidly. “Building is clearly one of the crucial analog and old style industries, so that is largely a play to optimize capital effectivity and operational effectivity,” says Salovaara.

Constructing a vertical AI startup comes with its personal challenges. For instance, the correct group must be put collectively and embrace not solely a technical founder with the correct experience, but additionally somebody who understands the trade they’re concentrating on very properly. In addition they want the correct knowledge for coaching. However as soon as a vertical AI startup comes collectively, Salovaara says they will construct a really deep aggressive moat.

“If you wish to increase funding for a quote unquote ‘hardcore’ horizontal AI out of Southeast Asia, it could be difficult, particularly to enter right into a race with an organization primarily based in Silicon Valley,” he provides. “Making an attempt to compete with a spot that has extra expertise or a greater funding infrastructure on this house, particularly on the later stage, remains to be fairly troublesome. So these vertical performs are the best way to go.”


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