Singapore’s emerging tech startup pipeline appears to be maturing to reach a ‘steady state’ with approximately 60 startups incorporated annually, but early-stage startups looking to fundraise this year may face especially challenging conditions, according to the Singapore Early-Stage Emerging Tech Startups 2022 landscape report.
Launched by SGInnovate, the report offers an overview of developments in the country’s emerging tech startup ecosystem, and focuses on startups applying physical sciences, life sciences and engineering to address market needs in the industry verticals of advanced manufacturing, Agrifood, sustainability, as well as health and biomedical sciences.
Adapting fundraising strategies to navigate challenging investment environments
More startups are focusing on raising immediate funding rounds to extend development runways and minimise the impact of uncertain valuations, with the early-stage fundraising environment expected to continue to be challenging as public market volatility introduces greater uncertainty to private markets. In 2022, 20 early-stage emerging tech startups raised Seed+/Pre-A or A+ funding rounds, more than double the number that did so in 2021 (9).
At the same time, the total number of funding deals completed by emerging tech startups fell by 17 percent between 2021 (58) and 2022 (48), while fundraising amounts have decreased by 28 percent on average across all verticals and funding stages.
“While the venture capital scene in Singapore continues to be very active, early-stage emerging tech startups here should also tap on other strengths of the local ecosystem, such as the availability of alternative funding mechanisms and openness to corporate innovation for co-development,” said Hsien-Hui Tong, Executive Director – Investments, SGInnovate. “Besides extending their runway to focus on product development, this also allows startups to minimise the impact on their valuations until the macroeconomic environment improves.”
Startups in their initial stages of development were also impacted by uncertain economic conditions, with average seed round sizes shrinking across the sustainability, Agrifood and advanced manufacturing verticals, potentially reflecting declining valuations spilling over from public markets.
However, investor activity across the verticals examined in 2022 varied considerably. Within the advanced manufacturing vertical, average seed round sizes decreased from US$1.5 million in 2021 to US$0.6 million in 2022, even as the number of funding events in the sector declined. This may reflect a shift in investors’ interests to other verticals, and a general slowdown in the manufacturing industry.
In contrast, average seed round sizes in the health and biomedical sector more than doubled, even though fewer startups in this vertical were incorporated. This could indicate that startups in this sector are facing challenges beyond fundraising, including perennial talent gaps highlighted recently by SGInnovate. These factors may result in a ‘winner-raise-all’ scenario where a small number of startups raise larger rounds to capture limited resources.
A maturing emerging tech startup ecosystem
In spite of growing economic uncertainty across the globe, Singapore’s emerging tech startup ecosystem is expected to produce a steady pipeline of startups. The number of emerging tech startups founded in Singapore peaked at 93 in 2019, before slowing in 2020, likely in part due to economic uncertainties and social restrictions implemented to limit the spread of COVID-19. 35 emerging tech startup incorporations were noted in 2022, but based on ecosystem trends, the final number is expected to be approximately 60, taking into account new emerging tech startups that have yet to exit stealth mode.
This echoes a similar pattern that was observed in the 2021 edition of the report, which initially noted that there were 36 emerging tech startups incorporated last year. Based on new information available as more startups exit stealth mode, the tally for 2021 has since been updated to 63 this year.
Private sector organisations are also driving a greater proportion of the startup incorporation pipeline here through specialised venture programmes, collaboration with local and overseas universities, as well as vertical-focused accelerator and incubator programmes.
Green shoots in Singapore’s Agrifood sector
Of the four verticals examined in this report, the Agrifood sector accounted for the largest proportion of emerging tech companies incorporated in 2022 (14 of 35 tracked in total). Notably, the number of startups spun off from the National University of Singapore (NUS) has been growing in recent years, as the university continues to support research in areas of food technology. Building on this momentum, almost half (six out of 14) of all Agrifood emerging tech startups incorporated in 2022 were spun off from NUS.
Greater investor interest in this vertical may also be linked to government initiatives and priorities, such as Singapore’s ‘30 by 30’ food security goals, announced as part of the Singapore Green Plan 2030. In a sign of investor confidence and shifting consumer trends, Next Gen Foods, a plant-based alternative proteins startup, raised a US$100m Series A round in 2022, making up close to 40 percent of all funds raised by early-stage emerging tech startups last year.
“Companies leveraging emerging technology to solve difficult problems – in fields such as clean energy production and diversifying our food sources – are likely to continue seeing strong investor interest in 2023. As Singapore’s emerging tech startup ecosystem continues to mature, we look forward to supporting our homegrown startups in making a difference on a global scale,” said Tong.