‘Southeast Asia has the talents to make it a global AI hub’: Skymind Founder Shawn Tan
Malaysia and Indonesia have a lot of potential in terms of talent, infrastructure and partners and are keen to work to grow the AI ecosystem
Skymind Global Ventures (SGV), an Artificial Intelligence-focused startup fund-cum-accelerator based in London, recently announced that it plans to expand into Malaysia and Indonesia. This precedes the launch of a US$800-million fund to back promising new AI companies and academic research across the UK and globally.
SGV was founded by Shawn Tan and Dr Goh Shu Wei to provide supported access to the market for open-source AI platforms and to invest in the AI ecosystem building.
In an interview with e27, CEO Shawn Tan talks about the fund, AI industry and the Southeast Asian market.
Is SGV a corporate VC or a traditional VC fund?
SGV is a corporate VC fund. It is the only dedicated AI ecosystem builder focused on ecosystem growth. We are also an AI education launchpad for open-source tools, including Eclipse Deeplearning4j.
We provide hands-on training to help companies support their existing engineering teams and provide training to help new talent acquire the skills to master Eclipse Deeplearning4J and other open-source tools.
Finally, we are passionate about helping enterprises, promising new startups and world-class researchers to achieve their AI destiny through venture capital funding.
Skymind launched the investment fund in 2020 to support the advancement of the AI ecosystem. The fund comes from the revenue generated through the Skymind ecosystem.
The fund will back global startups specialising in AI at seed and Series A stage. It will also support independent research and university programmes focused on artificial intelligence.
SGV aims to make its portfolio of venture-backed companies profitable and to nurture the development of AI innovation around the world. Investment decisions for the fund will be made by the executive team based in Skymind’s London headquarters.
How many startups in Southeast Asia (SEA) do you plan to invest from this fund? Have you already identified any startups for potential investments?
Skymind’s priority in SEA is building the ecosystem and developing the tech talent pool. But if we see a potential startup with good proprietary AI technology, we will invest in it.
Skymind has identified three startups through the Skymind Launchpad programme. We saw great talents from Singapore, China, Japan and Australia and what’s interesting is they are all ready to move and incubate their startups in Malaysia.
With the programmes that we are currently conducting, we hope to see more locals in the region benefiting from the foreign experts we are bringing in. With this, we hope to see more AI products or local IPs built in either Malaysia, Indonesia or the region.
Can you share details about your SEA expansion plans?
Right now, we are looking at key markets such as Indonesia and Malaysia, which we see as high-value growth markets. At the moment, our primary focus is to create a talent hub in Southeast Asia and meet the high demand for AI talent.
We are also looking at investing in the region to enable promising and innovative companies that have potential.
Why an emphasis on these two markets in Southeast Asia and why not other markets like Singapore and Thailand? What specific potentials do you see in Indonesia and Malaysia?
Both markets have a lot of potential in terms of talent, infrastructure and partners that are keen to work with us to grow the AI ecosystem.
Indonesia and Malaysia have a large talent pool and just require the expertise and infrastructure that Skymind can provide for them to realise their potential as active AI-ready markets.
We are looking at other markets as well, and if the opportunity does present itself, we will explore the potential in those markets.
By any standards, Singapore is the most advanced market where AI is growing fast, with many industries like banking planning to integrate AI with their products. Why is this market excluded from your expansion plans?
This is a long-term plan for Skymind to build a robust AI ecosystem and at the moment are not ruling out any market. However, to ensure a planned and measured approach, we have identified markets and industries where Skymind’s involvement will have the most significant positive impact and want to focus our attention, before expanding into other markets.
Markets such as Singapore, Thailand and other countries in the region are part of our long-term vision to foster and grow a healthy AI ecosystem.
You aim to grow and boost the AI ecosystem in Southeast Asia. How do you plan to achieve this goal?
By focusing on talent in the region. We strongly believe that Southeast Asia has the necessary talents to make it a hub for the global AI industry.
By fostering and developing a scalable method to train and provide employment for AI talent in the region, we know that this will help the industry grow faster.
How do you look at the overall growth for AI in SEA? Do you foresee a massive growth for this tech across industries, particularly banking and cybersecurity, etc.?
Most definitely, we see growth in those industries. Still, overall we see significant adoption across all sectors as we work to improve the talent pool in the region while educating the market about the potential of AI.
The benefit of building an ecosystem is that it fosters growth across multiple industries through multiple stakeholders. This allows faster growth as there is more access to talent, infrastructure and technical expertise.
Which other sectors do you think can AI disrupt?
Every industry in the world from manufacturing to e-commerce can benefit from AI solutions. Most sectors already employ at least some form of AI solutions, mostly through machine learning and basic automation, but at the moment, they are barely scratching the surface.
We see a future where AI is part of every single industry, improving efficiency and quality in all aspects of the business. The opportunities are endless but require a robust ecosystem around it to nurture growth and innovation.