Gemstar helps Australian startups enter Southeast Asia

Gemstar Technology, a company that aims to bridge the gap between Australia’s growing technology sector and the trade, investment and market opportunities that exist in Southeast Asia using Singapore as the gateway, has entered a new growth phase with the strategic appointments of Martin Christmas and Geoff Gourley.

Gemstar insists on its own website that it’s “not your everyday accelerator or incubator”. To a certain extent, Gemstar can be seen as an ‘unstructured personalised accelerator’ that takes a tailored approach to the entrepreneurs and companies it assists. Gemstar’s primary focus is to unearth technologies and bring them to market faster through effective commercialisation strategies. The company sources investment, collaborators and customers for its clients to assist with their growth strategies.

“We are driven by the success of our clients, so when they achieve their objectives—whether it be the search for investment and/or to create a presence in another market – we know we have achieved part of our goal,” said Gemma Manning, founder of Gemstar. “However, we also want to foster our clients through the journey and be their go-to partner, providing tailored advice, business services and solutions as they expand into new markets.”

Gemstar was founded in 2013 by Manning, who also owns strategic marketing consultancy Manning & Co. Towards the end of 2012, Manning was assisting one of her other business’ long-term clients with their expansion into Singapore, helping the client build a strong profile and market presence. She was travelling back and forth from Singapore every couple of months, and was able to make excellent connections and learn about the opportunities available in Singapore for Australian technology companies. At the time, Singapore had also just launched its ‘Smart Nation’ initiative, a roadmap for the development of the country’s technology and innovation sector; the Singaporean government has since invested approximately $30 billion into the technology sector.

“Not only does Singapore have a high net worth population, with the Smart Nation plan in place, both private investors and the government were showing a growing appetite and commitment to invest in technologies, and really ramp up the country’s technology sector, eventually becoming Asia’s Silicon Valley,” said Manning.

It was also during this time that Manning & Co was being approached by many Australian technology companies to assist with their go-to-market strategies in the Southeast Asian region, but they were cash-strapped.

“They knew they needed to invest in marketing, growth and development of their technologies, including making their pitch to investors and customers more effective; but they also didn’t have the funds to do so, and were struggling with capital raising and funding,” said Manning.

“Some were getting so frustrated with the environment here that they were packing up to go to Silicon Valley to develop and commercialise their ideas.”

Indeed, Australian startups have long bemoaned the difficulty of raising capital locally. While Australia’s funding environment has matured considerably in the past two years, with seed and series A funding easier to raise than ever before, at the time Gemstar was launched, funding options were quite limited.

Manning admitted she was getting frustrated seeing founders struggle first hand.

“Why can’t we unearth the amazing talent, innovations and inventions that we have? What can we do to stop this technology brain drain?” Manning thought to herself.

Her solution was Gemstar. 

“With Singapore cashed up, so to speak, and willing to invest in emerging and impactful technologies, Gemstar made sense,” said Manning.

“Australia’s tech sector is starting to thrive but also being challenged by our funding environment, so a business like Gemstar continues to make sense three years on from when the idea was born.”

More than half of the world’s 7-billion-strong population sits directly above Australia on the map, meaning we’re uniquely positioned to tap into the Asian markets. However, many Australian startups head to the US or UK to pursue growth opportunities. From a cultural perspective, Western countries are easier and quicker to set up base in, but the potential in Asia shouldn’t go unrecognised. Over the past 18 months, we’ve seen a shift in the local mindset, with many Australian technology companies tapping into Asian markets (particularly Southeast Asian markets) and achieving varying degrees of success.

Manning said Australia’s High Commissioner in Singapore Phillip Green, along with the Trade Commissioner Chris Rees and AUSTCHAM, have been on a mission to forge closer business ties between Australia and Singapore.

“They have been very active for the last two years doing road-shows in Australia, educating the business community on the reasons why Australian companies should be doing more business in Singapore,” said Manning.

She added that because Singapore is on a mission to attract the best-of-the-best technologies that tackle pressing global challenges like urban density, ageing populations, healthcare, mobility and sustainability, Australian technology companies are equipped to capitalise on these opportunities.

“I personally believe that we need to do more to educate the tech sector, and this is what Gemstar aims to do with various partners and other stakeholders over the next 12 months – it’s our own mission,” said Manning.

“Singapore’s relentless drive to achieve its Smart Nation vision is amazing to see in action. Singapore has a buzz that we unfortunately don’t have here yet. We are championing Singapore and South-East Asia, and happy to talk to anyone who wants to learn more about the opportunities that exist and how to tap into them. The time is now.”

Gemstar is not alone in its efforts to help Australian technology companies capitalise on opportunities in Southeast Asia. Earlier this year, Telstra-backed startup accelerator muru-D opened operations in Singapore; and we’re seeing an increasing number of VC firms like Right Click Capital and Tank Stream Ventures encouraging and assisting local companies expand into Asian markets. However, Manning isn’t threatened by the growing number of accelerators, incubators and firms popping up to help bridge the gap between Australia and Singapore.  

“We are a specialist player. Firstly, we are the link between Australia and Singapore with a strong focus on unearthing Australian technologies in Singapore as the gateway into Southeast Asia,” said Manning.

“We are also about quality not quantity. Our model is to educate Australian companies on the opportunities that exist in Southeast Asia through dedicated trade missions that we are conducting with Austrade. And then we work with a handful of suitable companies to really guide them through the process of market entry, partnerships, further R&D and commercialisation.”

Gemstar operates on a “success fee basis” where it charges a percentage of the value of the deal that’s been struck. In cases where startups are at a very early stage in their lifecycle, but seem promising, Gemstar will agree to provide services in exchange for equity in the business – or a mix of both.

The company also provides services like business strategy, business development, targeted introductions, grant applications, market entry services, strategic marketing consulting and commercial finance consulting. Most of these are charged at an agreed fee depending on the client’s individual needs and requirements.

Gemstar is entering its next phase of growth and has brought on Martin Christmas and Geoff Gourley to assist the process. Christmas has joined Gemstar as General Manager and will take care of critical day-to-day operations including meeting with potential investors, customers and collaborators; providing commercial advice to clients, as well as guiding them through the detail of market entry and expansion. He brings more than two decades of commercial finance experience to the business.

Gourley, who is the co-founder of the $100 million Impact Investment Fund and founder of One10, has joined Gemstar as Director of Strategy. Gourley will be responsible for onboarding Australian tech entrepreneurs, startups and scale-ups that could benefit from Gemstar’s services, while also providing strategic advice, guidance and mentorship to clients, and continually growing Gemstar’s network in growth markets.

“Bringing Martin and Geoff into the business has been part of the growth strategy, as we now have end-to-end service capability as well as extended networks and relationships, which is so important in this business. Until now, we have been testing the Gemstar business model and making sure it is viable one by talking to many stakeholders,” said Manning.

“Both Geoff and Martin are great assets to Gemstar and I look forward to collaborating with them in driving Gemstar’s vision of unearthing and shining light on the amazing talent that we have here in Australia.”

On joining Gemstar, Gourley said, “I’m very excited to join Gemstar and work closely with the team to promote the trade and export of great Australian innovations into international markets. And as a champion of female entrepreneurship, I’m particularly encouraged by Gemma’s work and her passion in assisting not only Australia’s tech sector but female techpreneurs and business owners.”

Gemstar is currently working with six technology companies looking to explore opportunities in Singapore; Manning expects the company’s client base to double over the next year. One of Gemstar’s clients has developed a miniaturised, intelligent LED lighting solution that delivers substantial energy savings with a step-change increase in output.

Manning said Gemstar has been working directly with the creator to tailor a path to expansion, which includes the preparation of investment documentation, forecasting and marketing strategies, the searching out of suitors for investment and collaboration, and ultimately, the necessary requirements for market entry into Singapore, including office facilities, company establishment, compliance, IP protection and access to grants and other financial assistance.

Another client is at an embryonic stage, focusing on wearable devices and anti-obesity strategies. Manning said Gemstar is working strategically with the founders to establish a vision, what solution they want to deliver, who the target customer is and what the functionality needs to be. Once this is complete, Gemstar will guide the founders through the prototype design phase, ultimately linking to investment and expansion services.

As part of its mission to educate Australian tech companies on the opportunities that exist in Singapore and Southeast Asia broadly, Gemstar has partnered with Austrade to conduct a series of trade missions. The first mission is taking place this month, and the next is planned for March/April 2016. Over the next 12 months, Manning will also set up a Gemstar innovation hub in Singapore with potential partners. Manning said they’ve already received expressions of interest from several potential partners.

Although Gemstar has been self-funded to date, Manning is open to the prospect of raising capital at a later stage after reviewing the company’s growth strategy with her new partners.

This article was published on Startup Daily. Read the article here.