COVER STORY

June Cover Story: Deep Tech

The hottest Southeast Asian startups in AI, Biotech, Blockchain and NewSpace. And why they make everyone else look boring.

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BY Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh - 19 Jun 2018

AgriDigital

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Forget cryptocurrencies. Look at supply chains to understand blockchain’s magic. In December 2016 an Australian farmer sold 23 tonnes of wheat to a wholesaler and received payment in an hour—in what is believed to be the world’s first live settlement for a physical agricultural commodity using blockchain.

Blockchain can help provide a secure immutable record of an asset and its ownership through a supply chain, says Emma Weston, CEO and co-founder of AgriDigital, the world’s first cloud-hosted platform for the agricultural supply chain, which executed the trade. AgriDigital aims to connect everybody from farmers to consumers, including buyers, traders, logistics providers and storage providers—all on one platform, all using the same set of data.


Emma Weston, CEO & Co-founder of AgriDigital Photo Credit: Courtesy Company

Weston has a bio—lawyer, farmer and technologist—that seems possible only in a country like Australia. She grew up in Melbourne and completed her law degree at the University of Melbourne in 1996. She practiced only for a short while—“the law and me weren’t cut out for each other”—before joining the Australian Wheat Board as corporate counsel, moving on to management roles in the organization.

She completed her MBA at the Australian Graduate School of Management in 2005 and has worked in agribusinesses ever since. Along with her husband Bob McKay—“I’m a city girl who married a farmer”—Weston has developed and exited from two agribusinesses, Agfarm and Clear Grain. AgriDigital is their third business together, which has been funded internally up till a recent $4.3 million Series A round.

AgriDigital’s platform is attempting to solve several agricultural supply chain challenges. The first is payment delays and the attendant insolvency risk for farmers. The second is the lack of transparency. Global food fraud is worth $40 billion. Imagine, for instance, a consumer being able to scan a QR code on a packet of bok choy to instantly access the vegetable’s provenance and passage through the supply chain from farm to table, thus verifying its claim to be “organic.”

In under three years since its founding AgriDigital has grown to 1,420 users—about 20 traders and elevators, the rest farmers—who have transacted 1.85 million tonnes of grain for over $310 million. In the next three years AgriDigital hopes to capture 10% of the transactional market in Australia and grow in Canada and possibly expand to Argentina and Ukraine, the great breadbaskets of the world.

      To keep herself grounded, literally, she and her husband grow chickpeas, canola and wheat on their farm in Warren, New South Wales and thus are very much a part of the constituency AgriDigital purports to help. “That [digitization] in itself has sustainability implications for ensuring that agriculture, which employs 40% of the world’s working population, has technology that is useful, and takes them into the future,” she says.

AgriDigital and Weston also symbolize a bigger ongoing effort to reframe blockchain—shifting focus away from crypto mania towards its other potentially powerful uses.

 

Web Biotech

Philip Wong, Cardiologist & Co-founder of Web Biotech Photo Credit: Joel Lim

Soon we might all have doctors in our pockets. “The smartphone is going to be the cornerstone of healthcare in the future,” says Dr. Philip Wong, a cardiologist and co-founder of Web Biotech, which has created what it calls the world’s first cloud-based, tether-free continuous electrocardiogram (ECG) monitoring machine.

 

AyoxxA

Andreas Schmidt, Co-founder of AyoxxA Biosystems Photo Credit: Company Courtesy

Having trouble reading this? Age-related macular degeneration typically starts affecting people in their 60s (older than Inc. Southeast Asia’s average reader), and is the result of chronic inflammation leading to abnormal vascularization or atrophy of the retinal layers in affected eyes.

 

Gilmour Space Technologies

Adam Gilmour, Founder & CEO of Gilmour Space Technologies Photo Credit: Joel Lim

For bankers keen to beat those mid-career blues, consider becoming a rocketeer. “I went from spreadsheets filled with derivative calculations to spreadsheets filled with rocket calculations and it was an easy transition,” says Adam Gilmour, founder and CEO of Gilmour Space Technologies (Gilmour Space henceforth).

 

nuTonomy

Doug Parker, COO at nuTonomy Photo Credit: Joel Lim

Driving can be deadly. In 2017 the automotive sector saw 1.4 million deaths globally; while the commercial aviation sector saw zero. Part of the reason for the relative safety of the skies, according to evangelists of autonomous vehicles (AVs), is that people travel on planes operated by companies obliged to keep them safe. The operators try to ensure, among other things, that their vehicles are serviced and their pilots competent. Contrast that with automobiles: some 95% of road accidents are due to human error.

 

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