First interview with SingTel's Innov8 VC fund

The SingTel Group  is now in the venture game with a US$150 million fund called Innov8. The fund was announced on Sept 22 at their annual partners’ confab, i.luminate. SingTel Innov8 is the talk of the tech scene, with startups and investors alike speculating about the fund’s mandate.

By Wong Joon Ian

Here’s the first interview with SingTel Innov8 since it was announced. We spoke to Edgar Hardless, the fund’s managing director, on the sidelines of another SingTel conference, Accelerate 2010 (which we helped organise). Hardless tells us what the fund is looking for and exactly how the fund will interact with the rest of the giant SingTel Group.

What is SingTel Innov8’s mandate in a nutshell?

I guess the way to — maybe in a nutshell, is that we want to turn Singapore into the hotspot for innovation. For us it’s not just about investing in companies but it’s developing the ecosystem that supports startups and developers. Because from our perspective, there are a lot of people out there with money but what is lacking in this region today is the support infrastructure for startups. We hope that through this fund and through what we’re trying to do, that we will be able to actually contribute to that ecosystem, so that (from) an idea all the way to market, there is a part of SingTel that will be there to support these companies all the way through.

The SingTel Group is a huge company. How will the fund pull the levers internally to get people working together?

Obviously SingTel Innov8 is just part of the group as you say. We have other parts of the innovation teams who are going to be there working with ourselves. There’s another group in SingTel called SingTel Group Innovations and essentially they are the gateway into the group for us.

We are very much focused on being the kind of the recon party going out there understanding what’s new, the startups, and basically looking at the opportunities. When we find the right opportunities, it is our intent then to bring them back into the SingTel Group and then we’ll work with the internal units like SingTel Group Innovations, the SingTel Ideas Factory, the SingTel Innovation Exchange, to make sure the ideas and solutions are deployed across the rest of the SingTel Group.

Is the fund already set up? Is the money in the bank?

We are able to do deals as and when we come across them.

What stage are you at in terms of investments right now?

We have already started discussions with a number of companies. But not just companies, but also potential partners — as mentioned, collaboration on the ecosystem. So working with some of the (Singapore) government agencies and also other VCs and so forth, seeing how best we can contribute to the ecosystem.

What’s your background?

I’ve been with SingTel now just about 10 years. Prior to this role, I was the VP of strategic investments so i handled all the large scale M&A activity across the SingTel Group but going forward I’m going to be very focused on the innovation side, on SingTel Innov8. My background is pretty much all telco; before SingTel I was with British Telecom for seven years, [and] within British Telecom I was involved in some of the first startups and Internet companies in those very early days. [I] came out to Singapore 10 years ago and felt that Asia is absolutely ripe for growth and innovation in the digital space.

Is the rest of the team from the same track in terms of background?

We are obviously making sure we have different skills and expertise, so Yvonne Kwek, our CEO, is a very establisehd VC veteran, and has alot of experience in that area. Myself, I have M&A and telco experience. We continue to make sure that the people on the team have complementary skills and experience.

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