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Meet the folks from Singapore’s Silicon Valley

With men in their early 20s dressed in T-shirts and bermudas, a pet dog strutting through the grounds, drawing “oohs” and “ahhs" from more casually dressed people hanging out at the corridors with their laptops and smartphones, JTC LaunchPad @ one-north feels more like a college dormitory than an office space.

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But here is Singapore’s answer to Silicon Valley. Housed across three non-descript industrial buildings are some 700 startups, incubators, accelerators, and venture capitalists that have their own definition of “corporate image”. Since 2011, the “world’s most tightly packed entrepreneurial ecosystem” (according to The Economist) has grown in this space at one-north, and it has even spawned a similar model in San Francisco, the original mecca for startups.

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We recently checked in with four startups at Block 71—the building that started it all—to find out what makes “71”, as they affectionately call it, their place for entrepreneurship in Singapore.

 
TWare creates jackets for people with autism who may be unable to feel their body in respective to the space they are in due to a sensory disorder. Their TJackets are based on the concept of deep pressure therapy, and they “hug” the wearers to give them a sense of place and thus comfort. Last year, the company partnered Uniqlo to subsidise these jackets for a group of children with autism. TJacket is now distributed in Belgium, Norway, and Japan, and is also available online. The company is also working to “bring comfort to travellers” with their upcoming Powernapp product. 

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They love 71 because… “We get to meet fellow startups, to talk about what we do and the problems we have. We face similar issues, like finding good interns, so our neighbours will tell us which schools produce the best interns and even give us the contact of the person to look for,” says Lin Wei Liang, co-founder and CEO of TWare. “Time is also very important for startups like ours that lack manpower, so the fact that the accelerators and the VCs (venture capitalists) are in the block just makes setting meetings and getting ourselves there more efficient.”

Their favourite hangout in 71 is… “Timbre+. I work there in the morning when it’s quiet. I have an open office and we communicate a lot. But sometime I need to focus and the lack of personal space in the office can be quite disruptive.”

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99.co is a property listing portal that also takes the pain to explain the five phases of primary school registration on its website so as to cater to parents in Singapore who would buy a property nearer a good school to increase their child’s enrolment chances. Addressing common Singaporean queries about property (Does the opening of an MRT station affects a neighbourhood’s property transaction prices? The answer is no) and offering a user-friendly interface to search for properties based on proximity to MRT stations (both present and upcoming ones), yoga studios, and supermarkets, is what 99.co believes gives it the edge to overtake its competitors eventually.

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They love 71 because… “It’s a startup area, so the atmosphere is open, people interact, they come by and knock on your door,” says Cornor McLaughlin, co-founder of the property site. “We talk to many people, for example, Carousell on the fifth floor. We worked with other neighbours, like Script and Beam Space, who helped us with our content. With bigger companies you probably have to set up meetings, but here it is fluid.”

Their favourite hangout in 71 is… “The Meeting Point. There are meeting rooms that you can use but people also go there to have lunch, to do work, so you’ll meet other tenants too,” says Adam Rahman, content marketing manager of 99.co.

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Paperplane is not a company you would expect amidst the tech startups in 71 but the creative studio specialising in visual storytelling is like a translator for the startups, who may know their product inside out but often fumble in articulating them effectively, especially to the investors. Paperplane has designed for its neighbours several narratives for pitches, one of which is said to have changed the latter from a $4 million to $40 million business. Paperplane also counts corporations like Unilever and German software solutions company SAP as its clients, and also self-publishes graphic novels and creates art installations, including for the recent one-north Festival and Sing Lit Festival.

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They love 71 because… “This whole Launchpad feels like campus and there are a lot of communal spaces like Timbre+, the football field, and the basketball court. There is also the sense that we are all startups, so there’s a shared spirit – which is very different from the anonymity that you get in a big office building,” says founder Chrissy Lim.

Their favourite hangout in 71 is… “The bar. Because I’m ex-advertising, having a drink at the end of the day is really important. And I like having conversation in a less formal environment. It’s more organic to brainstorm stuff and talk about ideas in an informal setting where you don’t feel the pressure to say something clever.”

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Daylight Studios makes the best potatoes according to players of its PC simulation game Holy Potatoes! A Weapon Shop?!. The game sees potatoes illustrated like pop culture characters such as Kenny from South Park and Lara Croft from Tomb Raider make all sorts of weapons for sale—a hilarious premise that successfully attracted many casual players to such strategy games. The popularity of Holy Potatoes!, which became the most popular choice on gaming platform Steam, helped convinced German games publisher, Daedalic, to sign a deal with Daylight Studios to produce their upcoming sequel Holy Potatoes! We’re in Space?!. The link-up was thanks to an introduction pitch organised by Games Solution Centre—also located at 71.

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They love 71 because… “The venture capitalists are based in 71. Because we are here we have access to them very quick. If you meet an investor in the elevator you can talk to them about your game, or about your company. One of our VCs is just upstairs,” says Ivan Moltini, a public relations manager. 

Their favourite hangout in 71 is… “Timbre+ is obviously amazing for its food and live music. Before, we had to walk across the road to Fusion (Fusionopolis). We used to eat together but it was just too far and people got lazy. So we split up. Because of Timbre+ we can all just chill out for a while downstairs,” says Faizan Abid, a producer and project manager.

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