Temasek Review 2021


Paying it Forward: Mentoring for Resilience

The steady hand of a mentor can shape a good idea, scale a promising enterprise, or grow impactful ventures. By investing in the young, we're building the future.

It is 1am when Mark Lim's phone beeps.

On the other end, a group of five students is hard at work on a vending machine that will dispense reusable face masks to the Singapore public. Their challenge — to create a software code that can verify a person's identity through his or her NRIC, and dispense the right number of masks to the right individual while ensuring all data remains encrypted.

They have an idea but need to know if the code will work, and Lim, Temasek's Managing Director of Digital Technology, is their sounding board.

“We're good at thinking outside the box and coming up with new ideas, but what we lacked was the broad industry experience to test these ideas against,” says Terence Tan, Co-founder of Beep Technologies, a technology start-up founded by a group of friends from the Singapore University of Technology and Design and National University of Singapore.

That's where Temasek could help.

“Young people have innovative ideas that can have massive impact on their countries and communities. By creating the right environment, providing the resources, and nurturing confidence, we allow these ideas to take shape and reach their full potential,” says Lim.

It is this approach that underpins Temasek's commitment to nurturing young entrepreneurial talents, including through agrifood, technology and sustainability initiatives like Food Loss Challenge Asia, the HyperX sustainability hackathon, and the Singapore International Foundation's Young Social Entrepreneur (YSE) programme.

Young people have innovative ideas that can have massive impact on their countries and communities. By creating the right environment, providing the resources, and nurturing confidence, we allow these ideas to take shape and reach their full potential.

Mark Lim
Managing Director, Digital Technology
We are also enabling our communities to forge resilience through initiatives like Temasek Trust's oscar@sg fund. Learn about Exoddess and Eve's story.

Safe, Seamless, and Secure Mask Collection

With the urgent need to get masks to people, Temasek Foundation had landed on the idea of using vending machines for its StayMasked initiative. But the software that would allow the machines to verify the identity of the recipient needed to be designed.

Impressed by the innovative cashless payment solutions Beep Technologies had created for its stable of vending machines, manufacturing company Warburg suggested that the three-year-old start-up may be up to the task.

For Beep, both the opportunity and challenge were massive. Temasek Foundation's reusable mask distribution initiative would involve four rounds of nationwide distribution between June 2020 and March 2021, 1,200 machines at over 800 locations, and a host of practical and security considerations.

“We were dealing with large volumes of masks, and the machines needed to work 24/7 without crashing or getting stuck,” says Tan.

And so, in May last year, Tan and his team found themselves at Warburg's Changi warehouse, in a brainstorming session with Lim. They instantly connected over a desire to make a difference and a shared love for software, Lim impressing them with his knowledge of Agile software development, cloud technologies and cybersecurity.

What followed were days and nights of designing and refining the software.

Terence demonstrating vendo machine
Terence demonstrating to Mark how the vending machine would work

Lim's conversance with government-grade security Application Programming Interface helped the team access the resources required to design for the highest levels of data security. They also tapped the technical expertise that Temasek's Digital Technology team readily provided, creating solutions that would allow for remote troubleshooting and cloud-based CCTV to prevent theft.

“Having access to Mark's — and Temasek's — experience and expertise taught us to work fast and at scale, and meet extremely stringent requirements under enormous time pressure. Those were big jumps for us as a company,” says Tan. “I also value the friendships we forged with Temasek and its partners — that's what made this a success.”

To date, Beep's software solution has helped place some 26 million masks into the hands of Singapore residents.

These ad hoc mentorships complement more formal ones Temasek staff have been involved in, like the Singapore International Foundation's Young Social Entrepreneurs (YSE) programme, which Siddharth Pisharody has participated in as a mentor for several years now.

A Growing Experience for Both Mentor and Mentee

Pisharody is no stranger to the impact a mentor can have. Without his own mentors, who steered him into corporate finance while he was at university, he might still be — unhappily — practicing engineering today.

Instead, the 35-year-old father of one is a Director of Investment at Temasek, and a business mentor himself.

“As a mentor, I have the opportunity to use my skills to nurture young entrepreneurs who are making an impact on people and communities. At Temasek, this opportunity is amplified — we help promising start-ups accelerate their growth,” he says.

It was in this role that he found himself last August, steering Indonesian start-up Neurafarm, which had made the shortlist of the competitive YSE programme.

The annual programme gives promising start-ups a chance to win grant funding, which they can use to scale their business or get innovative ideas off the ground. From a starting block of about 350 international applicants, 15 get to work with business mentors from Temasek or global management consultancy McKinsey, as well as a mentor from a related industry for six months.

Neurafarm was looking to deploy AI and Machine Learning to help Indonesia's farmers, who routinely lose up to 40 per cent of their crop to pests and disease each year.

The Neurafarm team in the fields of a farmer they helped. (Left: Febi, Right: Lintang) The team is on a mission to aid farmers to reduce commodity failure.

While still studying at the Bandung Institute of Technology, CEO Febi Ifdillah and Chief of Agriculture, Lintang Pratiwi, created AI-powered farming assistant Dokter Tania. Farmers could upload a picture, have the problem identified, and get help from agricultural experts to treat it. Eventually, the data captured would form a database of disease insights.

When Pisharody was introduced to Neurafarm last year, the three-year-old start-up's pilot projects in Cimenyan and Lembang had helped decrease failure of three commodities by up to 49 per cent.

But the business had reached a critical point — there was a need to scale up and find a business model that would allow Dokter Tania to benefit the larger farming community.

“They had a powerful product that had the potential to become a larger ecosystem that could benefit farmers across Indonesia,” Pisharody says.

“Knowing what later-stage companies do well, including how they present themselves to investors, meant we were in a good position to share best practices that Neurafarm could adopt,” he adds. “Many of the answers were not the kind you could find in textbooks.”

With COVID-19, all mentoring encounters were virtual. There were formal monthly calls and scores more messages and emails in between, remembers Febi.

Saddirth giving pointers
Siddharth giving pointers to the Neurafarm team during a virtual mentoring session

“We also started with too many goals. Siddharth reminded us that while we needed to keep the big picture in mind, we also needed to focus on the biggest problems we wanted to solve,” he recalls.

By the time Neurafarm made it to the YSE finals, it had grown its user base from 5,000 to 12,000 and more than halved the cost of user acquisition. Being one of the programme’s eventual winners was the icing on the cake.

“The guidance we got made the biggest difference,” says Febi.

Knowing what later-stage companies do well, including how they present themselves to investors, meant we were in a good position to share best practices that Neurafarm could adopt.

Siddharth Pisharody
Director, Investment

But Neurafarm wasn’t the only winner.

“We get to see what it takes to succeed with earlier-stage businesses, and are exposed to all the innovation taking place,” says Pisharody.

“I walk away from our meetings energised. For many of these start-up founders, this is their first job out of college, and they aren’t chasing a pay-cheque but changing the world. I really respect them for that, and if we at Temasek can contribute to their growth and development, it’s very satisfying.”

Our staff are driven by purpose, and are guided by our Charter and MERITT values. Learn about the Temasek Heartbeat.

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