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MDA Misses The Mark At UnConference 2009

eJamming presenting during Unconference 2009 startup 10-minute pitching sessions.

eJamming presenting during Unconference 2009 startup 10-minute pitching sessions

How it has grown.

UnConference Singapore, organized by e27, is literally growing from strength to strength. Last year’s UnConference featured just 17 startups, but Saturday’s event saw over 31 startups from 10 countries participating in what must be Singapore’s biggest and most highly-anticipated annual event for the local tech and web startup community.

Not only has the event grown in size – over 400 delegates compared to almost 300 in 2008 – but the quality of startups that participated and pitched on Saturday has also risen. Bangkok-based online collaborative music platform eJamming and Singapore-based RF location-based technology provider Human Network Labs, for example, were startups that were extremely well-received by a judging panel and the audience.

The event was kicked off by a keynote from Scott Rafer, CEO of Lookery, and followed by a panel discussion on “Innovation in Asia: Where is it heading?” with Rafer, co-founder of OpenWeb Asia Gang Lu, co-founder and CEO of Buzzcity Lai Kok Fung and Wong Hoong Ann, founder of Despite it going off in a tangent due to some of the questions posed by a generally excellent moderator in Benjamin Joffe of +8*, the session went well and provided some insight into some the panelists’ experiences in the web, tech and mobile spaces.

The biggest letdown of the entire UnConference, in my opinion, took place during the session after the panel discussion, presented by the Media Development Authority of Singapore.

First, it didn’t help that many in the audience had seen that chest-beating presentation – the role and supposed successes of the agency’s Interactive Digital Media (IDM) Research & Development (R&D) Programme Office’s in helping to fund and guide Singapore-based startups – many times before in previous events. So perhaps it wasn’t surprising that members of the audience started leaving just five minutes into the session (it is an UnConference after all, and people have the right to). The speaker, a relatively junior MDA executive, knew she was losing the crowd, and began to fumble.

If she had managed to get any attention from the crowd, it was of the wrong kind.

[ Picture removed by request.]

Yes, the crowd was distracted by her legs that were just covered by a very short skirt. Not just pulses and heartbeats; even Twitter was aflutter. What would you have expected from a mainly-male geek audience in the consumer tech and web space? The lady seated next to me remarked that the speaker would have done better if she had “dressed a little more appropriately”. I trust my fellow delegate’s judgment – she was there at the UnConference to seek funding for her online fashion content publishing startup.

Long legs aside, the key gripe would have been the fact that MDA seemed wholly incapable of defending its own programmes. It was obvious that she was clearly outmatched and overwhelmed by a knowledgeable audience. At one point, co-founder and CEO of Buzzcity Lai Kok Fung stood up and challenged her about their role as a facilitator in connecting Singapore startups to  larger, established companies such as Singtel as she claimed in her presentation. He argued, some will say rightly, that if a startup had a great product, Singtel would listen whether or not MDA was in the picture to facilitate any exchange. After some half-hearted defence by the MDA representative, Lai finally relented and remarked “I apologize for doing this to you, I should be taking this up with (MDA deputy CEO) Michael Yap instead”. I couldn’t but help notice some members of another government agency present (seated in the same row as me) rolling their eyeballs.

UnConference 2009 is a once-a-year event when many of the best startups from Singapore and the region gather to share knowledge. It is also attended by those who finance startups – business angels, private equity fund managers, venture capitalists and the like – that the startup scene is eager to pursue, as well as educators, regulators, technology and web professionals and yes, aspiring entrepreneurs. In what must be considered a poorly-delivered presentation by a junior executive who isn’t empowered to answer and defend the agency’s role in the scheme of things, could MDA have erred by badly underestimating the nature and importance of UnConference, and the quality of its delegates, in the Singapore startup scene?

Another question that begs asking: Is the agency fast enough to adapt and keep pace with the extremely fluid startup scene in Singapore? It has been almost three years since the IDM R&D Programme Office was set up in October 2006. Despite the many tweaks to its programmes over the past three years, some industry observers have privately commented that it may be losing its plot. Take for example, iJAM is a joke – I can’t put it any better than this poster.

There is already talk that some local startups, attracted by better terms and cheaper costs, are strongly considering moving their operations to Malaysia. MDA’s IDM R&D Programme Office needs to seriously relook into its programmes, otherwise we may soon start to see a deluge of startups (and we don’t have many of these to start with in the first place) leaving our shores. Bear no misconceptions about this – members of Malaysia’s MDEC were present at the UnConference actively courting the startups.

UnConference 2009 presented a perfect opportunity for MDA IDM R&D Programme Office to stand up and be a thought leader in the local startup community. It didn’t. All the more’s the pity.

Daniel Goh is the founder and chief editor of Young | Upstarts, as well as an F&B entrepreneur. Daniel has a background in public relations, and is interested in issues in entrepreneurship, small business, marketing, public relations and the online space. He can be reached at daniel [at] youngupstarts [dot] com.

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  • PEY

    Hi Daniel
    Is it possible for me to get in touch with Nedved, Renkei, Steven and Eric Teo – the people who are in the i-Jam prog? I’m interested to find out more about their experiences with their incubators.



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  • Daniel

    Hi Jack Speare,

    Thanks for the feedback, I’ve darkened the url links. You’re right, it was too bright before.

    As for videos, I don’t usually take videos at events – I can’t multitask enough between taking notes, Twittering and taking pictures. But I’m sure if you Google around, you should be able to find some.

  • Jack Speare

    Wow, the link font is WAY too bright.
    Also, no youtube clips of the event? Check minus

  • J

    @daniel as like you I would love to hear and read about the experiences of the iJam companies since IDM’s iJam inception, do pursue that angle, would love to read it on your blog at some point. In my view, yes the Valley takes a few generations to build but I do believe Singaporean based talent and companies have the chops to compete on a global level. If we think we as an ecosystem is new and needs years to catch up, I am afraid we are not doing enough.

    I am encouraged to see iJam companies coming here to defend their Mentors, but I am sure there are others who are not so fond of theirs as well. MDA definitely has done a lot for the community and I share the view with Daniel, we are here to improve the culture, system and hopefully processes to guide and direct the talent to shine at the highest level and believe me some of you are ready. What is left is a little more spark.

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  • Nicholas Chan

    Nicholas from Azione Capital here.

    As one of the first 3 incubators approved under the MDA iJAM programme, I would like to speak in my working capacity on how we have worked together with the MDA IDM Programme Office since its inception over the past 2+ years in reshaping the various initiatives and seeing how the agency has tuned its “large company” focus into one that (in my view) quite successfully addresses a number of chronic issues faced by startups in Singapore, namely the easy access of a comfortable amount of initial seed capital to actually get things started, market access via startup consortium-type arrangements and constantly creating publicity opportunities for startups.

    In my personal experience, the iJAM programme is one of the first programmes (in my 14 years as an entrepreneur) that makes available to the general public a relatively substantial amount of seed capital with a minimal amount of hassle to a budding ground-zero entrepreneur to undertake a potentially high-risk, lose-all project; not even in the dot-com days of the late 1990s was there a similar programme that specifically provides such a facility to any company which is not already 2 years old and have demonstrated a relatively stable monthly cashflow.

    Additionally, via the iJAM programme, a startup can now choose from a diverse set of mentors he/she feels would be best able to assist in their startup (be it academics or experienced entrepreneurs) thus addressing an often neglected portion of government assistance of expert advise on-tap.

    Contrary to popular belief, just because the mentors are not famous or vocal does not mean they are incapable of adding substantial value to startups; one cannot disregard their achievements in their own respective fields of which some startups would benefit greatly from, and not forgetting that each incubator has its own unique capabilities (For example, Azione Capital co-invests anything from $9,000 – 40,000 into each startup funded by the iJAM microfunding scheme, conducts regular market expansion exercises around the South East Asia region every 2 months for any portfolio startup that is ready, hands-on involvement and direct support to the startup from the directors, senior associates, associates and advisers), with other incubators choosing to focus on zero-equity arrangements or adopting a focus on specific sector focus.

    Other follow-on programmes like the iMATCH programme came along shortly after iJAM reached its limits (of early stage financing) and from my understanding, other new programmes are soon to follow to address other gaps within the startup life cycle.

    Without a doubt, every programme has its shortcomings and the various programmes under the IDM Programme office is no exception; MDA as a government agency has demonstrated by its actions that it is willing to listen and to change to better address the needs of startups by making incremental adjustments after obtaining feedback from industry, incubators and the startups and evolving every few months. That in itself is quite an achievement considering the fact that most other government agencies works on “set in stone” annual plans. One cannot claim in the same breath that the iJAM programme (and the other supporting programmes from the MDA positioned for startups) has not provided a much needed boost in encouraging many budding technopreneurs to come out of the woodwork without at the same time rejecting the vast numbers of new startups that we have seen forming in the past 2 years, some with relative success too.

    From my experience and the experience of various startups within my portfolio, MDA has also did what it could in connecting the iJAM to the big boys, the ones that typically wouldn’t even consider giving you the time of day if your revenue numbers does not match theirs. It would be absurd to expect more (ie. Forcing the big boys into deals), particularly as I certainly would not want my startups to grow to be soft and be spoonfed with free money and, worse still, to become uselessly vocal and concerning themselves with noisemaking rather than on value creation.

    Just sharing my 2 cents as an incubator, I do hope this provides an alternate view from “the other side”.

    Nicholas Chan (in Kuala Lumpur)
    Executive Director, Azione Capital Pte Ltd

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  • Daniel

    Hi Shaun,

    Considering that the rest of the UnConference was a smashing success (other than the long registration queues at the start and the technical problems with Scott Rafer’s presentation), MDA’s presentation was the one that was left in the dust. But this is not a witchhunt – I rather look at it as a way to identify areas that can be improved.

    iJAM – the website, not its microfunding schemes – is a joke lah. Come on, even Aaron admits it.

    As for the rest – you’d be surprised, but I actually do agree with some of your points:

    1. Kudos to Priscilla, she has reacted very well to this despite the potential embarrassment this post may have caused her. She has contacted me, and with the most professional manner, requested for the image to be taken down (which I have) – because she didn’t want the conversation to be detracted from the true issues on hand. She now has my utmost respect.

    2. Entrepreneurship is a learning process. There are many paths to an end goal. What I am doing here is not to put down the work that MDA has done, but to challenge them to continuously access, and improve, their schemes to make sure that they give our startups the best chance of success. Impatience? Perhaps. The question is do we really have time to muck around?

    Oh, thanks for calling this an influential blog. Nowhere near as yet, but am working towards it.

    Keep the conversations coming, guys. This is all excellent feedback that needs to be heard.

  • Shaun Markus

    There seems to be a witch hunt againt MDA here – “biggest letdown of the entire UnConference” is quite a harsh comment from a pretty influential blog.

    First of all, kudos to Priscilla for managing her comments with a neutral and professional reply.

    Pertaining to the remark of ’missing the plot’ and of i.Jam being a joke, are we being a tad impatient here?

    There needs to be a healthy number of startups (of quality), in order for MDA to better craft something appropriate for subsequent growths.

    Its heartening to see few companies leapfrog this process, but its only prudent that the institution starts ground up, to be inclusive and mindful of the entire vertical. Would skipping this risk alienating aspiring Startups? On the other hand, if given that scenario of the Valley now, would it really propel us to international standards or make a mockery of our startups, and taint the rest of the community? As it is, finding sound web companies here are getting tougher as technology is evolving at breakneck speed.

    Learning is not a product, it’s a process. There must be loads of planning, a starting point, a learning curve, and tonnes of experimentation along the way, to finally the end result – and no matter how successful, its usually not what we set out to achieve initially. Its through this process, we find something that works for us and not yet another copy of the Valley – its about finding our niche, and crafting something that works for us here.

    The Valley took decades before it reached today’s matured innovation culture that subsequently naturally attracted investment money and the best minds. I would say we need to give Singapore’s authorities and the environment here time, understanding and support – to test and develop what will actually work for us here.

  • Daniel

    @Nedved, Renkei, Steven and Eric Teo: I’m delighted that MDA-funded, Singapore startups like yourselves are now beginning to speak up on their behalf on this matter. If you believe strongly on this, do drop me an email and I’d love to interview you for my blog and we can also talk about how MDA funding has helped your company.

    This is the same for other startups who have benefited from iJAM’s Microfunding scheme.

  • Renkei

    My team is one of the beneficiaries from the MDA IDM’s programme. I read your post this morning and honestly giving details and a photo on what a presenter is wearing do not seem at all necessary or an important topic. Is this even related to the real intention of this conference and I do urge all of us to think back, haven’t we all been juniors when we first started working and it is from opportunities given to us where we learn from mistakes and grow up?

    Coming back to the MDA IDM’s programmes. To do some justice, my team have really benefitted from the mentorship programme and honestly as a startup, who will ever know what works and what don’t. However, it is through the MDA IDM R&D programme where we are given the chance to express our ideas and given the opportunities to begin our startup journey.

    If ideas are good, without some form of facilitators, do you think you can simply just knock on companies’ doors and just ask for a time slot to present your idea within a short period of time? That is not how a corporate world works in real life. In fact, MDA adds alot of value by helping companies select the potential and relevant projects to be presented and this is time saving for these corporates.

    There is never a sure way to success and from the efforts put in by MDA IDM office where they have continously review their process and progress is already showing their committment to the start up space in Singapore.

  • Steven

    Hi Daniel,

    After reading this discussion, i feel that your subject is unfair to MDA. Comparing the subject and your content, it will be good if you can provide more relevent contents for us readers.

    My project is granted by them and i would say they provide good advice and follow up on our projects. IDM which you highlighted seems to be going in a good direction. Think again, what OTHER industries should Singapore go into to catch up with the leading countries? Green, Gaming, Media, Gaming, High Tech, Health care? From my point of view, looking at startups, most suitable choices are gaming and media.

    Few good points to take note.

    1) Slides – I have read through the slides and feels the direction of helping Singaporeans to go into media is getting us in pace with the world. The world is getting smaller due to media and it has proven to be a scalable business ie facebook which generates alot of revenue.

    2) Grants – MDA is one of the very few companies (til now the only one i found) that is willing to provide generous grants (to be approved by strict panel). Capital is often a major obstacle in business. In Singapore context, living standard is quite high and few can afford to startup with no capital. By the time one has saved up sufficient capital, it could be ages.

    3) Creativity – Major obstacle. Government is trying hard to boost creativity in Singapore mindset. Over the past years, we have been “workers” for good big companies that government has helped alot to bring them in and created many jobs. On the other side of this “worker”, Singaporeans’ general thought after studies is to find a job instead of going into startup. MDA on this side of the picture is giving Singaporean a good jump start and with good guidance which i appreciate alot by my mentor from IDM. My mentor has provided me great insight and scalability.

    I will like to conclude that MDA is doing a great yet tough job in helping us to do startup. To change our old mindset from just pushcarts/shops and to reach the mass global market. To help us overcome monetary obstacle with good scheme. To provide good guidance and foresight of our business with their exposure and knowledge. We should give MDA credits for been one of the most supportive singapore bodies.

  • Davis

    yeah.. I think the leg issue is blown out of proportion just because people say something about leg. The thing is it doesn’t matter whether her sexy “leggy” or booies can be seen in certain angle , the whole point of what Daniel driving is that presenter has to wear something appropiate for the occasion and especially as representative of government body. That is the main point that Daniel driving although Daniel put some humourous touch to it rather than express it directly, much to the offence of some females. If this is UnParty2009, perhaps I might just join in ,haha.

    Aside, I wonder too if MDA is doing target support (just like target search in Mas Selamat’s case), that is to focus more attention and resource on particular potential startup, hence some startups might receive more support than the rest. Needless to say, this approach means that only a few startups will benefit from it. There is nothing wrong with this approach as many private companies/VC use this approach too (eg Intel) , and beside MDA and assigned mentors might just have their KPI to meet. So it may be a matter of quality over quantity. Now the question is what MDA is driving to achieve ? Invest in “some” baskets in hope of getting success story, or Invest in most baskets to simulate innovation ecosystem hopefully to build a innovative culture. What I see is that MDA try to do both despite having limited constraint and resource, and endup compromising their “support and role”. It is very challenging for MDA to do both, so to speak, perhaps it is better for MDA to focus to hedge on a few potential technological startups (etc, comiqs etc) and market them well and giving them support and using them as a base to build innovative ecosystems, and hopefully more innovative startup will appear that attract investors. Another main important thing is to build role model not of company and businessman but also of individual rockstar “technologist/developer/programmer” and recognise them publicly in mainstream headline rather in “small newspaper” (but whether that will result in complacency is another thing, …).

  • Observer

    I currently hold a job at a bank and is thinking of starting my own business. I’m new in the sector and I find the presentation by the young lady helpful to my needs. I’m also looking into SPRING for similar grants but I am more impressed by MDA’s offerings.

    just my 2 cents.

  • Mobile industry observer

    Eh. Seriously. 100M go where? Anyone care to comment?

    I dont get it. Take 100M throw into singapore river will also make a splash….

  • Nedved

    Well, this article would be more interesting if the picture was not removed. (why removed :( ). Ok, back to the point, Daniel, agree, I do think the website should be fixed. However, for your views on IJAM, I have different opinions.

    1) you are talking about the mentorship program. For my project, mentor provides great assistances. I believe MDA has certain standards selecting qualified mentors. My mentor has business degree from Harward and has years of experience in providing seed fund to start up companies in US. He did give us a lot of good suggestions all along the way.

    2) Though we are currently also facing survival problem in our marketing phase, i will not throw all this to MDA. After all, they are not baby-sitter. MDA provides us the start up fund and also arrange three times of meet up session with some big companies, like SPH etc. I appreciate that.

    Well, my case may be different from yours, however, i would feel appreciated to the guys who gives me the money, provide me a good tutor, and help me do networking.

  • Daniel

    I’m removing the picture by request.

  • Daniel

    @albert: Since some readers have a tendency towards selective reading and interpretation, let me spell it out. I am challenging MDA to rethink some of its existing schemes.

    I’m not sure but where was it that I wrote MDA should give startups more “free” money? No, in fact I’ve previously argued that startups here require support in areas other than financing ( Areas they could look at:

    1. Fix the i.JAM website. As in one of the comments, MDA already admitted it’s “a failure”.
    2. Seeing how to improve the mentorship program – we need better mentors to guide our startups for better chance of survival.
    3. Keeping our startups within our shores.

    @Eric Teo: I am very glad that the MDA scheme has helped your company. In fact, do share with us your experience as I am sure many aspiring startups seeking advice from MDA would like to know.

  • Eric Teo

    Hi all

    I must say that the article is an interesting read. UnConference is certainly going from strength to strength…

    I feel that this “skirt” incident and Pris’s presentation has been blown out of proportion and I do hope that this will not take away the fact that MDA / IDMPO has been very supportive of our local startup scene.

    My company is one of the startups funded by MDA and MDA has greatly helped my company by providing ideas, networking opportunities and giving us a platform to excel. There is tremendous support network at MDA and i felt that they have been in general excellent facilitators of our startup community. In fact, we have met our current investors via the i.Match programme.

  • albert

    i don’t understand the point that you’re trying to make, if any at all. In the first place, what was the mark they missed? Idmpo was set up to encourage r&d and to encourage startups. It was never meant to give individuals, startups, companies big or small, money for free. O come’on, look at their grants. I must comment that the process easy to applicants, exactly the pt to help startups! I don’t see spring being slammed for that tough process companies have to go through to get a meagre sum of money.
    Any startup which is wholly dependent on government for survival is fundamentally flawed. So why the sentiment that not much is done? If these efforts aren’t deemed enough, then what is? Any effort on their part, no matter how small is still a attempt. We won’t know until we reach the end if it indeed had been helpful.
    The fact that dr lai kept blasting questions on her, which he himself said were meant for the boss, didn’t go down well with me either. Was that not too mean to a clearly innocent soul?
    Has anyone given feedback to the office? I think those who hasn’t, but took the opportunity to condemn the officers who tried their best, shame on you.

  • Shuqin


    Were you there in the first place? I was among the audience (front few rows) and I would think at all angle, her legs cannot be seen because she was behind the podium.

    The audience chose to focus on their so-call distraction. Why chose? Because it is impossible to be distracted unless you go online and check out the images floating around twitter, very much alike perverts taking cheap upskirt shots of unknowing victims. With those camera angles, it doesn’t take much to know that a proper length skirt will appear short too.

    Similarly, this post chose to focus on a problem that wasn’t even present at the presentation itself. Daniel, getting website hits or wanting to “generate discussions” at Priscilla’s expense is despicable.

    “underestimating the nature and importance of UnConference, and the quality of its delegates, in the Singapore startup scene”

    Quality of participants is definitely not consistent. As shown by this post and a percentage of participants so intrigued by a flash of legs.

    Surf around and you will see posts that are positive about the presentation and MDA’s efforts. I guess those writers have more integrity than attempting cheap tactics to gain publicity.

    • Daniel

      Hi Shuqin,

      You can accuse me of generating hits or traffic at Priscilla’s expense and lacking integrity. That is your discretion.

      However, anyone who knows me, or who actually follow my blog, knows otherwise. I do not have to defend myself to you, or anyone else for that matter.

  • Davis

    I don’t think you even need apology to the leg reference.
    What you trying to bring across is that there should be proper wear when one is presenter and all eyes are on him, and that at least of professionalism in presenter’s attire because there may be conservative MDA , government, serious investors around watching she present. If she doesn’t want to attract unneeded attention over her leg then simply stop revealing her SEXY leg or whatever fresh, booies she want to reveal. She can go to whatever party and even be naked for everyone care, but when in this occasion, she should not wear something revealing to attract attention.

    Stop mocking Daniel and all the males to say that they shouldn’t be distracted by appearance but content matter. There’s must a reason why male get excited over flesh and that is why she wear sexy as attraction, as who in the right frame of mind will wear this way under cold-air con. She show her leg as a distraction and could have prevented it if she wear proper. Why Daniel and others never focus on other females’ leg but only hers. Something must be telling. Just wear proper as though having formal meeting with boss, it is not as though one ask her to wear eskimo’s clothing.

    If her appearance doesn’t matter but her content do, why not even wear bikini then after all she is not that conservative and is very open-minded, and want to show off her “asset” and slim figure.

    If she want to be taken seriously , wear to the occasion and avoid been the target of indecent wear unless she want to bring attention and negative remark.

    For information, if she wear this way to meet potential investors in China , please don’t cry wolf ….

    If she can’t even wear something right for the occasion and for her role, maybe she shouldn’t present.

  • D

    @Mobile Industry Observer – (hey that’s MIO, u work for singtel!?) thanks for mentioning us – erm we happen to be applying for IDM grant so we can take the business to the next level, i think we really would put it to good use. We have sent in proposal for a new product and are still tweaking our plans based on IDMPO feedback.

    Not that i think the most efficient way of developing a startup nation is to pick company to give money to – while i agree that that’s probably not the best use of taxpayer money, it’s really much much better than nothing. We been in our start-up mode for almost 4 years now – and we are seeing more startups then ever – and some early successes! There will always be debate abt what is the best way, but at least they are doing something.

    (absolutely agree with the “can’t pick winners” – i posted a similar comment here –
    i say – 1. build super fast and free wireless network, 2. incentivize telcos to charge 5% for billing, 3. subsidize smartphones. Dun need to fund any company, they will happen by themselves, just look at Japan and Korea)

    @Pris – i think ppl are just generally drooling over you lar.. celebrity always generate gossip one lar.. dun mind so much, who ask u got legs up to ur neck.. hehe.

    @Daniel – haha smart choice of post title, look at the controversy (and traffic) it has generated!

  • Daniel

    Hi Eileen,

    Coverage on the startups present at the UnConference are coming in a later post – I didn’t want to mix the two. In any case, I’ve previously written about some of them e.g. Countspin, OrSiSo, including those who were present but didn’t pitch, such and

    And as for your comment:
    “Next time anyone wishes to criticize, I hope they can ask themselves “what am I doing/what can I do for the industry?” Or at the very least, consider the impact of your criticisms – is it gonna get people to focus on the REAL, important issues (not mini-skirts!)”

    I agree that criticisms should get people to focus on the right issues. If you have read the comments that have followed the blog post since, you would have realized not much of it was about legs. The conversations about funding schemes that followed? THAT was my intention.

    I apologize if I offended any female sensibilities, but I do not apologize for throwing up what I believe could be soul-searching questions for our local startup funding schemes.

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  • Mobile industry observer

    @Bill – thanks for sharing the slides. I am one of those who walked out an missed the controversial presentation…

    MDA got help mobile startup go-to-market with SingTel meh??

    A quick look at SingTel’s site –

    Looks like the only stuff that is launched and promoted by SingTel that is developed locally, PhoneSafe/PhoneBackup (TenCube) and Locator (V3 Teletech) – both have no affliations with MDA. (most other VAS are developed in house by SingTel, or by global provider such as Acision, or with local big partner such as SBS – love IRIS!!)

    What exactly has MDA done to bring mobile companies to market with SingTel?
    (Not that getting lauched with Singtel means success to begin with, far from it)

    Dr. Lai is right – the good stuff will get places anyways, whether they are MDA supported or not. In fact, it seems MDA’s artificial (and seemingly abitrary) funding hasn’t made a dent so far – they can’t be better than free market in picking the winners, their getting involved might actually biased the equation to favour funded players and destroy the free market efficiency. Seems like capitalism 101 here…

    Slide 9 says 100M funding committed in 09 – can we find out exactly where this money is spent? (Anyone from MDA?) That’s a serious amount of money, i’m from a rather large player and we dont have anywhere near that kind of budget to push things. If we had that kind of money, 100M will be enough for us to rewire the whole mobile industry in singapore. The slide kind of wears it like a badge proudly about spending that kind of money – it’s really odd to me, shouldn’t we be proud of $ created instead of $ spent? How much revenue has the 100M generated??

    Sorry have to remain anonymous due to my employment with one of the big brand mobile platforms, but my heart is very much with startups.

    Anyways, MDA isnt the most interesting subject, unot sure why all the discussion is focused on that, must be the legs. Unconference was Excellent – lots of exciting stuff, way to go!

    I was also rather shocked at the rather strong malaysian presence.. Paul Graham wrote about paying startup to move – this is what should have been done with the huge MDA budget: buy up a piece of SV/beijing/bangalore/isreal, seems like the malaysians are doing it first – and to us no less, they are shopping at the neighbourhood store!

    2 cents.

  • aileen sim

    Hi Daniel,

    This is Aileen from First Meta.

    Disclaimer: We are an IDMPO supported company and Priscilla happens to be a very good long-time friend of mine.

    I unfortunately wasn’t able to attend her session so I shall refrain from commenting on her presentation or material.

    Generally, I play nice and try not to be critical on blogs but I honestly think this post in itself “misses the mark”.


    She’s from MEDIA Development Authority and it UNconference for god’s sake! If guys are allowed to wear torn jeans and slippers, how can you fault Pris for wearing a short skirt, and even more ludicrous, for having gorgeous to-die-for legs? I think you noted too that scorn came from other women. It wasn’t as if she was dressed like a hoe. Quite the contrary, I happen to think that Pris looked great – stylish and chic (judge my fashion sense if you like) and not at all inappropriate. If we want all our women to wear power suits or look boring maybe we should call the next one Reconference or something.

    Unconference was a great event. (Kudos to the e27 team!) There was a lotta good content – excellent, excellent keynote by Scott Rafer, exciting presentations and demos by the start-ups. But, despite your supposed acknowledgment of the importance of Unconference, somehow all of that deserved only 3 short paragraphs. Instead, you decided to devote 1/4 the post to legs and “inappropriate dressing”, another 1/2 AND the title to whiny ramblings on how the agency failed with no constructive comments or suggestions whatsoever.

    I’m not saying that we shouldn’t ever criticize government programs (heck, i’m all for challenging decisions and authority), nor am I making a judgment on the success/failure of the program. Neither am I saying that one should have all the answers before commenting. It’s just that there are naysayers out there who are openly critical yet contribute nothing themselves, and I really can’t see how such negativity would be good for anyone.

    Next time anyone wishes to criticize, I hope they can ask themselves “what am I doing/what can I do for the industry?” Or at the very least, consider the impact of your criticisms – is it gonna get people to focus on the REAL, important issues (not mini-skirts!)

    Lastly, I hope you can do the industry a favor and give the real people and content at Unconference the attention and coverage it deserves, so people who weren’t able to attend can benefit from the event too.


  • J

    @mengwong iqube looks interesting with the right premise and an interesting list of portfolios, although its hard to figure out whether they have notable successes but the list is indeed encouraging and great for the nordic region. why is there a need for $3m? maybe we can explore more about this if you are keen.

    @aaron like i told you a while ago, mda’s premise is the right one to take, the idm program is initiated in the right spirit and has created an impact, a good one if i may say so. the issue lies not with mda, nor the amount of money, it is the range of mentors and their breadth and depth. it is a relatively simple fix to get ijam portfolios back up from the ground and running and making sure the tax payer’s money is well spent and entrepreneurial passions are well directed. i have seen great passion and talent in singapore and am entirely encouraged by the dedication of our folks. i know for a fact we can achieve something.

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  • Sean Seah

    I believe besides SITF, there are other incubators who does not dilute the startup as well. I applause for SITF for taking a clear stand on their purpose of facilitating the grant.

    Honestly speaking, the point is not whether there is long term benefit to the incubatees when the incubator take stake in the company. If there is a incubator who can open doors to me from day one, I dun mind giving stakes. In fact, if needed to be, i will ask him to take, right?

    @Aaron, IMHO, whether it is DIGG style or CrunchBase style, i felt it boils down to “Why do I spend my time there?”

    @meng, I am in for your “Mengcubator” group. Wait to see its growth. Sorry, no 3 mil on hand, but can give other form of supports if you need.

  • AaronChua

    Hi Daniel

    Thanks for responding. How about a coffee session to talk more about this Founder Institute concept and see if we can make this a reality?

    You got me email.

  • Daniel

    Hi Aaron,

    Thanks for your comments.

    I’m aware of IDMPO’s efforts in driving the sector since 2007 when it was first announced (, as well as the appointment of 10 incubators to administer your grants (

    I understand the reasons behind using incubators, but I do urge you to check out Founder Institute ( as it operates very differently from our incubators.

    I agree that building a community is extremely difficult, and an even tougher for a small and specialized niche like web and technology entrepreneurs. As for the iJAM website, I’m sure there are works in the pipeline to overhaul or replace it.

    Also, thanks for appreciating that we’re all in this to drive the startup community.

  • AaronChua

    Hi Daniel

    This is Aaron from IDMPO, Pris’s colleague. Thanks for bothering to write about how you feel about MDA. We are definitely open to listening. After all, listening beats talking.

    Just want to clarify a bit about i.JAM. I fully agreed that i.JAM, the website, is a failure and we are now revising it to be more like CrunchBase, rather than a Digg for ideas because we are not good at building communities. However, i.JAM, the entire programme for startups, has been well received. On average, we got about 120-150 applications per quarter. In terms of funded projects, some of the companies like Time Voyager, Fresbo, Tyler Projects etc have also been doing well. Of course, there will also be a lot of failures but that is what we are expecting anyway.

    On your idea of a Founder Institute, I wonder if you are aware that we have appointed 10 incubators to help us with the adminisration of the i.JAM grant as well as to provide mentorship to the startups.

    SiTF is one of our appointed incubators.

    The reason we used incubators, rather than administering the grant ourselves, is to build up the incubation capacity for the country so that even when the IDMPO is gone, some of the incubators will continue because they have found a sustainable model. We intentionally funded different types of incubators because we are not sure what is the right model and the best way to learn is to experiment.

    Anyway, I think this comment is already too long. Always glad to have conversations with people who cared about the startup community. If you want to chat, my blog is always open and there is a small community building there as well.


  • J

    I personally like SITF’s angle of not taking equity.

  • Wong Meng Weng

    Yeah, I completely agree we need an incubator that’s not just cheap real estate; we need incubators with mentoring, etc, as described in the panelists’ session.

    For several months now I’ve been trying to find a way to do a YC-style incubator in SG, and if the stars align, I could see it happening. For the last few weeks I have been working to help bring to Singapore but funding remains a problem. Anybody have $3M handy?

    Otherwise, folks are welcome to join

  • Daniel

    Hi Meng,

    Thanks for this – you bring up many points I was hoping my blog post would spark.

    What do I want MDA to do? Perhaps I’m aiming a bit high, but I’d love to see a version of Founder Institute in Singapore (

    Not sure where you got the inference that the lady seated next to me was a colleague – she wasn’t. In any case, she’s from the world of fashion and not of the geek/hacker subculture. From my extremely limited understanding of that world (mainly from Project Runway and America’s Next Top Model), things can get very catty indeed.

  • Wong Meng Weng

    I like the hacker/geek/entrepreneurship subculture because it tends to reject the usual small-minded, backbiting meanness that one sees in the mainstream. I pity the delegate who was sitting next to you, whoever she was; it is easy to say things from the safety of the audience, and I have to sympathize with Priscilla: it is hard enough to stand up on stage in a male-dominated industry without taking friendly fire from your own team about, of all things, what you’re wearing.

    It is particularly ironic that your colleague was starting an online fashion content publishing company. Perhaps it’s not too late to start an online fashion criticism community instead?

    Are we interested in what people are wearing or what people are inventing? Are we trying for Silicon Valley or Hollywood? One of the other presenters wore a baseball hat for his pitch. Would he have done better if he had worn a suit? Let’s ask Andy Bechtolsheim if he remembers what Larry Page and Sergei Brin were wearing when they pitched him.

    “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” I personally was delighted that Lai Kok Fung didn’t censor himself one bit.

    Yes, maybe MDA could have come in with a different angle, or skipped that presentation altogether, and given some other, more updated presentation that the audience hadn’t seen before, but they paid, so they spoke, and it was Michael Yap’s deck, but he wasn’t there, and Priscilla was, so she gave it, and if you’re not getting anything out of the session, do what Bill did and follow the law of two feet and go out in the hallway and find someone else to talk to.

    In addition to co-sponsoring the entire event and possibly seed-funding some of the startups there, what else do you want MDA to do? I do think that if MDA gets some serious constructive criticism they will listen to it. I’m sure Priscilla will pass on the comments from the audience to her boss, and eventually something will come of it. At least, I hope so.

    To address the two substantive points in your post, I agree the iJam website looks abandoned. Whoever runs it should fix it ASAP – it’s the broken window theory.

    And on the Malaysia note, I was pleasantly surprised to see the MDeC people at the unconference. I cannot recall seeing any representatives from MDA/IDA at any of the similar events I have attended in Malaysia. But maybe the two countries have an understanding that I am not privy to.

    The funding schemes available in Malaysia are similar to Singapore’s, with the added benefit of being nondilutive. (SITF is unusual among iJam incubators in that it does not take equity but awards the grant without dilution.)

    And there are more hackers in Malaysia than Singapore, partly due to sheer population size and partly to a superior – by that I mean less structured and less conformist – educational system.

    But then, Cyberjaya hasn’t turned into Silicon Valley either.

  • Daniel

    @Priscilla: I appreciate your discretion and perfectly understand that you cannot comment on behalf of MDA. I’ve hoped that this post would’ve sparked more comments about MDA IDM R&D PO’s programmes as well. This post is less a condemnation of its programmes than a genuine call for MDA to drive its leadership within the local startup community.

    @WMW: I hardly scorn women for their good looks, after all, I married one. There was, however, feedback from the women in the audience regarding her choice of dressing. Maybe they were just jealous. In any case, it would have been ideal for a more senior member of the agency who would be able to field some of the questions that poor Priscilla had to field.

  • Wong Meng Weng

    Michael Yap was not there, and we can’t blame Priscilla for not giving his talk as well as he would; furthermore, when fielding policy questions, a junior executive has message constraints that a senior executive does not, and beating her up for decisions that she did not make is like shooting fish in a barrel.

    Also, people can wear what they want. If she had showed up in something very formal, people would gripe “how come MDA comes to an unconference dressed as though it is a conference? Inappropriate.” Can’t win. And so what if she has nice legs? Third-wave feminism sensibly points out that you shouldn’t scorn women for being homely and you shouldn’t scorn women for being attractive. There’s altogether too much free-floating criticism out there doing harm to the body image of sensitive young women.

    That camera angle, btw, is what you should expect for any subject, male or female, young or old: any experienced photojournalist knows that there are only three camera positions that can connect a speaker with the material onscreen, and the one that you keep seeing is the only logical choice given the setup.

  • Priscilla

    Hi Daniel,

    Got here through Bjorn, thanks for the observations.

    I find it strange that the photos floating around are all coming from THAT angle and is actually quite surprised and disappointed that there weren’t more feedback on the programme itself.

    And I wouldn’t say the event is a loss cause, because I think I’m much more approachable when it comes to engaging the individuals/startups. That was the main motive and I felt that the event has been fairly helpful.

    These are my personal opinions, there are some points you made about MDA which are inaccurate. But I’m gonna have to refrain from speaking for MDA.

  • Sean Seah

    Sorry to say this, but I seriously think that their pitches should be much much better given the fine technologies some of them have.

    ITwin gave the most convincing pitch IMHO. However, I think the pricing strategy for their product can be improve.

    I left to speak to the other startups right after the scott rafer’s talk ( abit disappointed though for the projector problem ). Am glad i did that as the rest are just things that has been repeated time and time again. Talk about the market in asia, how it is changing, where are the money, the mobile is growing…blah blah blah. Duh….plenty of that on the web to read ya?

    I believe SG government has done alot to help local startups and perhaps doing too much. Maybe the startups also needs to start thinking whether they have been dependent on the government too much and learn to run a real business out of taxpayer’s money?

  • Daniel

    Hi Bill,

    Thank you very much for the links, it is very useful.

    Actually it was Slide 17 in that document that got Lai Kok Fung’s goat.

    I believe it would have been a lot more interesting if MDA had shared case studies on how they managed to help startups achieve their goals – Buuuk as No. 1 local iPhone app etc. Those slides may be good to present to their management, but rather unsuited for Unconference’s audience.

    And I agree with you – HNL, OrSiSo and eJamming have excellent potential and I’m most keen to track their progress!

  • Bill Claxton

    I was there, and was one of those who left after 5 minutes. Not that I didn’t want to give this presenter a chance, and I did anticipate some tough Q&A, but I had seen the presentation before with none other than Michael Yap delivering it.

    You can view approximately the same presentation on Slideshare ( Slide #16 is the one that got Lai Kok Fung animated.

    I think there are problems in the original presentation that have to do with Michael Yap’s “reality distortion field” ( Mike is charismatic and extremely likeable, some say visionary. But he projects things in a way that doesn’t invite questions, and it’s often hard to get a word in edgewise. This slide presentation is his typical shock and awe approach, heavy on infographics and light on real insights about the emerging ecosystem of digital media. How will MDA bridge the IT and media production worlds, for example?

    At Unconference, I was sitting with Nick Palevsky an angel investor, filmmaker and critic ( who is usually in Bangkok, USA or Europe. He is brimming with insights, so naturally I wanted to take the time to catch up with him.

    Unfortunately, I missed the fireworks during Q&A. But I heard from others that the young lady fielded her questions quite well. Upskirt shots aside, I felt a bit bad that she got the feedback that should have been reserved for Michael. I suppose most of the MDA crew is at Cannes pitching SG films this weekend ( Go team!

    Low point of the Unconference for me was the fact that keynote Scott Rafer couldn’t “get it up” or get some Mac-helper to show him how to get his slides to appear. Where is Peter Du when you need him?

    High points for me were the pitching sessions by eJamming (, HNL ( and OrSiSo (

  • J

    thanks for the great overview of unconference. it was a pity i wasn’t there to experience it or “check out” the skirt/s.

    it seems that the overall vibe and presence is getting larger which is a good thing since it is A platform where entrepreneurs can mingle, meet, and perhaps do something together in the future. sounds like it will get better as years go by.

    regarding mda – i tend to agree with you regarding their approach to things, perhaps not very well prepped for such publicity activities, probably time to issue a “note best memo” around the IDM office.

  • Daniel

    Hi Yuhui,

    Thank you for your comments.

    In fact, your observation is a correct one. It’s not about the presenter, she did what she could given the circumstances. Of course, the audience could’ve done better and given her the benefit of the doubt, but that’s another story.

    It’s just that MDA’s IDM R&D PO seems to be merely going through the motions. In my opinion, they misjudged the potential of Unconference 2009 and could have used this platform to truly articulate their role and cement their place within the startup community.

  • Yuhui

    From the way this article is written, I get the feeling that MDA reeks of a “heck care” attitude towards the ground, i.e. the poor preparation of the presenter, its seeming lack of consideration for unConference, etc. Of course, my viewpoint is based on 2nd-hand reports like this one, since I wasn’t at unConference myself.

    (Note: I’m not blaming the presenter herself for the lacklustre performance, since I’ve a feeling that she’s capable of doing much better.)

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