Singtel's challenge to start-ups: Solve our problems

Telco Singtel has a new approach to working with start-ups that involves highlighting the business challenges it faces and inviting entrepreneurs to find solutions.

This is the polar opposite of the traditional approach in which start-ups devise their own business ideas, then pitch them to investors like Singtel for funding.

"Entrepreneurs believe they have uncovered new problems and they have the solutions to them. But does the problem meet market needs?" said Mr Edgar Harding, chief executive of Innov8, Singtel's venture arm.

He told The Straits Times on Tuesday that the new Innov8 Connect programme seeks to ensure that new innovations meet market needs while also providing the telco with deeper insights and early access to emerging technologies.

Singtel's business units will provide the project briefs ranging from drone detection and management to improving telco network resources. "As the tech scout for Singtel, we want to find new solutions by tapping the start-up ecosystem for cutting edge innovation," added Mr Harding.

Innov8 Connect launched on Tuesday with 10 briefs on its website (

Start-ups anywhere in the world interested in joining the programme must submit proposals by Feb 14.

Selected start-ups will get $75,000(S$107,000) each to test and validate their ideas.

Successful solutions may be commercialised within the Singtel group, providing the start-ups access to the giant firm's customer base, which includes 575 million mobile customers across Asia, Australia and Africa.

They will also be able to to seek further funding from Innov8 and its global network of co-investors and partners.

Innov8 is looking at start-ups with solutions that can be quickly tested and validated within Singtel's business units.

Mr Harding said: "We're not looking at early start-ups who have ideas but which are untested. We're looking for business ideas that are closer to commercialisation."

Singtel provides a real business environment for start-ups to validate their solutions. If it finds the solutions suitable, it may consider rolling them out company-wide.

"The project briefs we've put up are challenges that Singtel faces or areas that we believe we can do better. We may have the solutions, but we are always looking for fresh approaches for business challenges," said Mr Harding.

Telcos across the world face similar challenges, he said, adding that the programme will give entrepreneurs new perspectives where "their solutions can be used not only with Singtel but other telcos".

Innov8 has invested in and partnered with many start-ups here and overseas to help them expand and introduce innovative technologies to the Singtel group.

This article was first published on January 14, 2016.
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