Outliers #009

Singapore: the Gateway to SEAsian innovation.

Singapore's 50 year ascent from a poor, barren island to one of the most innovative, successful countries on Earth. Rivalled only by Israel in terms of Unicorns per capita, we look into the startups coming out South East Asian through Singapore  and how they came to be.

Plus, an explainer of all movement in the macro world this week and a look into the impact of education on a population.

And of course, if you're enjoying this weekly read - please share our publication with your colleagues and friends: outliers.ten13.vc


The most interesting global Seed to Series A deals from outside the US this week:

  1. 4M Analytics - US$30m - Tel Aviv, Israel
    4M maps subterranean infrastructure to help engineers identify underground utilities on day one of a project.
  2. Immunefi - US$24m - Singapore
    Immunefi has built a web3 bug bounty and security services platform to help protect against the US$2b lost to hacks and scams in crypto so far this year.
  3. Vendease - US$20m - Lagos, Nigeria
    This YC-backed Nigerian company is connecting produce suppliers with restaurants and food businesses. Vendease buys produce in bulk and distributes orders within 24h.
  4. Elevatus - US$10.5m - Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
    Used by 150 businesses already, Elevatus provides video interviewing and recruitment software.
  5. Workist - €$9m - Berlin, Germany
    Workist automates the processing of business documents like invoices or orders and populates IT systems.

A VC's Insight

Singapore: the Gateway to SE Asian innovation.

Let’s take a step back in time and set the scene for perhaps the most impressive economic development of the last century. When Singapore gained its independence in 1965 it was a swampy city of 2 million people. GDP sat at US$500 per capita, in a comparable range to Mexico and South Africa. The economy primarily revolved around shipbuilding as unemployment hovered just below 10%.

Today, Singapore is one of the 10 richest countries on Earth, on a per capita basis. They have minted 20 unicorns, a figure only Israel can compete with on a per capita basis. Sure, cities like Dubai had similarly explosive growth stories but the UAE had an obvious edge with natural resources. Singapore had little space on resourceless land with a tiny population.

Source: CityGlobe Tour

As mentioned, Singapore is home to over 20 unicorns already. The top 10 by funds raised are listed below. Trax is building data tools for retail, Coda facilitates payments in gaming, Ninja Van runs a last mile logistics company across 6 countries in the region. For a country of 5 million, the progress so far, in an industry which is essentially a decade old, is impressive.

Not included in the list are Grab and Sea. Grab has already gone on to list on the Nasdaq. Grab has succeeded in building one of South East Asia's superapp. Grab offers ride-hailing, deliveries and financial services within one platform. 34% of their 32 million monthly users engage in all 3 offerings. Similarly, Sea operates a super-app in the e-commerce, entertainment and payments space and has also listed in the US. In Q2 they generated US$2.9b in revenue across 600m quarterly active users.

A common thread between the companies is that they serve more than just Singapore. They are South East Asian solutions. Why was Singapore home to these companies who serve a whole region? One way is by becoming the portal for investment into South East Asian innovation.

The promise of countries like the Philippines, Indonesia, Cambodia and neighbours is being delivered on as startups serve their young, digitally connected and increasingly wealthy populations. Companies serving the region are being founded in Singapore. This is in part due to the ease of doing business. Singapore consistently ranks amongst the easiest countries to do business in the world. While New Zealand routinely takes #1 spot, Singapore isn’t so far behind.

Moreover, education plays a large role. Singapore is home to the top universities in the region. QS ranks the National Singapore and Nanyang Technological University as the first and third best Asian universities, respectively. 80% of Singapore's population between the ages of 25 and 34 hold a degree, the highest of any country in the world. While a degree isn’t essential to founding a company, engineers and business people tend to congregate and connect at schools. Singapore’s engineering talent is second to none in the region.

The government has also been supportive of innovation on a grass roots level. Every 5 years Singapore ups their investment in local R&D. From manufacturing to the digital world, Singapore spends an increasing amount helping build a powerful, self perpetuating cycle of innovation and growth.

Interestingly, Israel spends more on R&D as a percentage of GDP than any country on earth and it's paying off. For those new to Outliers, An Vo wrote a similar piece on Israel a few weeks ago, looking at how the country, which has a similar number of $1b startups per capita has developed such a rich startup ecosystem.

Macro lens

It’s incredibly encouraging to see literacy rates around the world on a steep incline. Essentially every country has seen continued growth in reading and writing rates year over year for decades. Of course, education rates are favourable for more than just economic reasons, but let’s use the above as a segue into how impactful an educated population has on an economy. Naturally, only a literate population is able to go on to further study and develop more advanced economies.

A study from the OECD found that 60% of GDP in the UK, Finland, Norway and Switzerland was contributed to by those with a tertiary qualification, despite a far lower proportion of the working population holding a degree. Furthermore, the universally quoted figure is that every additional year a student spends in school adds 10% to their future annual income.


In a former life, @MacroAlf used to run a $20b macro portfolio for a major bank. In the present, Alf distills macroeconomics for the masses. His Twitter has over 250k followers while his blog on Substack is read by 68k people. This week’s piece is centred around the rapid changes in the macro-world outside the US. Japan is trying to stabilise the Yen while the British Pound falls to lows. Alf looks into why and if it matters.

While this specific Tweet is interesting, follow Alf for more incredible, global markets content. Often what we see in the economic world will eventually find its way into the startup world, this is one way to stay a step ahead.

Your author this week

Alex Barrat - New to the VC world, joining the TEN13 deal team, Alex spent his early career at VC-funded scale up Stake. As one of the first ten hires, he left the team of 130 almost 5 years later. All pitches welcome. Submit your deck here.