This is part one of a series summarizing top stories and key events in Singapore's tech industries in 2018.
2018 was a dynamic year for tech in Singapore, during which the country experienced a roller coaster of tech news. We've taken some of the top news stories and figures of the year and compiled them for you, so you have a better sense of where the country's tech industry stands as we head into 2019.
Startups: the numbers
In 2018, the Singapore market saw a thinning of the startup scene as less new players came into the field and existing startups dug in their heels. Last year, 125 new Singapore-headquartered startups registered, according to Crunchbase. That was a drop from the 221 companies registered in 2017 and 253 registered in 2016.
Meanwhile, 54 startups exited last year, compared to 76 in 2017 and 65 in 2016. Key names from this year include ecommerce site Giosis Qoo10, oncology-centered Aslan Pharmaceuticals, and manufacturing management equipment provider Threadsol.
Significant rounds in and around Singapore included Grab's round H, which is currently disclosed to be a whopping US$4.07 billion.
314 Singapore startups were the lucky recipients of funding in 2018. Singapore regularly has the most funding in the Southeast Asia region - US$5.35 billion in 2017. In a report published by VC firm Monk's Hill Ventures and tech startup event Slush Singapore last year, Singapore startups had raised US$8.4 billion between 2013 and 2018.
However, numbers can be misleading. In a report preview released by Asia-focused tech media platform e27, deal sizes in Indonesia were larger on average than those in Singapore (mostly due to Indonesian unicorns Tokopedia and Go-Jek), though Singapore's startups did continue to top funding charts last year.
Significant rounds in and around Singapore included Grab's round H, which is currently disclosed to be a whopping US$4.07 billion. Go-Jek, gearing up for competition within the region, raised US$1.5 billion in February 2018, then another US$1.2 billion in a corporate round in October.
Singapore-based retail-focused AI and analytics startup Trax announced a US$125 million private equity round in June, for a total fund raise amount of US$286.7 million. Tech in Asia ranks Trax the seventh most-funded startup in Singapore.
There are currently over 3,400 active companies in Singapore at the time of publication.
In the face of the Singapore government taking more steps in 2018 to reduce the number of cars on the road, ride-sharing and bike-sharing startups rose to the challenge.
In April, longtime regional rivals Grab and Uber struck up a merger. For consumers, that meant an exit of the Uber app from the region entirely. Though local taxi companies like ComfortDelGro have their own apps, Indonesian ride-hailing giant Go-Jek began services in Singapore at the end of November, sparking more competition into the scene once again.
While in Indonesia, Go-Jek began as a ride-hailing app that worked primarily with motorbikes as its mode of transport (Go-Jek's company title comes from ojek, the name of a motorcycle taxi in Indonesia), it is sticking with cars in Singapore for now. Like Grab's on-demand food delivery service GrabFood and cashless mobile payments system GrabPay, Go-Jek offers a plethora of services in Indonesia, including but not limited to on-demand massages, manicures, and food delivery - all booked with one's mobile device.
The year of the bike (sharing)
Photo credit: Pixabay.
While interesting to see the way that Grab and Go-Jek will operate within the Singapore market together, a local may have noticed colorful bikes popping up around the island, especially around MRT stations. 2018 saw the bloom - and a bit of struggle - involving shared bikes. With a warm and sometimes very rainy tropical climate, bikes lacking the comfort of air-conditioning aren't Singapore residents' first choice for transportation, but they are cost-effective (a month long pass for Mobike can cost as little as S$5.99 if purchased on Qoo10, while a ride on an Ofo bike share costs S$0.50 to unlock, plus $0.50 for every subsequent 15 minutes). The ride can also take some of the heat (literally) off a long walk from the MRT to one's destination.
January 2018 saw five bike-sharing firms in Singapore. That number rose to eight, then dropped again. There are currently five left. GBikes, oBike, and BikeShareSG all pulled out.
There are currently five left.
The problem lies not only with the bikes themselves but also with the authorities like the LTA, or Land Transport Authority. Bike-sharing companies struggled to work with the Singapore government to regulate where users could park the bikes and how many bikes each company was allowed to have in the city-state.
Only by September had official licenses been granted for six companies - Mobike, Ofo, SG Bike, Anywheel, GrabCycle, and Qiqi Zhixiang. China-based rival companies Mobike and Ofo were allowed the most - 25,000 each - which was a drop in the bike numbers previously, which numbered in the hundred thousands.
2019: year of the escooters?
As the beginning of 2019 dawned, the government opened licensing applications for escooter companies, meaning that the battle over transport in Singapore is far from over.
Singapore: where blockchain came in winter
Cryptocurrency was a buzzword at the beginning of 2018, and blockchain, the technology that fuels it, continued to arise as a way of decentralizing - well, everything. Companies like cryptocurrency exchange Huobi raised billions of dollars in ICOs without a product. Venezuela's government-backed and top-funded Petro, which raised a reported US$5 billion, sparkled controversy, but that did not stop its release.
Where companies like Ocean Protocol came up with plans to decentralize data to keep it safer, hacks like the US$500 million breach at Coincheck and similar security issues raised eyebrows at how secure programmers could make their blockchain protocols.
While the attitude toward crypto was still enthusiastic at the beginning of 2018, the year also proved to be an indication of how quickly tides can change in tech. Take cryptomining giant Bitmain, which was riding tall at the beginning of 2018: US$2,400 per Bitmain Cash unit. By December, that had dropped to a low of US$72, meaning a lot of the company's own investments were losing - a lot.
Part of that has to do with cryptomining itself. Cryptomining is a process through which cryptocurrency transations are verified and updated on a blockchain. More simply, it's like a contest to break code. The first miner to break the code can authorize the transaction. In return, he or she earns a small amount of cryptocurrency. To help, the miner uses equipment sold by companies like Bitmain, which is still the most popular cryptomining company in the world.
Currently, Bitmain has retrenched nearly half its staff.
Mining is not as profitable - or popular - as it was at the beginning of the year. Currently, it is slated to take six years to break even - to earn back the cost of the mining equipment.
In addition, the general fall in cryptocurrency prices meant that it was not as great of an investment as before. In response, Bitmain retrenched the majority of Bitmain Cash staff - some of whom had been hired days before. Currently, Bitmain has retrenched nearly half its staff.
Other crypto or blockchain companies that have made significant layoffs - up to 70 percent - include ShapeShift, Ethereum project incubator ConSensys, decentralized publishing platform Steemit, Coinfloor, and Spankchain, which used its ICO to fund an adult entertainment platform.
In the bleak midwinter
Photo credit: Pixabay.
While that factor remains to be seen, nearly-equatorial Singapore did arise as a warmer place for vacationing - in more ways than one. As crypto entered a “crypto winter" in 2018 - a period fueled on by crypto players working on raising the price of a particular currency very high, then selling and leaving - China continued to tighten blockchain regulations. Less regulated in Singapore, Chinese companies turned to less-regulated Singapore to headquarter, operate, and hire.
Winter may have come as far as cryptocurrency is concerned, but 2019 will be an interesting year to see how blockchain companies, several which have come to call Singapore home, continue to carve their way into our lexicon and our lives.
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