Elsa closes pre-a round with total of $3.2 million

Monk's Hill ventures leads round to expand
smart a.i. english pronunciation assistant

 

San Francisco, CA, March 6, 2018 ELSA, a mobile app that uses artificial intelligence and speech recognition technology to help language learners improve their English pronunciation, today announces a Pre-A round of $3.2 million in capital led by Monk’s Hill Ventures, one of the most respected and longstanding VCs in Southeast Asia. Managing Partner, Peng T. Ong, will join ELSA’s board with this round.

The team at ELSA, which stands for English Language Speech Assistant, will use the capital to hire top-tier talent to develop new AI capabilities, open its voice recognition API, and expand its speech recognition technology to teach new languages beyond American English. The company will create a platform to support English teachers and schools around the world to integrate ELSA into their curriculum and help students with their speaking skills. Most ESL classes focus primarily on grammar, vocabulary and reading skills, while speaking remains a challenge that requires one on one support from teachers with limited resources. Until now, there wasn’t an efficient way for English teachers to grade a student’s speaking ability or to provide them with personalized help. With ELSA, they now can.

ELSA currently allows 1.5 billion English language learners across the globe to increase their speaking fluency. Using ELSA’s proprietary voice recognition technology, language learners can improve their accent, pitch and intonation when speaking English. The app listens to the way language learners pronounce words, sentences or conversations to pinpoint exact errors and provide real-time, accurate feedback on their pronunciation mistakes with specific suggestions on how to improve. For example, ELSA teaches English learners how to move their tongue or their lips differently in order to fix pronunciation errors.

“We’ve built a very large speech corpus of non-native speakers from around the world learning English. With this very valuable data set that we’ve collected and trained over the past few years, we continuously improve our advanced pronunciation assessment engine using state-of-the-art speech recognition and deep learning technologies. The support of Monks Hill Ventures is crucial as we execute our plans for growth and development to new languages, educational platforms and extensive AI capabilities,” said Ms. Vu Van, co-founder and CEO of ELSA.

ELSA, the 2016 SXSWEdu winner, has experienced exponential growth of three times the usage by language learners in 2017, as compared to 2016. With millions of users from 100+ countries around the world, ELSA uses recurrent neural networks (specifically LSTM networks) to model American speech and detect user’s pronunciation mistakes with 90% accuracy, a significant achievement in the field of speech recognition.

“We are pleased to support ELSA’s team of experts in the fields of AI and speech recognition as they scale their technology to new languages and markets. ELSA has achieved exceptional organic growth over the past two years and we’re excited to help grow their business and partnership efforts in 2018 and beyond,” said Monk’s Hill Ventures managing partner, Peng T. Ong.

 

Monk’s Hill Ventures Welcomes
Mohd Ridzwan (Reez) Nordin as Venture Partner

Singapore, February 12, 2018 - We are pleased to welcome Mohd Ridzwan (Reez) Nordin as Venture Partner of Monk’s Hill Ventures. Based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Reez joins Monk’s Hill Ventures’ localised and diversified team of investment professionals who are stationed across all gateway cities in Southeast Asia.   

Reez will be assisting our portfolio companies by growing their businesses, hiring great talents and expanding their presence in more geographies. In addition to sourcing potential deals in his areas of interest which include Enterprise Software, FinTech, EdTech and Business to Consumer (B2C) businesses, Reez plans to spend more time connecting with all the various players in the technology ecosystems in the region. “There is much to learn from each other, with a myriad of opportunities to contribute to each other’s growth while at the same time seeking out areas of potential partnership to further grow the regional ecosystem,” he commented.

Most recently, Reez was part of the technology investment team at Khazanah Nasional, Malaysia’s strategic investment fund, which focuses on investing in startups in the Enterprise Software space and fund investments across the globe. He has led several initiatives to nurture and unearth entrepreneurial talents within corporates and the public at large through angel matching funding and pre-accelerator programs. Reez developed an interest in entrepreneurship when he took his MBA from MIT Sloan School of Management and co-founded Kaymbu in Boston, a leading family engagement and classroom documentation tool for early education programs. Prior to that, Reez was with iPerintis, helping Petronas embark on its e-learning initiative across the company. He began his career in KPMG Consulting in New York City, helping clients optimize their technology infrastructure.

 Looking to the future, Reez’s aspirational goal is to help nurture world-class entrepreneurs from Southeast Asia who can become role models for future generations of entrepreneurs. “This aligns with Monk’s Hill Ventures’ vision to build Southeast Asian globals, to build global companies with roots in Southeast Asia. This shared vision, along with his wealth of knowledge in tech startups and investments, is why Reez is a great addition to our team,” shared Managing Partner, Peng T. Ong.

 

Horangi Cybersecurity secures US$3.1m Series A Round
led by Monk’s Hill Ventures

Singapore, November 6th, 2017Horangi Cybersecurity, a Singapore-based cybersecurity startup, announced today that it has closed a US$3.1m Series A Round led by Monk’s Hill Ventures, with participation from Right Click Capital500 StartupsHub Ventures Fund6Degrees Ventures, and private investors.

Co-founded by two Palantir alumni, Horangi builds security products that enable the rapid delivery of incident response and threat detection for customers who lack the scale, expertise, or time to do it themselves. The company’s core products, comprising of Scanner, Hunter, and Storyfier, integrate seamlessly to provide customers with a full-stack cybersecurity solution previously available only to Fortune 500 companies. With plans starting at $50/month, customers can easily scan and detect security vulnerabilities through Horangi’s platform, and conveniently access Horangi’s in-house cyber operations consultants with a single click.

Started in early 2016, Horangi now has over 50 clients across sectors such as government, technology, financial services and retail. The majority of its clients are from the APAC region, where Horangi will focus its growth efforts for the near future. There has also been inbound interest from US MNCs with presence and operations in Asia, who chose Horangi as their security provider locally due to its expertise across these foreign markets.

The funds raised will go towards improving Horangi’s proprietary technologies, scaling business operations, and accelerating expansion in key Asian markets. These efforts are strengthened by the appointment of Peng T. Ong and Kuo-Yi Lim, seasoned entrepreneurs who have built and backed global companies in the US and Asia, to the Board of Directors. "Cybersecurity is a growing concern for companies in this region. Online attacks are increasing in frequency and sophistication, while reliance on online services has also grown. Horangi brings a level of expertise and much needed capability in its products to the market, particularly in Asia where this is lacking. The team's extensive experiences put them in a strong position to help companies protect their online presence and data," said Kuo-Yi.

“As cyber threats become increasingly complex, businesses require proactive solutions to safeguard their digital environments,” said Paul Hadjy, co-founder and CEO of Horangi. “Our vision is to provide an affordable full-stack cybersecurity solution for our users globally, allowing them to quickly understand and deploy the right course of action.”

 

 

KKday raises US$7m series A+ to further expand in Asia’s travel industry

Hong Kong, 5th December 2016 - KKday, Asia's leading travel experience e-commerce platform, is taking another leap forward with the announcement of US$7 million in Series A+ funding led by Monk’s Hill Ventures and AppWorks. Multiple strategic investors also took part in the deal, including Hong Kong-based Mindworks Ventures, Cathay Venture and Substance Capital (HK) Limited.

The funds will accelerate KKday’s international growth and strengthen its leading position in Asia’s online travel industry.

Launched in Taiwan in early 2015, KKday proves itself as a leading startup in the online travel industry specializing in travel experience products. It collects more than 6000+ worldwide experiences from 53 cities all over the world and provides Japanese, Korean, English, Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese versions of customized content for customers in Asia.

KKday has already established additional offices in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Korea, Japan, and Singapore since closing the Series A funding (US$4.5 million) in September 2015. In the third quarter of the year, the company recorded nine-fold increase in sales from the same period in 2015. Massive interest in this round can be attributed to KKday’s solid execution and comprehensive expansion strategy.

Kuo-Yi Lim, Managing Partner of Monk’s Hill Ventures, says, “We are excited to be backing a solid executive team led by Ming in a fast-growing space, where Southeast Asia presents vast opportunity for both consumers and suppliers of travel experiences.”

KKday will focus on serving the evolving needs of customers through 4 key thrusts:

Exploring trendy, local travel activities
KKday continues to introduce popular and attractive local travel experiences. For instance, the Shirakawago Winter Light-up event in Japan, Gangchon Rail Park in Korea, 1-day snorkeling in Thailand and the small hand-rowing boating experience in Vietnam.

Providing thematic travel experience
KKday provides diversified travel experiences with unique themes like camping, diving, skiing and family tours. Varying needs of travelers are met with personalized experiences and journeys.

Ensuring and elevating product quality
To ensure travelers enjoy their trips to the fullest, KKday uses customer reviews to evaluate suppliers’ performance while constantly elevating the standards of suppliers through these feedbacks.

Offering customer service in multiple languages
More languages and manpower will be added to handle inquiries and optimize the quality of customer support.

In the near term, KKday plans to expand its operations across Southeast Asia, namely in Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines and Indonesia. Meanwhile, more marketing resources will be allocated to the Japanese and Korean markets.

“We target to provide the best traveling experience to all travelers across Asia,” said Ming Chen, Founder and CEO of KKday, who has dedicated himself to the travel industry since 1999 and already has 2 IPOs and 1 M&A exit under his belt. Under the leadership of Ming, KKday will strive to be the top of the field in Asia's online travel industry.

 

 

Gaming Powerhouse Playlab Scores $5 Million in Series B Funding to Takeover Southeast Asia

Bangkok, October 14, 2015– Playlab, the Hong Kong-owned mobile gaming house responsible for Juice Cubes, has secured $5 million in Series B funding through the Southeast Asian-focused venture capital firm Monk’s Hill Ventures. The funding will be used to propel Playlab, which also has studios in Thailand and the Philippines with Singapore distribution, to the forefront of Southeast Asia’s mobile gaming marketplace, building operations across the region.

This round, one of the largest secured by a mobile gaming firm in Southeast Asia, comes on the back of Playlab achieving growth of 850% over 2014 and will drive Playlab’s international expansion. Following last year’s acquisition of Manila-based game developer Anino Games (Anino Playlab), Playlab will continue to focus on growth in Southeast Asia. The fastest growing mobile entertainment company in the region, Playlab has seen its staff increase from 20 to over 100 in the last year to keep up with game development demand. Operations will grow further under plans to work with global and local publishers to become the go-to partner in Southeast Asia.

According to Forest & Sullivan, Southeast Asia’s mobile gaming revenue is forecast to exceed $7 billion by 2019, following revenue of $1 billion in 2014. These bullish market expectations and Playlab’s record led to this funding, the largest to-date from Monk’s Hill.  

“The gaming market in Southeast Asia is growing incredibly fast, and our actions are a reflection of the demand,” said Jakob Lykkegaard Pedersen, Playlab co-Founder and CEO. “We already understand the gaming desires of consumers, so this funding will help us give the market what it wants. Now, we will be able to place bigger bets on games targeting the region. We expect to make a profit within two years.”

Peng T. Ong, a founding partner and Managing Director of Monk’s Hill Ventures, a VC fund backed by Yahoo Japan Capital and Cisco, said: “As the gaming market matures in Southeast Asia, we expect to see an increase in the number of casual gamers, too. Since getting to know Jakob and his team, Playlab are the best people to service the high-end casual gaming market, and become the top game house in this region.”

Jakob Lykkegaard Pedersen continued: “We have seen the billion dollar Southeast Asian mobile market value double every second year and believe it will continue to behave this way. Partnering with a firm that understands this fast growing market, Monk’s Hill adds immediate value to our team. Together, we will be able to place more strategic bets and invest in the market to fully take over the region. Until now, we have kept Playlab bootstrapped, but with our rapid growth and so many opportunities on the horizon, the time for us to invest is now."

Cisco and Monk’s Hill Ventures Accelerate Innovation in ASEAN

Singapore, September 9, 2015 – Cisco Investments today announced a US $ 10 million investment into Monk’s Hill Ventures’ innovation fund for start-up companies. This fund aims to drive innovation and technology disruptions across the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) by supporting early stage start-ups in companies that have solutions focused on Cloud, the Internet of Everything (IoE), Big Data and Analytics, Mobility and Enterprise applications.

Monk's Hill Ventures has two primary areas of focus for investing in high-growth technology companies: first, on early stage, Series A and B, technology start-ups operating across Southeast Asia and second, on technology companies from around the world that want to expand into Southeast Asia.

Cisco, in addition to providing funding, will also explore ways of sharing technology and go-to-market expertise with invested companies in the region. This investment is aligned to Cisco Investments’ strategy to fuel innovation, by investing in venture capital funds that support the transformation of local economies and industries.

“Cisco has a long history of working with governments and organisations in ASEAN to promote innovation and economic development, and we know that the Internet is the platform that enables the delivery of new applications and solutions,” said Saleh M. Haji Munshi, President, ASEAN at Cisco.

“Our investment with Monk’s Hill Ventures reinforces Cisco’s strategy for supporting disruptive innovation, and I’m excited by the opportunities it creates for connecting communities, people, processes, data and things in ASEAN. ASEAN continues to be one of the most diverse, fast-moving, and competitive regions in the world with countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. In addition to attracting multinationals, ASEAN has become a launching pad for new companies; the region now accounts for 38 percent of Asia’s market for initial public offerings,” he added.

The partners of Monk’s Hill Ventures have built numerous Silicon Valley and Asian VC-backed companies over the past two decades, with operating experience in all of the major countries across Asia—from China and Japan to India and Indonesia. They also bring strong networks across Asia and the US, to help entrepreneurs with further fundraising, landing key enterprise customers, recruiting top talent, and expanding internationally. The firm has offices in both Singapore and Jakarta, and the investment team travels widely within the Southeast Asia region to meet promising companies.

“The concept of the fund is simple: entrepreneurs backing entrepreneurs. We are bringing an incredible wealth of experience and best practices to ASEAN, and our goal is not to just invest in companies but build the overall start-up ecosystem to help accelerate growth across the region. We’re committed to driving this in ASEAN with Cisco and our other partners, as we promote innovation and economic development together,” said Kuo-Yi Lim, Managing Director of Monk’s Hill Ventures.

Cisco Investments is an active investor with more than 40 investment professionals with deep market and technology expertise located in major geographies, including US, Canada, China, India, Israel, and Europe. Over the last 20 years, Cisco Investments has invested in hundreds of companies across different segments and helped them to build successful IPOs or acquisitions. Cisco Investments currently has an active portfolio of $2 billion with nearly 100 direct investments around the world, and also holds Limited Partner positions in over 35 funds globally.

“The ASEAN region is transforming rapidly through digitalization along with a growing community of local entrepreneurs developing new technologies and applications for the region and the world. Cisco Investments’ first investment in ASEAN focuses on helping the country and regional community grow, by nurturing the local ecosystem of start-ups. With this investment in Monk’s Hill Ventures, I’m excited by the opportunities this new breed of companies in ASEAN have, to engage with Cisco, exposing them to our partners, brand and customers, and therefore helping to expand their reach across the region,” shares Pratik Bose, director, Corporate Development at Cisco in Asia Pacific and Japan.

 

MONK’S HILL VENTURES LAUNCHES WITH S$100M FUND RUN BY SOUTHEAST ASIA’S SERIAL ENTREPRENEURS

“ENTREPRENEURS BACKING ENTREPRENEURS”

Singapore & Jakarta, May 15, 2014 — Monk’s Hill Ventures launches with a S$100M venture fund and a team of seasoned entrepreneurs focused on early stage technology startups across Asia. The partnership comprises Peng T. Ong, Kuo-Yi Lim and Stefan Jung, and Thomas Clayton as special advisor. The concept of the fund is simple: entrepreneurs backing entrepreneurs. The partnership sees the lack of operational experience as a critical deficiency across the VC landscape in Asia today.

“There are clearly two big gaps in the market. One is the much talked-about Series A funding gap. However, the more significant one that we see is the lack of seasoned entrepreneurs, with deep operating experience, as investors—people who can roll up their sleeves and really help entrepreneurs,” says Peng T. Ong, partner at Monk’s Hill Ventures, “This is what separates the best VCs from the rest.”

The partners of Monk’s Hill Ventures have built numerous Silicon Valley and Asian VC-backed companies over the past two decades, with operating experience in all of the major countries across Asia—from China and Japan to India and Indonesia. They want to leverage this experience to help entrepreneurs build big companies on a global scale. They also bring strong networks across Asia and the US, to help entrepreneurs with further fundraising, landing key enterprise customers, recruiting top talent, and expanding internationally. 

“We also want to set the bar for how venture is done in Asia, by bringing the best practices we have personally experienced through working with top VCs ourselves,” said Kuo-Yi Lim, partner at Monk’s Hill Ventures, “a straightforward and transparent process which treats entrepreneurs as partners.”

The partnership views Southeast Asia to be ripe for an explosion of leading technology companies, driven by a confluence of favorable macroeconomic conditions, exciting talent and available capital.  “When I first moved to Asia seven years ago, there were only a handful of VC-backed startups,” says Tom Clayton[TC1] , special advisor at Monk’s Hill Ventures, “in just the past three years, there has been a rapid emergence of new entrepreneurs and great startups across Southeast Asia with vibrant ecosystems forming, from Singapore and Jakarta to Bangkok and Manila.”

Monk's Hill Ventures will invest in high-growth technology companies that will take advantage of the fast growing Asian markets. The fund has two primary areas of focus. First will be on early stage, Series A and B, technology startups primarily across Southeast Asia. Second will be on growth rounds of leading startups in Silicon Valley and from around the world that want to expand in Asia.

“I learned a tremendous amount about what it takes to build successful businesses across Asia, and the nuances of each country, as we incubated and scaled up a number of businesses— including Zalora, Lazada and FoodPanda,” says Stefan Jung, partner at Monk’s Hill Ventures, “moreover, we have hired and trained many budding entrepreneurs and now many of them are building some of the top startups across the region.” 

Most importantly, Monk’s Hill Ventures wants to help build the overall startup ecosystem—not just its portfolio companies.  They aim to help as many startups and entrepreneurs as possible in order to help accelerate the growth across the region. The firm will start off with offices in both Singapore and Jakarta, but plans to continue building out and spending time across the major Asian markets.

“The last mile fulfilment problem in Southeast Asia has been exacerbated by the rapid rise of e-commerce – with parcel sizes varying significantly, larger shipping volumes, cyclical demand, and wider distribution requirements. We firmly believe that optimization of logistics in the region revolves around a routing software layer that controls legacy assets while concurrently building our own hardware, infrastructure and assets if necessary to enable the new age of logistics,” said Lai Chang Wen, CEO and co-founder, Ninja Logistics.

Kuo-Yi Lim, partner at Monk’s Hill Ventures, added, "Our investment in Ninja Van reflects our belief in the team, their innovative approach and execution ability. The fast-growing online e-commerce spend and the current state of last mile logistics in the metro cities of Southeast Asia present a very attractive market opportunity. Ninja Van is well-placed to address that and we are excited to be working with the team and fellow investors in this effort." 

  

FINANCE AND INSURANCE PORTAL COMPARE88 GROUP RAISES SERIES A

Jakarta, March 4, 2015 – Finance and insurance portal Compare88 Group announced today that it has raised an undisclosed amount in Series A funding from Singapore-based Monk’s Hill Ventures.

Compare88 owns and operates the CekAja.com brand in Indonesia – the country’s highest-trafficked independent finance and insurance portal, as well as the eCompareMo.com brand in The Philippines. The company will use the funds to further accelerate its growth in the region, expand the team and build out its technology.

CEO and co-founder, John Patrick Ellis says: “We are delighted to partner with Monks Hill Ventures and their executive team of accomplished entrepreneurs.  We share a long-term vision and conviction that online comparison and brokerage services will be highly-popular, equitable vehicles of economic growth and consumer protection in the region.”

Compare88 also announced that Monk’s Hill Venture’s managing director Peng T. Ong, who recently stepped down from the board of Singtel.

“Compare88 has grown quickly into the regional leader in this space,” says Ong in a statement, “And, we look forward to working with the team to building a true regional powerhouse in the coming years.”

 

NINJA VAN RAISES SGD3.5 MILLION IN SERIES A FUNDING LED BY MONK’S HILL VENTURES

FUNDS WILL BE USED TO DRIVE PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT AND REGIONAL EXPANSION

Singapore, March 3, 2015 – Ninja Logistics, a leading last mile logistics company in Singapore, today announced a SGD3.5 million Series A round of funding led by Monk’s Hill Ventures, with participation from regional corporates, including Insas Berhad. The investment will be used to accelerate existing product development and market expansion within Southeast Asia. Kuo-Yi Lim of Monk’s Hill Ventures and Mei Chuen Thong of Insas Berhad will both join the board of Ninja Logistics.

Operating under the brand Ninja Van, the fast growing startup seeks to solve the last mile logistics problem via a multitude of strategic tie-ups and a cutting edge technology stack revolving around reactive and distributed systems. The Series A financing builds on an exceptional ten months for Ninja Van since inception, establishing itself as one of the top courier providers in Singapore, with more than 300 merchants on board including major large-format retailers and brands such as Lazada, Guardian, Pupsik Studio, Love Bonito, Agape Babies, and many more.

Ninja Van’s in-house technology and algorithm teams are actively innovating on several fronts, for e.g., enabling more distribution methods and shorter delivery times.