As we approach the launch of Startupbootcamp FinTech Singapore’s first batch on May 5 — with the 10 final team announcements due next Monday — the programme’s Co-founder Markus Gnirck and mentor Victor Chow (formerly Huawei’s COO for its Cloud Business & Hosting Services) remind us of the importance of the mentor-startup relationship.
Gnirck recently shared with e27 which Asian city he sees as having the hottest FinTech startup ecosystem during his seven-week tour across 12 markets in the region. But now with the bulk of the pitching done and 300 FinTech startups applying to the programme (mostly Asia-based), it’s time to turn to the superstars in the background giving their support, time and knowledge: The mentors.
“We can do as much as we want as an accelerator, but it’s very important that we have a community around us to understand the FinTech industry and the problems of startups, and how to think like a startup. In London we had 300 mentors, in Singapore around 150 now, with various different backgrounds,” Gnirck told e27 in an interview today.
“We have [mentors] in four different categories: Inspirators (entrepreneurs who have done and want to give back to motivate startups), Investors (angels/VCs who want to do due diligence as a mentor), Experts (subject experts, i.e. from a bank they know payments or cash very well, and find startups they want to work with), and the last category is the connectors (very important; connected in their industry and community),” he added.
The soon-to-launch, three-month accelerator last week brought together 55 mentors to brainstorm ideas and come to agreements on what the top priorities would be. From this gathering, each were assigned to one of the four categories and asked to define their values — from which was born the ‘Mentor Manifesto’, a large canvas covered in signatures and handwritten bulletins that hangs on the wall at the accelerator’s BASH premises.
As one of the top European Accelerators coming to Asia, it was keen to re-invigorate the Mentor Manifesto that is also used by other organisations. The next stage for the Singapore edition of Startupbootcamp FinTech is to bring together the top 20 startups from the application process from Wednesday this week, where ten will be selected by Saturday.
“It’s been very inspirational to go to India, for example, and see what’s going on [there]. It’s very technology driven in India, less marketing and consumer driven. Then you to go Jakarta, Indonesia and it’s the opposite, very much consumer driven, less technology driven. Or you go to Japan and the first word you hear is regulations. You can see by these different buzzwords in the markets how FinTech startups are evolving, and actually how open banks are for innovation,” Gnirck said as an aside from the topic of mentors.
“I would say that Japan has to catch up very soon otherwise they will miss the whole trend. But then you go to Seoul and they have a FinTech forum with the government, a huge initiative, top-down trying to get FinTech on the agenda. It helps. Various [markets] have different trends,” he added.
The idea is for each of the 10 startups in the accelerator to have a ‘Mentor Advisory Board’ that sees three mentors working with them quite intensely during the 13-week programme. The accelerator’s ‘Entrepreneurs in Residence’ means that six mentors will be on hand at any given time for three to four days a week.
Victor Chow, with his expertise in the Big Data and cloud space as well as his previous startup ventures before that, will be one of them. Others will include the likes of Coder in Residence, UX/UI Designer in Residence, Investment Banker in Residence, and so on. The bulk of the 150 mentors will have looser commitments that see them coming face-to-face with the startups maybe once or twice a month.
“I don’t see in other locations in Asia people coming for mentor classes and doing this. It’s really because Singapore is ready for this and ready to connect and accelerator FinTech startups… The government helps to push the agenda, and brings on board [relevant bodies]. Secondly it helps to have all the headquarters of banks here. The key decision makers are here in Singapore and they can talk to startups, they can give feedback and can actually make integration happen,” Gnirck said.
“A local bank in some Indonesian island might not have the capacity, understanding or infrastructure to work with innovation. But these guys are getting there very soon… The ones to also watch right now [in FinTech] are London and New York, with some Bitcoin stuff happening in the Valley,” he added.
For Singapore to get the edge over these other startup hubs, it will need to keep pushing for smart angel investments and increasing expertise leaving banks to start FinTech ventures of their own. Part of what Startupbootcamp is bringing to the city-nation is more opportunities for those smart investments to be funnelled into the right places. The rewards will be enjoyed by the whole ecosystem.