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Trendlines eyes agritech startups in Singapore


AFTER making headway into the agritech scene in Israel, having amassed 21 companies in its portfolio, Catalist-listed startup incubator Trendlines is now shifting its focus to Singapore, said its chief executive officer Steve Rhodes.

The company is actively exploring the possibility of opening an agritech incubator in Singapore, Mr Rhodes told The Business Times on the sidelines of an investor presentation on Monday.

"We opened the medtech incubator in 2017 and we are looking to do something similar in the agrifood space. We've discovered a lot of interest in the space," said Mr Rhodes.

"We're meeting with a lot of potential investors and we think that Singapore can be a centre for agritech and agrifood innovation in the Asia-Pacific, not only for local companies but also for attracting foreign startups," he added.

Asked what kind of role the company will play in growing these startups in Singapore, Mr Rhodes replied that if the startup is a local one, Trendlines will provide direct investment and professional services such as business development, marketing and communications, and investment banking.

"If you're a foreign startup reaching the commercialisation stage, we can help you hire local staff, recruit distributors throughout the region and help develop a go-to market strategy."

As Trendlines is still in its early stages of focusing on agritech in Singapore, it has not yet decided how much investment it will set aside for the venture.

Mr Rhodes added that "for anything we do", the company will look for it to be cash-flow positive or cashflow-neutral.

As to which areas of focus are the most promising, Mr Rhodes said that anything related to indoor farming holds potential.

This is not necessarily confined to plants. Livestock such as fish or other protein sources bred indoors is also a possibility.

Another area for high growth for Singapore - not as a market, but as a development hub - is precision agriculture. "It draws a lot from the high-tech world, and in Israel we've seen a lot of crossover technologies, moving from the tech sector into agritech," explained Mr Rhodes.

There are currently over 800 agritech startups in Israel, according to Trendlines.

One of the company's recent investments in Israel include FruitSpec, which offers highly accurate projections of fruit yields based on hyperspectral machine vision technology. Trendlines invested US$1.4 million, which included cash, a government grant and in-kind investment.

Asked how the firm decides on which agritech startups to invest in, Mr Rhodes had a ready answer.

"In agritech, we always look at three factors: increasing crop yield, lowering costs, and lowering the environmental footprint - that is, sustainability."