Never mind that Microsoft didn't go to the party. The 2013 International CES, which closes Friday in Las Vegas, has again drawn thousands of exhibitors and 150,000 attendees from around the world. While I certainly clocked plenty of miles through the convention center handling gadgets, snapping photos, and tramping off to press conferences, the best time I spent this CES was in a hotel suite at The Venetian where I met a group of start-up founders from Singapore.
According to Mike Holt, founder and CEO of the Singapore incubator Get2Volume, each start-up is global and must be from Day One because the city-state itself is not a big market. As a result, any one of the companies might have a team in Australia, a market largely in China, software development in Singapore, and management in California.
Singapore offers unique advantages to tech start-ups--such as its position as a gateway to Asia as well as the government's strong economic development endeavors--both factors that help attract European and U.S. companies.
"Early-stage technology companies all say they need money, but I think in general they need capability much more than they need money," Holt says. "And so some of the programs that we've put in place in Singapore really address that," he says.
For instance, Get2Volume takes advantage of a program wherein the government helps start-ups hire talent by matching funds the incubator invests in its companies. Then with help and advice from people like Holt, the hope is that these start-ups take off.
"It's a combination of capability, connections, and capital," he says. "Those three pieces are really what enable start-up success."
I was impressed with several of the young companies Holt introduced me to at CES.
This indoor positioning system company is on a mission to create location-intelligent buildings that are aware of people's movements thanks to the Wi-Fi signal emitted by their mobile devices (assuming they have it turned on). Co-founder Melvin Yuan says YFind technology lets retailers send content to people carrying mobile devices in the vicinity as well as understand if they're repeat visitors or new ones.
Now working in partnership with YFind, Sprooki founder Michael Gethen says he's developed a platform to let retailers and shopping malls license the technology and develop their own branded apps that will send shoppers location-based offers, news, and other content. "If you like those offers or those events in some cases you can actually purchase them, so we combine location services with mobile shopping and mobile commerce," Gethen says.
This capsule speaker system may be little--it's smaller than a baseball--but it packs a major sound punch. Xmi senior marketing and communications manager Darrelle Eng hooked one up to an iPod shuffle and our breakfast meeting suddenly went from low-key to bumping. What's cool about the X-mini is you can expand it to intensify the bass. Eng says the company is laser focused on sound quality, which it achieves by using ceramic components as opposed to cheaper ones.
The chip design process involves complex simulations, regression testing, and adjustments based on timing requirements. Plunify can help engineers get these things done much faster and cheaper with advanced analysis and verification tools. Since launching a beta program in 2011, Plunify has more than 500 customers--half of which are based in Silicon Valley, a fact that founder Harnhua Ng says is helping the company sell its service globally. The company uses a SaaS-based business model wherein customers pay by the hour using pre-paid packages as well as have access to hardware on demand.
Will electronic menus be the wave of the future? TabSquare's Anshul Gupta is banking on it. The advantages are clear, he says: Customers can see photos of a dish before ordering it, as well as order and pay without having to wait for a server. Restaurants and hotels like it because not only does TabSquare help reduce wait staff, it also doesn't require any upfront investment--the hardware and software are rentable. CFO Anshul Gupta says TabSquare is much faster than home delivery service providers who take orders and then have to contact a restaurant separately. Restaurants that use TabSquare receive online orders directly in the kitchen.
Third Wave Power
Outdoorsy types and anyone who works in rural areas know it isn't always possible to find electricity to charge your devices. The mPowerpad is a solar charger that is about the size of half a ream of paper. In addition to being able to power up your gear, it also can act as a flash light, reading light, radio, and even an insect repellent that emits a series of ultrasonic frequencies. Third Wave Power was incubated by Small World Group, directed by San Francisco Bay area investor Frank Levinson.