DMR News

Advancing Digital Conversations

Founder of Antler Discusses Its Commitment to Vertical AI in Southeast Asia

ByYasmeeta Oon

Feb 24, 2024

Founder of Antler Discusses Its Commitment to Vertical AI in Southeast Asia

In an era where technology is rapidly transforming every aspect of business, Southeast Asia is emerging as a fertile ground for vertical AI startups, focusing on solving industry-specific challenges from finance to seafood. The region’s burgeoning tech ecosystem has attracted attention from global investors, including the Singapore-based venture capital firm Antler. With a strategic move, Antler recently invested a total of $5.1 million in pre-seed deals across 37 startups. This significant bet underscores a growing confidence in the potential of vertical AI to address unique market needs and operational pain points in various sectors.

Strategic Investments and Partnerships

Antler’s investment spree included a notable partnership with Khazanah, Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund, which directly invested in seven of these promising startups. This collaboration highlights the broader interest in vertical AI solutions that cater to specific industry needs, offering a tailored approach to innovation and problem-solving.

Jussi Salovaara, Antler’s co-founder and managing partner, shared insights with TechCrunch on the strategic direction of these investments. “In a world where horizontal AI is becoming increasingly competitive, we see immense value in focusing on practical problems within specific industries,” Salovaara remarked. This approach is not only pragmatic but essential, given the competitive landscape and the unique challenges faced by businesses in Southeast Asia.

Tailored Solutions for Diverse Industries

The rationale behind Antler’s focused investment strategy lies in the recognition of Southeast Asia’s diverse economic landscape. Unlike the talent-rich environments that have birthed giants like OpenAI, Southeast Asia’s strength lies in its ability to adopt a customer-first approach, creating AI applications that address sector-specific pain points. This localized and focused strategy enables startups to offer solutions that are not only innovative but also deeply integrated into the fabric of the industries they serve.

Emerging Trends Across Countries

Vertical AI’s rise in Southeast Asia is not uniform but characterized by varying trends across different countries. For instance, Vietnam’s rich pool of technical talent has led to a distinction between consumer and B2B startups, with the latter often adopting a global outlook from the outset. In contrast, Indonesian startups, buoyed by a vast domestic market, have historically shown less inclination towards international expansion. However, Antler is optimistic about encouraging more Indonesian startups to venture beyond their borders.

Highlighted Startups and Innovations

Among the startups receiving Antler’s backing, BorderDollar and CapGo stand out for their innovative approaches to solving regional challenges. BorderDollar is revolutionizing cross-border logistics with an invoice financing platform, leveraging unique training data to build a credit scoring system suited to Southeast Asia’s financial landscape. CapGo, on the other hand, is automating data acquisition for market research, a critical pain point for businesses seeking to understand market dynamics more efficiently.

Table: Selected Startups in Antler’s Portfolio

StartupIndustryInnovation Focus
BorderDollarCross-border logisticsInvoice financing platform with a custom credit scoring
CapGoMarket researchAutomated data acquisition for efficient market analysis
SeafoodySeafood supply chainAI-driven elimination of middlemen for direct business sales
ZoloFood supply chainSimplifying order management with AI
CoexConstructionDigitizing project claims and bills for operational efficiency

Addressing Sector-specific Challenges

The food supply chain is another area where Antler’s investments are making significant impacts. Startups like Seafoody and Zolo are leveraging AI to streamline operations and reduce inefficiencies. Seafoody, for instance, aims to disrupt the seafood supply chain by eliminating middlemen, facilitating direct sales to businesses. Similarly, Zolo focuses on shortening the order management process, a move away from the cumbersome traditional methods prevalent in the industry.

Moreover, the construction industry, known for its reliance on analog processes, is experiencing a wave of digital transformation thanks to startups like Coex. By digitizing project claims and bills of quantity, Coex is enhancing operational efficiency and optimizing capital use in one of the most traditionally managed sectors.

Building Competitive Moats with Vertical AI

Salovaara emphasizes the unique advantage of vertical AI startups: their ability to build deep competitive moats. By focusing on specific industries and leveraging tailored data, these startups are not only solving real-world problems but also establishing themselves as indispensable partners to the businesses they serve. This approach contrasts with the broader challenges of competing in the horizontal AI space, where resources and talent often dictate the pace and scale of innovation.

Key Takeaways:

  • Southeast Asia’s vertical AI startups are addressing unique industry challenges, from logistics to construction.
  • Antler’s strategic investments signal a strong belief in the potential of these startups to transform their respective sectors.
  • The diversity of innovation across countries highlights the region’s adaptability and the targeted approach of these new ventures.
  • Success in vertical AI requires a deep understanding of the industry, a robust technical foundation, and the right data for AI training.

As Southeast Asia continues to evolve as a hub for technological innovation, the rise of vertical AI startups represents a promising frontier. These companies are not just developing new technologies; they are reshaping industries, offering more efficient, tailored solutions that promise to redefine the competitive landscape in the region and beyond.

Related News:

Featured Image courtesy of DALL-E by ChatGPT

Yasmeeta Oon

Just a girl trying to break into the world of journalism, constantly on the hunt for the next big story to share.