By : Min Chen
Startup of the Year: Tessa Therapeutics
Tessa Therapeutics is a clinical-stage biotech company that is working to revolutionize cancer treatment through innovative immunotherapy. The company’s core platform technology uses a type of immune cells called the Virus-Specific T cell, which have shown early efficacy in cancer treatment, and clinical trials are already being carried out in several leading institutions throughout the U.S.
Tessa Co-founder Dr. Malcolm Brenner is an internationally-renowned clinical scientist who began exploring the potential of this type of treatment over three decades ago at Baylor College of Medicine. He co-founded Tessa with Andrew Koo and Francis Chua, with the mission to introduce a portfolio of next-generation therapies that are accessible and give cancer patients a new lease of life.
Grassroots Innovator: Bank of Culture
Lighting up the sky with over 100,000 lanterns, the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival is a sight to behold and is deeply rooted in Taiwan’s history. Founded by Shao AiTing (pictured in the middle) in 2016, Bank of Culture is putting an eco-friendly twist on the tradition by creating lanterns that are made only of upcycled paper and peanut oil. They burn entirely in midair and could drastically reduce the potential harm on the environment and wildlife resulting from the hundreds of thousands of lanterns released at Pingxi and across Taiwan each year.
Product Pioneers: Origami Labs
Founded in 2015 by four MBA classmates (CEO Kevin Johan Wong, CMO Emile Chan, COO Marcus Leung-Shea, CTO Yan Shun Li) from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Origami Labs is a hardware company that aims to reinvent how we interact with wearable technology. The company’s first product, ORII, is a smart ring that uses bone conduction technology to allow users to make calls and activate voice assistants. Following ORII’s success, including closing a US$2.5 million round last year, the team is pioneering new tools for communication that are sure to surprise us.
Inspiring Youth Leaders: Valerie Pang
A recent graduate of Yale-NUS College, Valerie Pang was only 19 years old when she co-founded SDI Academy–a social enterprise that empowers migrants and refugees by equipping them with the tools to integrate into their new communities. The organization provides vocational, linguistic, and technological training to shift the narrative of immigrant groups away from social and professional isolation. SDI currently operates in four countries and has trained over 6,600 students.
Virtual Visionaries: Hiverlab
Founded by Shutao Jiang, Hiverlab is a virtual, augmented, and mixed reality production company that has worked with the likes of Samsung, Huawei, Alicloud, and Singtel. In addition to disrupting the tourism and communications industries, Hiverlab also strives to create social impact through storytelling and education. Encouraging the development of immersive technology and media, the team regularly conducts workshops in schools, companies, and other organizations to evangelize the medium and discuss the importance of social responsibility in technological development.
Gender Game Changers: Georgianna Carlos
Georgianna Carlos has differentiated herself as a true innovator with the establishment of her pet-care company Fetch! Naturals. Stumped by her pet’s persistent skin condition, which only worsened with chemical-laden mainstream cures, she decided to take matters into her own hands, and developed a line of sustainably-sourced products–now sold to over 30 locations in the Philippines. Her other venture is a shared workspace, MyOffice, which caters to over 500 members.
Startup BFF: Acceler8
Founded by Mikko Barranda, Carlo Coronel, Bryan Cuison and Albert Goh, Acceler8 by UnionSPACE is a co-working space and event platform located in Makati City. BlockchainSPACE is an event series that exemplifies Acceler8’s efforts to elevate the country’s rapidly expanding startup ecosystem. Together with SCI, it organized 36 BlockchainSPACE events in one year, serving as a launchpad for those who are interested in entering the industry or want to learn more about the technology.
Fast-track Accelerators: Accelerating Asia
Accelerating Asia believes that “entrepreneurs are one of humanity’s greatest catalysts for positive change.” Founded by Craig Dixon (left) and Amra Naidoo (right), the early-stage accelerator and seed fund aligns its investment thesis with six of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals established by the United Nations, including gender equality, decent work opportunities and economic growth, and innovation and infrastructure. The firm is the only independent startup accelerator program in Singapore and is known for its founder-friendly funding terms.
Co-working Space Champions: Eaton Workshop
Founded by filmmaker Katherine Lo, Eaton Workshop is a workspace and club for innovators, activists, progressive thinkers, and creatives. Eaton’s cultural and wellness programming focuses on creating a channel for socially-conscious leaders to share their ideas. Events include sunrise yoga, community meditation, and talks about thriving mindfully in the city. The club’s exploration of new-age practices geared towards the mind-body connection is a unique offering in Hong Kong, where such experiences are not often visible, opening doors to those who hope to explore a new side of themselves. –MC
Impact Investing Heroes: Endeavor Catalyst
Endeavor Catalyst is the co-investment vehicle of Endeavor, a non-profit organization that supports high-impact startups from around the globe. Led by Managing Director Allen Taylor, Endeavor Catalyst currently has more than $110 million under management, and has made 106 investments across 24 high-growth, emerging markets since 2012. By investing in startups from around the world, including Indonesia’s Bukalapak, Spain’s Cabify, and Colombia’s Rappi–which are all unicorns–the firm hopes to prove that innovation is global, and not just limited to Silicon Valley.