In this week’s Community Feature, we speak to Amos Avner from SEAMO Ventures, a cross border incubation facilitator cum mini venture capitalist.

Kopi with Amos Avner, mentor at NUS Enterprise

What’s the story behind SEAMO Ventures?

There are three answers to that. The abbreviations stand for Southeast Asian Momentum because we are in Southeast Asia. It is actually a joint venture between Startup East, an Israeli company and Momentum Works, which is a Singapore company, so therefore SEAMO. It also was an acronym of my name, Amos SEAMO.

Who are you and what do you do?

I am Amos, the CEO, and co-founder of SEAMO Ventures. It is an incubator and a go-to-market hub for overseas companies that want to come here to Singapore and grow their businesses in Southeast Asia. We work mainly with startup companies from Israel but also from other places like Korea, Europe, we are open for everyone.

What are some of the companies in your portfolio?

We have a company, called Lead Spotting It’s not just a lead generation company, although it sounds like it. It is actually a startup from Israel, which is doing business intelligence and market analysis. It was found that three years ago we were the first investors, and the company has grown quite well, quite massively. Its operations are in a few different countries, including here in Singapore and growing well.

What are some of the big no-nos when it comes to choosing a startup?

There are a few things that I looked out for when choosing a startup. One thing I am kind of personal and more sensitive to is what I say overconfidence. Which is something i think many of us suffer from, entrepreneurs, and maybe even myself. This is why I am more sensitive to that. Especially in Israel where I come from, it is something that when you meet people from there, entrepreneurs they sometimes lack from overconfidence. By overconfidence, I mean people that think they know everything and are not willing to learn, to listen. That is a very big no-no and problem thing for entrepreneurs.

Have you met any startups like that?

Yeah, many. Even here in Singapore. I mean less here, I have to say because one thing I like about Singaporeans, one thing that I like, when I started working here, I realized that that people generally are not too confident. Sometimes, they are even too humble and they are willing to learn. But yeah, sometimes you meet people who are like, for example, I give you an example. Sometimes I ask them, they have many assumptions about their business and then I ask them like, very simply like:  If you are wrong, and you might be wrong right. We all might be wrong. What happens? And they are like “ I can’t help you, that won’t happen for sure.” No one knows for sure. We cannot predict the market right. If you are in a retail space, maybe in 10 years, no more shops right.

What do you look out for in a startup?

On the flip side, I tend to look for people that are not insecure obviously, but they appreciate the fact that they are on an ongoing learning curve, and they don’t know everything and they need to be quite open for luck and for accidents right, and what you could call mutation right, as the opposite for evolution. But, I think I look mainly for people that you can actually make deep conversations with. I hope so.

Leadspotting is awesome. It is not a typical startup because it’s like a sole founder style. Sometimes it is a big no-no for many VCs or investors. And for me, initially it was also like a question mark. But, eventually because this founder is like a serial entrepreneur, and he is very experienced so it’s almost like having a team in one person. I think one good example for a good startup that I know is Waze. I don’t know if you guys have heard of Waze right.

Waze is an Israeli startup. It was founded by 4 alumnis of Tel Aviv University, which is also mine, and this one is quite different because its former founders all are very very different. But it is quite clear, like who is doing what and they are also very persistent. These guys have made, I don’t know, hundreds of pivots along the way. They’ve got so many rejections from all the major VCs in israel but they kept on going and eventually we all know how it ended up right. They sold the business at 1.1 billion to Google. Many of us use them, so yeah.

On that note, so how did you end up in Singapore?

That is a good question. So, five years ago, I was in my previous role before starting what I do right now. I was handling the Tel Aviv incubator, so I did similar stuff to what you guys are doing here at NUS Enterprise and BLOCK71, and I was working with a lot of Israeli startups and one thing i found out about the Israel startup ecosystem, that while it’s quite  mature and strong, there is a gap in terms of going to new markets. Israeli startups are quite good at going into US markets, that is one that they are familiar with. But as it comes to asia, very few success cases. So we ended up getting me and two other co-founders, we started this – company, which was basically the first Israeli incubator that helped startups go to Asia and our first partners were NUS and they were very supportive of what we do and offered us to come here, to BLOCK71 and set up a small shop here have more companies here. The rest is history. We start a company here, we start also a company is China, and I think right now we are kind of like the leading incubator for any startups in Israel who wants to go to Asian markets.

Amos at N-house

How is it like to be mentor at NUS Enterprise?

That’s actually one of the more interesting parts about what I do and I think again for me it’s always a two-sided kind conversation for me. So, I think a lot of people, when they come from one place to another, they are more focused on getting in terms of giving. So it’s like, how can I raise funds here, which is good. I mean this is what they should do and because this is their goal as a business, but one thing that I usually prefer doing when I am coming to a new place is also giving. You know because giving is getting eventually so I feel that doing this role as a mentor here is a bit of my giving back to the community, but also you know exposed to many opportunities because I meet a lot of good founders. And I learned more of the obstacles and I try to advise them from what I know with my experience working in Israel and also in other places and also learn a lot from them because you know eventually they have more experience than me working here or going to another market here in Southeast Asia. So, it’s great working with them.

For my experience is in the B2B space and enterprise software space so anyone who is in these businesses and looking to scale, looking to grow. come up with a set/safe strategy, I can give some tips from my own experience, working with those companies like Lead Spotting, which is a B2B company and other even larger companies that we helped along the years for.

An example is SimilarWebs. SimilarWebs is also quite a well known company in data analysis. We helped them a bit within this region. You know, how to get global partners, resellers, so this kind of things I am always happy to advice for sure. Also,  I guess a bit of like the personal struggles of entrepreneurs. It’s something that is obviously less talked about, but it is coming from someone who’s being been an entrepreneur for almost 10 years and going through major crises and specially when moving places and experiencing different cultures. I think this thing can be sometimes harmful, for people, like they need to be very resilient so I guess I can help with that. Telling things like “Hey, you’re good.”, motivational stuff.

How can we help?

For startups founders who want to connect or find out more about SEAMO Ventures, you can look me up on LinkedIn – Amos Avner.

Watch the full video interview with Amos Avner from SEAMO Ventures here:

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