The Early Stage Venture Fund (ESVF) is an initiative under the National Framework for Innovation and Enterprise (NFIE). ESVF seeds funds with selected venture capital firms to invest in Singapore-based early-stage technology start-ups.
Under this initiative, the National Research Foundation (NRF) Singapore invests S$10 million on a matching basis, to seed corporate venture capital (VC) funds that invest in Singapore-based early stage high-tech companies. As an incentive, the corporate VCs have the option to buy out NRF’s share of the fund within five years by returning NRF’s capital with interest.
Awarded Venture Capital Funds
In July 2008, the NRF launched the Early Stage Venture Funding Scheme (ESVF) to finance VC funds to provide early stage investment for Singapore-based technology start-ups.
The first batch of five VC funds were:
With a vibrant technology start-up ecosystem taking shape and Singapore seeing encouraging results from its investments, a challenge for start-ups is limited early stage financing in Singapore and the region. To address this funding gap, Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Teo Chee Hean, Chairman of the National Research Foundation, Prime Minister’s Office, Singapore, announced on 25 Sep 2013 at Techventure 2013 that the Singapore government would inject S$50 million to energise the early stage investment ecosystem.
In April 2014, NRF announced the second batch of VC funds under the ESVF scheme.
The six VC funds are:
- Jungle Ventures
- Golden Gate Ventures
- Tembusu ICT Fund I 
- Walden International
- New Asia Investments
- Monk's Hill Ventures
In 2016, NRF awarded venture capital funds to four large local enterprises (LLEs), under the third instalment of ESVF (ESVFIII), to invest in innovative local tech start-ups. NRF committed S$10 million per fund, on a matching basis, to invest in technology start-ups based in Singapore. This aims to encourage LLEs to engage in corporate venturing to source for innovative technologies and business models as part of their overall corporate strategy, and in the process improve their innovation capacity, This also enables start-ups to scale-up by leveraging on LLEs’ mentorship, resources and networks
The four LLEs and the focus of their corporate venture capital funds are:
- CapitaLand Limited
Focus: Start-ups with innovations ranging from design and construction, operations and maintenance, sales and leasing, customer engagement, to workplace productivity and smart living solutions
- DeClout Limited
Focus: Disruptive start-ups in digital economy, including big data analytics, smart logistics, cyber security and financial technology (fintech)
- Wilmar International Limited
Focus: Technologies that have the potential to cause a wide disruptive impact on agriculture, food, human and animal health, and industrial biotechnology
YCH Group Pte Ltd
Focus: Start-ups in “uberisation” of logistics that maximise utilisation of capital and assets, 3D printing for on demand production, robotics, Big Data analytics, and deployment of fintech for the supply chain industry
Contact: Corporate venture arm Supply Chain Angels (SCA) at enquiries@SCAngels.com.sg
NRF’s investments have been encouraging. The following are examples of ESVF investments that have received follow-up funding or acquired by other companies.
Restaurant review portal HungryGoWhere is the leading food portal in Singapore, with additional online presence in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Australia. In 2012, HungryGoWhere.com was fully acquired by Singapore Telecommunications Limited (SingTel) for a sum of S$12 million.
Ninja Logistics (Ninjavan)
Ninja Logistics connects logistics fleets to retailers, services, warehouses through its complex algorithmic processes. The start-up closed a US$30 million Series B funding led by Abraaj Group in 2016. Other investors in this financing round include existing investor Monk’s Hill Ventures, and new investors B Capital Group and Yahoo Japan Capital.
ASLAN Pharmaceuticals Pte Ltd
ASLAN Pharmaceuticals is a Singapore-based pharmaceutical company that develops novel medicines for global markets. It closed a US$22 million Series B funding led by Cenova Ventures in 2013. Other investors in this financing round include new investors Morningside Group and XinChen Ventures, as well as existing investors BioVeda Capital and Sagamore Bioventures.
Brandtology’s Online Business Intelligence services enable brands to manage and extract invaluable insights from consumers’ conversations. Launched in 2008 and headquartered in Singapore, Brandtology’s multilingual service covers more than 15 languages and processes over 250 million online conversations per month. Brandtology is a subsidiary of iSentia.
YFind Technologies Pte Ltd
YFind is a Singapore-based indoor positioning company which has developed an indoor location technology called YFind Positioning System based on existing WIFI infrastructure and smartphone handsets to enable location in intelligent buildings and cities. This technology enables users to search a location indoors or in dense urban environments, within three metres’ accuracy. YFind Technologies Pte Ltd was acquired in July 2013 by Ruckus Wireless, a Silicon Valley based supplier of advanced wireless systems.
JustCommodity is a Singapore-based commodity trading and risk management software solutions provider for the soft commodity sector, servicing some of the largest trading firms worldwide, including Forbes Global 2000 and Fortune 500 companies. It has developed comprehensive real-time reporting tools to help trading firms manage, track and trade their products.
 The National Framework for Innovation and Enterprise (NFIE) is a national programme to grow innovation and entrepreneurship in Singapore. The NFIE is administered by the National Research Foundation (NRF), Prime Minister’s Office, Singapore.
 This is in addition to an earlier injection of $50 million in 2008 to co-finance the establishment of five early stage venture funds in Singapore.
 Previously known as SBI Ven Capital.