MALAYSIAN start-up Klean bested 17 other pitches from Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) entrepreneurs and was voted top winner during Pitch@Palace Asean 1.0. The event—the first in the region to open participation to all 10 countries in the Asean—was held last June 5 at Marina Bay Sands Expo & Convention Centre, Singapore.
Centered on the concept of “turning waste into money,” Klean chief executive officer Nick Boden used his three minute pitch to explain the company’s idea of a “reverse vending ecosystem” and how it aims to offer a solution on issues of compounding waste and dire poverty.
“One thing that poor people have a lot of is waste. And they don’t see it as something valuable. If you can add an intrinsic value to a bottle or a can, then people will stop throwing it away. They will start to reverse vend those bottles, and solve this rubbish problem and also take people out of poverty,” said the CEO during an interview after the event.
Klean’s Boden was one of 18 entrepreneurs given the chance to individually pitch their companies in front of a select audience of business leaders, investors, executives and influencers present. The entrepreneurs then ended their pitches with an “ask”—a specific request on what they needed in order to accelerate their businesses to the next level. These could be in the form of funding, partnerships or mentoring. At the end of all the pitches, the audience then voted for the top three pitches.
Singapore’s Alchemy Foodtech, a food-med tech company working to reduce the increasing number of diabetes sufferers, bagged second place. Thailand’s Globish Academia, an online English learning platform that aims to develop soft skills for the next generation of learners, came in third. The People’s Choice Award, with the voting done online, went to Indonesia’s GoFit, a concept which basically connects individuals with personal trainers and coaches. The winners have the opportunity to speak in front of another audience at Pitch@Palace Global 3.0 in St. James’ Palace in London this December.
The other entrepreneurs were 42LAB, Adzymic, BioMers, CtrlWorks, DathenaScience, Hinounou, Instachk, Velox Networks (Singapore), FinFT.com (Vietnam), Flexible Pass (Myanmar), Qiwii (Indonesia), RubBUDD (Thailand), SellEz, Simple Motion (Malaysia) and UPROOT Aquaponics (The Philippines).
Pitch@Palace was founded by the Duke of York, Prince Andrew, back in 2014 as he recognized “the vital role that entrepreneurial activity plays and will play in the future economies of the United Kingdom and the world.” Eventually, the project blossomed, creating a global network with several Pitch@Palace events in key cities globally.
“Today, Pitch@Palace is a thriving network of entrepreneurs and audience,” said the Duke of York. “I never underestimate the serendipity of connection,” he said in his speech.
AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes encouraged the 18 entrepreneurs present and talked about the potential of the Asean in his welcome speech. AirAsia is a strategic partner for Pitch@Palace Asean 1.0.
“It never fails to amaze me; the enthusiasm of entrepreneurs,” Fernandes said. “It’s not about making a lot of money or standing behind the podium. It’s about doing it. You don’t want to sit there when you’re 55 and say ‘I wish I did it’ while wishing to press a rewind button.”
The CEO continued: “I’m a big believer in Asean. I really do believe in it. I started AirAsia—everyone just talked about China and India. [But] we have 700 million people. Ten amazing countries. So much talent.”
“We know Asean can produce unicorns like Grab, Garena and Traveloka, but the region hasn’t always received the attention it deserves despite being the world’s third-largest market. It was therefore very far-sighted of the Duke of York to provide a platform for start-ups here. And judging from today’s pitches, I have no doubt Asean will continue to lead the start-up charge,” said Fernandes.
With “Innovation and Technology” as the theme for Pitch@Palace Asean 1.0, AirAsia found it a good fit being the event’s strategic partner.
“AirAsia thinks the barriers between what is and what you can be are breaking down. We started as an airline. [But now] we have tons of data. We believe with our data, we’re going to build new businesses that help our travelers from payment systems to content to financial services,” said Fernandes in an interview with SunStar Cebu.
“I think this is a good thing,” said Aireen Omar, AirAsia deputy group CEO (digital, transformation and corporate services). “This [event] is all about finding talent in Asean; and especially in this digital space—which is in line with what AirAsia hopes to achieve as we embrace digital transformation and technology in terms of improving our productivity and encouraging more growth.”
“[This will] take AirAsia to a whole new, different level... where we become a digital technology company who still happens to run an airline,” added Omar.
As for a project completion date, Fernandes remained open and upbeat.
“I don’t think you’ll ever complete. Innovation keeps happening. Innovation is a long journey. [But] we aim to finish the first part of the project by the end of 2019... So we’re very excited. It’s a new journey.”
AirAsia is consolidating its digital businesses under RedBeat Ventures Inc. U.S., its non-airline digital business arm that aims to build relationships with startups, accelerators, venture capitals and understand the new technologies in Silicon Valley.