[A previous version of the article stated that SPECTRUM is an incubator; this is incorrect, it is actually a business club]
Last year, Taizo Son, the billionaire founder of JASDAQ-listed mobile gaming studio GungHo, was greeted with warm adulation when he announced his relocation to Singapore — bringing his ecosystem builder Mistletoe along with him.
He had told Bloomberg that he intends to invest US$100 million in Southeast Asia in the next five years.
Yesterday, Son unveiled the next move in his Southeast Asian campaign, with the official launch of Mistletoe’s office in SPECTRUM, a Singapore-based tech-focused business club co-founded by Golden Equator Capital and One Rochester co-founder Cheryl Lee last year.
SPECTRUM brings together seven groups of people: government agencies, talents, entrepreneurs, learning institutions, investors, advisory agencies (such as lawyers and PR firms), and ecosystem partners, who collectively offer mentorship, funding, networking opportunities, accreditated workshops, and other business help through its online platform and physical office.
Currently, SPECTRUM focuses on developing six sectors: healthcare, education, financial, food, housing and fashion. It is currently home to a joint Korea-Singapore healthcare incubator, which was set up between Golden Equator and Korean regulatory and clinical research provider C&R Healthcare Global (C&R),
Son said that Mistletoe Singapore will be the entity’s global headquarters, and he will use it as a springboard to reach other countries in the region, especially India and other emerging nations.
The philosophy of Mistletoe
“The traditional way of angel investment or starting a company itself is not good enough to solve the big issues in the world,” said Son, at SPECTRUM’s official launch press conference yesterday.
“We call ourselves a collective impact collective. It’s not just a company making money, but a committee to create a collective impact on the world, and empowering startups and innovators to create more sustainable human technology,” he added.
“Investment is not the primary approach … we will support them by giving them money but also we will introduce business network and we jointly develop their R&D and so on.”
Son has been instrumental in building Japan’s tech ecosystem for the past 25 years (though he left because of the country ’s regulatory hurdles and education system). He got his big break when his company GungHo released Puzzle & Dragons, the first mobile game to cross US$1 billion in revenue. In 2009, he set up startup accelerator s Movida Japan, and four years later, he established Mistletoe.
Within Southeast Asia, Mistletoe has already made significant investments in major tech companies, one of which is Sea, or then known as Garena. Son said the company has spent over US$160 million supporting startups in over 11 countries.
For him, discourses and the cross-pollination of ideas between key stakeholders are critical to building a healthy ecosystem and developing creative, out-of-the-box innovations. It is this philosophy that aligns Mistletoe with SPECTRUM’s core mission, which, according to co-founder Cheryl Lee, is about deepening community collaborations and connections.
And when he made the decision to locate Mistletoe’s global headquarters in Singapore, he decided it should be done via a local collaborative effort — to bring itself closer to the community.
“We decided to join with the community to build the SPECTRUM community to grow the network of innovators. .. I found that there are so many similarities and passions which we [Mistletoe and SPECTRUM] share,” said Son.
He added that Golden Equator’s expertise and networks will be vital towards its work.
Golden Equator, co-founded in 2012 by former Citibank director Shirley Crystal Chua, manages a group of businesses comprising of wealth and family offices around the region.
“We believe very much in tech and innovation and that’s why we started a tech innovation fund to invest in new technology. This is where the future going to be where Asia’s deep growth going to be. We have made 12 investments so far and we will continue to expand the portfolio,” said Chua.
“The romance between Mistletoe and Golden Equator happened because of some core values and beliefs. First, we want to be impactful for society, Second, we know that the ecosystem is difficult to build. We believe very strongly that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Together, with greater synergy, we can do a lot more things faster,” she added.
Singapore as a launchpad
Son cited Singapore’s strong branding as an international hub as the key reason for establishing Mistletoes’s global headquarters there. Besides being a bridge to access emerging markets in the region, as mentioned earlier, Singapore’s pool of talent is commendable, according to him.
“The people here are very global-minded; they speak good English. The industry here is full of passion and the government is very supportive, focused and very quick to decide,” he said.
Son said there are no plans to partner up with his older brother Masayoshi Son’s company, renowned tech conglomerate SoftBank. “It may happen if I find startups in the early stages, then SoftBank invests in them later. But it would not be a strategic move, just a coincidence,” he said.
SPECTRUM’s key differentiator
SPECTRUM’s value proposition is attractive but it is not unique. Many incubators and accelerators have popped up in the country over the years, spouting the same buzzwords.
However, the key differentiator here is Taizo Son and the wealth of experience and networks that he brings along with him; this would, in turn, mean that SPECTRUM’s community of startups would be better curated.
“I also have powerful and influential guests coming to Singapore. I can recommend them to conduct workshops here,” said Son. These guests, he said, are unlikely to attend many of the tech conferences in Singapore, but will show up at Son’s request.
Son also said that, through him, there would be chances of serendipitous encounters.
“I have experienced serendipity when I was young thanks to my brother and my mentors,” said Son.
“For example, Bill Gates visited my brother’s office, and coincidentally I was there because I was going to dinner in his guesthouse. And very coincidentally I encountered Bill Gates and my brother in front of the elevator. My brother introduced Bill Gates to me and invited me to dinner. I could then listen to many of Bill Gates’ ideas such as cloud, internet or the new Windows or something like that.”
Image Credit: SPECTRUM