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Trendlines to deepen presence in Singapore

THE Trendlines Group - the Israel-based, Catalist-listed startup incubator that invents, incubates and invests in medical and agricultural technologies (medtech, agtech) - is looking to significantly deepen its presence in Singapore this year.

For starters, the group will incubate up to four Singapore-based companies via Trendlines Medical Singapore (TMS), its first incubator outside of Israel. Established last year, TMS targets early-stage healthcare companies with a focus on Singapore and the Asia-Pacific.

In addition, Trendlines will seek to partner various local universities, research institutions and hospitals, to jointly develop innovative healthcare technologies for commercialisation in the region.

This follows the group's recently announced collaboration with the Singapore General Hospital via its in-house innovation unit, Trendlines Labs. The tie-up sees Trendlines Labs receiving a grant from the Singapore-Israel Research and Development Foundation for the development of and clinical trial for its Stress Urinary Incontinence (SUI) product.

Eric Yeo, chief executive officer of Trendlines Medical Singapore, tells The Business Times that this project will enable "a product that will improve the human condition to be further developed, tested and eventually be commercially available in the global markets".

He adds: "Such collaborations enable good leverage of mutual excellence and we certainly believe that the SUI project is just the first of such collaborations . . . and that there are opportunities to have similar collaborations with other institutions in Singapore."

TMS, which occupies a 480-sqm facility in Block 77 at the JTC LaunchPad @ one-north, is backed by Trendlines and German medical device company B Braun. Both parties will support the development of and investment opportunities in TMS' portfolio companies.

Similar to Trendlines' medtech and agtech incubators in Israel, TMS is an "intense investor". This means that, from the onset of investing into a portfolio company, it will be deeply involved in the company's tech and business development, market and commercialisation strategy, finance planning and marketing communications.

Mr Yeo says: "The startup environments in both Israel and Singapore receive strong support from the respective governments. We believe this is the right approach to catalyse startups."

He notes, however, that there may not be as many medtech entrepreneurs in Singapore as there are in Israel. That said, there are outstanding startup founders and technologies to be found in the Republic, he says.

"The advantage of our Israel-Singapore operations is that we can embark on cross-sharing of experience to further hone the skills of budding entrepreneurs or train a pool of entrepreneurs-in-residence.

"Our dual-site operations is also a good platform for us to consider incubating technologies with a focus on market relevance. For instance, if we find a technology that has more market potential in Asian markets, we can incubate it in Singapore -- and vice versa."

Trendlines, which listed on the Catalist board in November 2015, has not had an encouraging run. The stock price has been languishing - it closed at S$0.15 on Thursday - due either to an insufficient understanding of its business or poor public investor appetite for incubators.

Mr Yeo says the group has been embarking on roadshows to share its business developments with the investment community. "We believe that these ongoing efforts will ensure that our shareholders and stakeholders understand our business model, and appreciate the time-intensive nature of our business."

As a startup incubator, Trendlines' key performance indicator is return on investment. In other words, exits are extremely important for the business. But this is also a challenge.

Mr Yeo notes that given the complex nature of deep technologies such as medtech and agtech, it could take years for Trendlines' portfolio companies to scale, gain realisable value and exit either through a trade sale or an initial public offering.

"In a way, it is like growing a young child. We need a considerable investment of time and focus to groom the child to be a successful adult of substantial value. Our portfolio companies are like these young children."

Since 2007, Trendlines has established 75 companies, six of which have scored an exit and two have gone public. Mr Yeo says: "We have had eight successful precedents. Over time, we are confident that we will see more of such successes."

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