Kempus wants to be the ultimate app for sharing college hacks

Remember poring over reviews on Rate My Professors to find out which prof is good-looking and who gives easy As? The professor and class ratings site is one of the few web 1.0 sites that are still well and alive today. When the portal was acquired by news streaming service Chedder in 2018, it boasted a monthly user base of 6 million.

Its long-lasting relevance impressed Jae Lee, a South Korean serial entrepreneur educated in the U.S. and living in Singapore, but the site is nowhere near perfection. Identities aren’t verified, for instance, so there’s no way to vet the validity of reviews. After all, students see it more as an “entertaining” site rather than something serious that they base their course decisions on, Lee suggests in an interview.

Nonetheless, the popularity of signals students’ need for a place where they can help each other out with their college experience. Lee and his co-founder Danny Woo thus set out to build Kempus, an anonymous online community for U.S. college students.

Specifically, Kempus aims to create a reservoir of knowledge to help students reach their ultimate goal, in Lee’s words, “the upstream of getting a college degree.” That knowledge, or what the founder calls “a unique data set within higher education,” can range from professor ratings, tips for buying second-hand textbooks, housing reviews, to how to get counseling on campus.

“We are democratizing the level of access to information, which starts with course reviews,” says Lee.

Incorporated in August 2022, Kempus recently raised $3 million in a seed round from Bithumb Korea, a major cryptocurrency exchange in South Korea, though the founder says the company has no plans to associate itself with cryptocurrencies.

The reason for taking money from Bithumb, according to Lee, is that Kempus is fundamentally a data business, so “we chose to pitch our idea to a seed investor who had prior investments relevant to a data-driven business, including but not limited to blockchain, under their portfolio.”


A flurry of reports has shown that adolescents are especially prone to social media harm. While ambitious startups like Fizz are touting “safe and private” social networks for college students, sparking investor interest in the “next Facebook”, Kempus positions itself more as a “community” that harnesses the experiences and knowledge of students.

Users are anonymous, but their identities are verified through their school emails and they are only able to join their own college communities. To foster a safe environment, Kempus created a self-governing mechanism through which students can flag bad actors. “We’re not these mega social media where we can hire thousands of people in the Philippines to moderate content, so the first layer [of filtering] is the community,” says Lee.

The second layer is Kempus itself, which rewards students with points for their content contribution. In doing so, the company aims to become the facilitator rather than the moderator or censor.

To attract early users, Kempus is reaching out to student associations and faculty members across universities. It launched its MVP (minimum viable product) only in late January, so it’s still too early to say whether it has found its product-market fit. While course reviews sound like a niche, Lee reckons a narrow focus is exactly the startup’s strategic advantage.

“There have been multiple jabs taken at solving the problem of higher education as a whole… But I think there are multiple aspects, multiple categories that are so deeply rooted in society and the human race that is a very difficult problem to solve because it could be related to politics,” he argues. “We’re not here to solve higher education as a problem as a whole. We’re trying to focus on the bottom up.”

Kempus wants to be the ultimate app for sharing college hacks by Rita Liao originally published on TechCrunch

India and Singapore link UPI and PayNow in cross-border payments push

India and Singapore have linked their digital payments systems, UPI and PayNow, to enable instant and low-cost fund transfers in a major push to disrupt the cross-border transactions between the two nations that amounts to over $1 billion each year.

The linkage between the two systems went live Tuesday, the two nations’ central banks said at a press conference. Eight banks including DBS, Liquid Group, Axis Bank and State Bank of India from Singapore and India are currently participating in the collaboration, they said. Citizens in each nation can use their local payments systems to send money to those in the foreign land in “real-time.”

For now, an Indian user can remit up to 1000 Singapore dollars a day, the Reserve Bank of India said.

The two nations announced their plan to link their payments systems in 2021 and had originally set a deadline of July 2022 to go live with the collaboration. “The PayNow-UPI linkage is India’s first cross-border, real-time system linkage and Singapore’s second. It’s also the world’s first such linkage feature cloud-based infrastructure and participation by non-bank financial institutions,” said Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the conference.

“As we progressively add more users and use cases, the PayNow and UPI linkage will grow in utility and contribute more to facilitating our trade and our people to people links,” he added.

UPI, a seven-year-old payments infrastructure developed by a coalition of retail banks, has become the most popular way Indians transact online.

The system, adopted by scores of local and global firms including Walmart, Google and Facebook, processes over 8 billion transactions a month. Like UPI, Singapore’s PayNow also offers interoperability between banks and payments apps in the nation, allowing users from one payment app to make transactions to those on other apps.

Nearly 250 million people across the world send over $500 billion in cross-border remittances annually, according to Citi. But the space is ripe for disruption. “The fees are extremely high. It is embarrassing that we have not solved this issue so far,” Citi analysts wrote. Global average cost for sending money is around 6.5%.

Tuesday’s announcement is the latest in an ongoing effort from New Delhi to launch and expand its tech infrastructure such as UPI and DigiLocker to other nations. India plans to use its ongoing presidency of the G20 forum to make presentations to other nations about its digital infrastructure.

India and Singapore link UPI and PayNow in cross-border payments push by Manish Singh originally published on TechCrunch

Singapore-based Transcelestial uses lasers to build affordable internet networks

Transcelestial team members installing CENTAURI device on a building

Transcelestial team members installing CENTAURI device on a building

Transcelestial is on a mission to make the internet more accessible by building a network of shoebox-sized devices that send lasers to one another, creating a fiber-like network. Today, the Singaporean-based startup announced it has raised $10 million, with the goal of expanding its wireless laser communications system in Indonesia, India, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and the United States. Eventually, it has its eyes on space, deploying its wireless fiber optics from orbit.

The company’s A2 round was led by aerospace venture firm Airbus Ventures, with participation from Kickstart Ventures, Genesis Alternative Ventures, Wavemaker, Cap Vista and Seeds Capital, along with returning investor In-Q-Tel. This brings Transcelestial’s total raised since it was founded in 2016 to $24 million. Some of its previous backers include EDBI, Entrepreneur First, 500 Global, SparkLabs Global Ventures and Michael Seibel.

CEO Rohit Jha told TechCrunch that he and co-founder Mohammad Danesh believe “connectivity is a human right” and improving internet connections for at least a billion people drives all their commercial and technical decisions.

The two say current internet infrastructure is the main reason so many people lack reliable internet access. Undersea cables, for example, are expensive to build and only link two points. Terrestrial long-haul networks gives Tier 1 cities good coverage, but leave smaller cities and towns behind. Middle-mile and last-mile distribution is often costly, and runs into right-of-way issues.

Transcelestial’s laser communications systems does away with underground cables, which are expensive to install and maintain, and radio-frequency based devices, with their complicated spectrum licensing regulations. As a result, Jha said Transcelestial can offer a significantly lower cost per bit option. Transcelestial’s shoeboxed-sized devices, called CENTAURI, have already been deployed in South and South East Asian markets.

A CENTAURI installation

A CENTAURI installation

The startup recently proved that its laser technology can deliver 5G connectivity during a demonstration at the University of Technology Sydney. Its next stop is space: Transcelestial is working on bringing its technology to a low-earth-orbit (LEO) constellation, with the goal of deploying its wireless fiber optics from orbit directly into cities and downs.

In the meantime, it’s planning to move beyond its markets in Asia and start expanding early market access in the U.S., where research by the Pew Trust found that 27% of people in rural areas and 2% of those in cities lacked readily available internet connections. Transcelestial plans to enter the U.S. by exploring collaborations with the government, enterprise and telecoms over the next 12 months. Jha said the company is already working under stealth with a few ISPs and a major enterprise cloud and data center company on the West Coast.

Part of Transcelestial’s new funding will be used to prepare Terabit Factory, its production facility, against uncertainties in the supply chain. The facility has the capacity to manufacture up to 2,4000 CENTAURI devices annually, which Trancelestial says is the largest deployment volume of any lasercomms producer globally.

In a statement about the funding, In-Q-Tel managing director Clayton Williams said, “Transcelestial’s laser communications platform CENTAURI is a best in class solution for low cost, high bandwidth terrestrial communications. We are excited to help expand this capability to enable a space-based data backhaul for secure point-to-point communications from the U.S. and anywhere on earth.”

Singapore-based Transcelestial uses lasers to build affordable internet networks by Catherine Shu originally published on TechCrunch

Sequoia Capital Southeast Asia backs cross-border payments startup Tazapay

The rise in open banking and payment services like India’s UPI and Singapore’s PayNow means lower costs for businesses, as well as new payment options for hundreds of millions of customers in emerging markets who don’t own credit cards. Tazapay was created to combine both card and real-time payment methods as a full-stack service for merchants who sell across borders, so they only need to use one payment platform.

The Singapore-based fintech, which enables cross-border payments in more than 170 markets, announced today that it has raised $16.9 million in Series A funding led by Sequoia Capital Southeast Asia. Other participants included EscapeVelocity, PayPal Alumni Fund and angel investor Gokul Rajaram. Existing investors Foundamental, January Capital, RTP Global and Saison Capital also returned for the round.

Rahul Shinghal, Tazapay’s CEO and co-founder, told TechCrunch he has spent most of his career working in payments. He began as a product manager for the e-commerce vertical at Indian bank ICICI, before moving onto position at NETS, PayPal and Stripe. “Throughout the past 25 years of my career, I have seen how complex cross-border payments can be, including having to juggle keeping costs low and settlement times short while navigating regulations across multiple jurisdictions and the provision of multiple currencies,” he said.

Tazapay was created to solve those problems. Its API covers over 170 markets for card payments, and 85 markets for local payments collection, which means its customers can accept payments in different countries without having to set up local entities. Shinghal said the service supports a wide range of customers, including B2B operations, e-commerce platforms selling directly to consumers and B2B2C.

Some of the startup’s customers include B2B marketplace IndiaMART, which claims more than 7.4 million sellers and 165 million buyers on its platform; live-learning platform BrightCHAMPS; used trucks marketplace WTX; travel platform Rezlive; and employee engagement SaaS platform Advantage Club. It is also partnered with Standard Chartered, the British multinational bank, to offer digital escrow services.

The funding will be used to scale Tazapay’s business in Asia and expand in regions like the Middle East and Europe. The startup plans to apply for payment licenses and add more local payment methods to serve its verticals, which include cross-border e-commerce, edtech, SaaS and travel.

In a statement about the funding, Sequoia Capital Southeast Asia vice president Aakash Kapoor said, “Buyers increasingly prefer to use local real-time payments over traditional networks and businesses are keen to expand globally without going through the hassle of a local set-up. The Tazapay team has unique insights and experience to leverage this tailwind, and Sequoia Capital Southeast Asia is excited to partner with them as they double down on the opportunity.”

Sequoia Capital Southeast Asia backs cross-border payments startup Tazapay by Catherine Shu originally published on TechCrunch

Singapore’s PixCap draws $2.8M to power web-based 3D design

A clutch of startups is trying to topple Adobe’s dominance in three-dimensional modeling and do more than Canva. A freshly funded player is PixCap, which is entering the fray with a no-code, web-based 3D design tool.

Founded in 2020, Singapore-based PixCap just secured $2.8 million from a seed funding round. It was part of the seventh cohort of Surge, Sequoia Capital India and Southeast Asia’s accelerator, which led the round. Cocoon Capital, Entrepreneur First and angel investor Michael Gryseels also participated.

CJ Looi, CEO of PixCap, is building the company when the web experience is undergoing what he called an “evolution from 2D to 3D.” Tech firms from Foodpanda, Alibaba, Shopee, TikTok, Meituan to Lazada have all started to incorporate 3D elements into their logos, ads, and landing pages over the past two years, the founder pointed out in an interview.

These aren’t unique, sophisticated 3D assets developed for movies or video games; rather, they are simple designs like a brand mascot that are reusable across a firm’s marketing campaigns to “enhance user engagement,” suggested Looi, who previously worked on 3D vision and deep learning at robotics startup Dorabot, which is backed by Kai-Fu Lee’s Sinovation Ventures and Jack Ma-founded YF Capital.

“The trend is moving toward interaction,” the founder continued. “The benefit of 3D that 2D doesn’t provide is, in 3D, if you look at most TV ads, a lot of the content uses 3D animation. So something that can be used in your advertisement and your landing pages and apps is far more advantageous to a brand than having 2D somewhere and 3D elsewhere.”

But designers with 3D animation skills are “some of the rarest talents you can find,” observed Cyril Nie, co-founder and CTO at PixCap. Even when creators want to step up their careers by acquiring 3D skills, many are daunted by the complexity of legacy software like Adobe. Gojek spent “close to $200,000 on a branding agency just to create 3D icons for their apps, landing pages and social media,” Looi recalled his recent conversation with an executive from the Southeast Asian ride hailing giant.

Image: 3D templates from PixCap

The costs of adopting 3D are too prohibitive for most startups. PixCap’s vision is to make the transition to 3D cheaper in the way Canva made 2D designs more accessible. Instead of spending tens of thousands of dollars on hiring a designer for a one-off campaign, marketers can quickly put together a 3D social media graphic on PixCap using its library of templates. With a few clicks, those with no prior 3D knowledge can adjust the lighting and after-effects of objects, rotate them and change the colors to match their brands’ palettes.

The platform has over 30,000 users so far with around a third in North America, followed by top markets like India, Indonesia, and the U.K.

PixCap’s main differentiation from legacy players is its web-based and drag-and-drop interface; compared to younger online solutions, such as Y Combinator-backed Spline, it boasts a greater number of editable templates and “robust” 3D animation capabilities, which Looi argued is the natural next step after static 3D images.

To enhance its moat in templates, PixCap is working on a contributor marketplace that will eventually allow creators to easily sell their works, which will keep the platform replenished with new 3D assets.

Typical of many SaaS startups today, PixCap’s team of 15 members is located across the world — India, Pakistan, the U.K., France and Russia. It plans to spend the proceeds from its new round on global expansion, hiring for its engineering and marketing teams, product development and community building.

Singapore’s PixCap draws $2.8M to power web-based 3D design by Rita Liao originally published on TechCrunch

Sequoia Capital India backs Freightify’s vertical SaaS platform for freight forwarders

For freight forwarders, procuring pricing data for their customers usually involves going to multiple sources, and then consolidating information into spreadsheets. That’s time-consuming and complicated, especially since pricing data constantly changes. Freightify wants to make the process as simple as comparing airfare with its vertical SaaS platform.

The Singapore-based startup announced today it has raised a $12 million Series A led by Sequoia Capital India, with participation from Trail Mix Ventures and Alteria Capital. The round also included returning investors Nordic Eye Venture Capital and Motion Ventures.

TechCrunch last covered Freightify in July 2021, when it raised $2.5 million in seed funding. Freightify is now used by more than 200 freight forwarding companies in 45 countries, and says its revenue has tripled over the last year. The company refers to itself as the “Shopify for maritime freight” because it provides white-label rate management and e-booking tools for freight forwarders to set up online stores. The startup’s SaaS platform also provides track and trace solutions to let freight forwarders see the live location of vessels.

The startup was founded in 2016 by Raghavendran Viswanathan as a freight marketplace before pivoting into an automated rate management system, in a move he compares to Shopify’s evolution from an online snowboard store to e-commerce ecosystem.

Viswanathan said pricing data from shipping liners, non-vessel operators, land carriers and consolidators come in different formats and currencies, which means freight forwarders have to consolidate all the data manually. Gathering freight rates usually involves sending multiple emails, looking at PDF documents, filling spreadsheets and keeping browser tabs with pricing data open. Then sharing it with customers can take a couple days, depending on how complex their requests are. Freightify’s rate management and quoting features means freight forwarders can procure and quote freight prices in less than two minutes, including possible ancillary changes.

Freightify is currently post-revenue and its pricing packages are pay-per-use. Viswanathan said that Freightify’s main competitors are still spreadsheets and “the reluctance of freight forwarders to use technology,” but more are willing to adopt technology, thanks in part to the drive toward digitization prompted by the pandemic.

There are more marketplaces and digital forwarders emerging in different markets, and part of Freightify’s competitive strategy is selling a SaaS product. “The industry is not a winner take all market and freight forwarders can recognize a useful solution when they see one,” Viswanathan said.

Freightify’s new funding will be used on product development and launching new features, growing its international sales team, channel partnerships and marketing.

Sequoia Capital India backs Freightify’s vertical SaaS platform for freight forwarders by Catherine Shu originally published on TechCrunch

Good Meat approved to sell serum-free cultivated meat in Singapore

Good Meat announced today it has received regulatory approval from the Singapore Food Agency to use serum-free media for the production of its cultivated meat. The brand, which is the cultivated meat division of U.S.-based food startup Eat Just, says it is the only cultivated meat producer in the world with the ability to sell to consumers. Its lab-grown chicken is currently available in Singapore, where Eat Just gained regulatory approval to sell its lab-grown chicken meat in 2020.

“Today’s news is another historic milestone for us and for the entire industry as it brings us all closer to a more scalable and sustainable production of real meat without slaughter,” said Eat Just head of communications Andrew Noyes. “Our R&D team worked diligently to replace serum with other nutrients that provide the same functionality and their hard work over several years paid off.”

The latest approval from the SFA means Good Meat will be able to sell chicken meat cultivated without using animal serums. Serums like fetal bovine serum (FBS), which is made from the blood of fetuses extracted from cows during the slaughter process, are usually needed for cells from a living animal to duplicate. Finding way to produce cultivated meat without animal serums is one of the key challenges alternative protein startups are trying to solve.

Good Meat is currently working on its Singapore production facility, which it says will house the largest bioreactor (a 6,000-liter vessel built with ABEC) in the cultivated meat industry. Once it opens next year, the facility will be capable of using the serum-free production process and producing tens of thousands of pounds of meat.

Eat Just’s backers include the Qatar Investment Authority (the sovereign wealth fund of the state of Qatar), Vulcan Capital and C2 Capital Partners, which has Alibaba as its anchor investor.

The Singaporean government has supported alternative protein startups as the island nation seeks to make its food industry more self-sustaining. In a statement, Singapore Economic Development Board executive vice president Damian Chan said, “Good Meat is a key member of our growing ecosystem of more than 70 alternative protein companies and we look forward to their continued contributions in driving agrifood innovation from Singapore for the region and beyond.”


Good Meat approved to sell serum-free cultivated meat in Singapore by Catherine Shu originally published on TechCrunch

Locad lands Series A to expand its “logistics engine” across Southeast Asia and Australia

When Constantin Robertz was working at Zalora, he was involved in moving warehouses six times as the e-commerce company outgrew its logistics infrastructure. This inspired him to co-found Locad, a logistics provider for omnichannel e-commerce companies that connects its network of third-party warehouses and shipping carriers with a cloud-based platform referred to its “logistics engine.”

Founded in Singapore and Manila by Robertz, fellow Zalora alumni Jannis Dargel and former Grab lead product manager of maps Shrey Jain, Locad announced today it has raised $11 million in Series A funding led by Reefknot Investments, a joint venture between Temasek and logistics company Kuehne + Nagel. Returning investors Sequoia India and Southeast Asia’s Surge, Febe Ventures and Antler also participated, along with new backers Access Ventures, JG Summit and WTI.

TechCrunch last covered Locad when it raised its $4.5 million seed round in 2021.

Locad can handle almost every part of the delivery process, from inventory storage and packing to shipping and tracking. So far, Locad has provided order fulfillment for 200 brands, including Havaians, Levi’s Reckitt Benckisder and Emma Sleep. Its customers are spread across Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand, Hong Kong and Australia, and typically ship about 25 to 5,000 orders a day. Last year, Locad was used to ship more than two million orders and it claims a 99% same-day order fulfillment rate.

Its new funding will be used to add more warehouses and transport operators to Locad’s network and on hiring in Southeast Asia and Australia, with the goal of building the region’s largest network of warehouses over the next five years.

Robertz said helping Zalora scale up its logistics infrastructure “planted the seed of how a cloud approach to supply chain, with a scalable logistics infrastructure as a service, would be a better way.” During their time at Zalora, Robertz and Dargel also worked with brands that had to set up their own e-commerce fulfillment capabilities and tech stack in order to support multiple sales channels.

Legacy logistics infrastructure, originally created for B2B wholesale distribution, couldn’t keep up with direct-to-consumer brands as their sales channels multiplied. It also meant they could no longer rely on “walled garden” fulfillment networks run by e-commerce platforms, like Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA), as they scaled up.

At the same time, consumers want faster and cheaper delivery, and offering multiple options like same day, next day or economy shipment is important for conversions at checkout. Robertz said that to deliver more quickly without paying more, retailers need to store products closer to customers to enable shorter and faster last-mile deliveries. This requires a network of warehouses and integration between sales channels, warehouses and shipping carriers. That is what Locad’s tech enables.

Locad’s logistics engine syncs inventory from multiple sales channels, including Shopify, Lazada, Shopee and TikTok Shops, and manages storage and delivery through its network of warehouses and shipping carriers. Many of Locad’s customers first approach the startup while phasing out their inhouse logistics operations. Brands often start with one warehouse to consolidate their inventory and order fulfillment across sales channels, before putting inventory into additional warehouses based where its customers are located.

As it expands across Southeast Asia and Australia, Locad also plans to increase the number of warehouses in Tier 1 to Tier 3 cities in the region, with the goal of enabling same-day delivery in all of them.

In a statement about the funding, Reefknot Investments vice president Ervin Lim said, “Locad’s unique operating model of localizing warehouses into the cities ensures that inventory is kept close to the customers thereby enabling significant cost and time savings for both brand and consumer. We believe that Locad’s logistics engine will spur greater participation in the digital economy as consumers outside of Tier-1 cities can now receive their orders 2-3x faster at a fraction of the usual cost.”

Locad lands Series A to expand its “logistics engine” across Southeast Asia and Australia by Catherine Shu originally published on TechCrunch

Singapore-based Supermom helps parenting brands navigate a post-cookie world

Supermom, a parenting platform with 20 million users in six Southeast Asian countries, offers parents price comparisons, communities and the chance to earn money by completing surveys. For brands, it gives them a way to conduct market research and collect first-party data, which is important as marketers prepare for a post-cookie world.

The Singapore-based startup announced today it has raised an oversubscribed Series A of $8 million SGD (about $6 million USD) led by Qualgro, with participation from AC Ventures. Supermom currently has a presence in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand, and plans to expand into more markets. Over 200 consumer brands use Supermom for marketing research, including Kimberly Clark, Procter & Gamble and Philips.

Supermom was founded by Joan Ong, Luke Lim, Lynn Yeoh and Rebecca Koh, and originally started as a platform in 2013 for community groups and in-person events. “Motherhood is quite a lonely journey and I wanted to support other parents,” said Ong. The next five years were focused on Singapore. Then in 2019, Supermom’s team decided they wanted to scale across Southeast Asia, so they pivoted their focus from community events to digital marketing.

Supermom’s market research platform for businesses lets brands perform market testing with very targeted groups of people. Its backend tracks the demographics of parents in its database, including aggregated data about the age of their kids, their occupations and interests. In addition to writing reviews or participating in surveys, parents can apply to be brand ambassadors through Supermom, and when they do, brands can see their number of followers on social media and what groups they are in.

Qualgro associates Jeremy Soh and Neo WeiSheng, with Supermom founders Rebecca Koh, Joan Ong, Lynn Yeoh and Luke Lim

Qualgro associates Jeremy Soh and Neo WeiSheng, with Supermom founders Rebecca Koh, Joan Ong, Lynn Yeoh and Luke Lim

Lim says that quantitative surveys of about 1,000 people usually takes months to put together, but can be done within an hour through Supermom. Surveys can be launched simultaneously in six countries, with specific users invited to take them. To set up a survey, brands select a country, then filter for specific demographics like age of kids. Supermom’s platform also guides them through the process of writing questions.

In addition to their own surveys, brands also get information like brand indexing, or a ranking of which brands are most trusted by consumers. That data can be broken down by demographic—for example, researchers can see if a brand is used by 50% of mothers aged over 30 years, and then narrow that down by disposable income level.

Supermom will use its new funding on its data and product capabilities, and expansion in Southeast Asia.

“As companies all move into a cookieless world, having direct access to consumers is very, very important,” said Ong. “Because they can no longer do retargeting and use cookies to target consumers. So with the millions of users that we have, we are helping a lot of brands to get this critical first-party data so they can actually access their target audience.”

In a statement about the financing, Qualgro general partner Weisheng Neo said, “We recognize the current gap in brands’ access to reliable, secure data on parents, a large and growing customer segment. Brands will find the Supermom platform to be a treasure trove of insights and first-party data activation.”

Singapore-based Supermom helps parenting brands navigate a post-cookie world by Catherine Shu originally published on TechCrunch

Singapore-based AlterPacks turns food waste into food containers

Food waste and food packaging take up a significant portion of the world’s landfills. AlterPacks is tackling both issues with technology that turns food waste into takeout boxes and other containers. The Singapore-based startup has raised $1 million in pre-seed funding led by Plug and Play APAC and Seed Capital, with participation from Earth Venture Capital and angel investor Alice Foo.

The new funding will be used for AlterPacks’ commercialization, including production and supply, in markets like Asia, Australia and Europe.

Founded in 2019 to tackle single-use plastics, AlterPacks’ main raw material are spent grains, a by-product of manufacturing foods like beer. Spent grains are usually used for animal feed, fertilizer or disposed of. Through its manufacturing process, AlterPacks turns spent grains into food containers that can be molded into different shapes, are freezer and microwave-friendly and home compostable.

Founder and CEO Karen Cheah told TechCrunch that she became interested in developing alternatives to disposable containers when she was traveling and saw communities struggling with the amount of plastic containers and food waste thrown away. AlterPacks uses spent grains because they are easily available.

AlterPacks' founding team

AlterPacks founders Steven Tan, Karen Cheah and Herbin Chia

“The properties of spent grains and the volume of grains available globally were two key factors,” she said. “By upcycling the grains, we are creating new economic value and putting what would have been a by-product disposed as animal feed, or headed to landfills and compost, back into the supply chain as food containers that can be used to replace plastic disposables.”

Cheah explained that the process of converting spent grains into AlterPacks’ food containers is similar to paper pulp manufacturing. AlterPacks can manufacture containers at scale with automated machines that clean raw materials, mix its formulation and then press it into different shapes of containers.

AlterPacks’ containers have been available commercially since December. Its go-to-market strategy is a B2B model and includes working with distribution partners that sell supplies to F&B businesses like restaurants and hotels. AlterPacks containers have been on the market since December. The startup is also in the process of developing bio-pellets as a replacement for petroleum-based resins use in manufacturing machines. They are made out of spent grains, and other agricultural waste like coconut shells.

In a statement about Plug and Play APAC’s investment, managing partner Jupe Tan said, “We got to know AlterPacks while sourcing for relevant startups for the Alliance to End Plastic Waste Innovation Program and they have gained significant interest from the members of the Alliance, which is naturally a signal for us to do further due diligence for investments. We are glad that we managed to tap into our partnership with SEEDS Capital to co-lead and invest in our very first sustainability startup in APAC and we hope this will be the first of many other sustainability investments with SEEDS Capital.”

Singapore-based AlterPacks turns food waste into food containers by Catherine Shu originally published on TechCrunch