As a young entrepreneur, Woo Sze Ming spotted a gap in the market to service hairdressers and hair salons using new 3D technology.However, as a start-up company, Gamurai did not have the technical resources in-house to meet the industry’s needs. Ever-resourceful, Sze Ming identified an external technology solution, which has now been in-licensed in order to get the innovation to market quickly and capitalise on first mover advantage.
Gamurai is a technology start-up founded by Sze Ming in the third year of his studies at Singapore Management University. One of its first product lines, launched under the brand [email protected] Experience, has a 3D face modelling technology that offers hair salons the chance to provide 3D virtual hairstyle modelling for their customers.
This app offers clients the chance to ‘try on’ new hairstyles and colours before styling by their hairdresser starts, by superimposing styles on a 3D avatar created from a 2D photo.As Sze Ming explains, “the app is fun and helps the salon stylists to understand the client’s wishes better by speeding up the consultation process.Also, it can store details of past preferred hairstyles and hair colours”. With the Hair History, the system can help manage the transition if a new stylist takes on the client.
As well as this consumer-facing hair styling app, [email protected] Experience also offers salons the full suite of cloud-based salon business operation services, such as tracking of orders and appointments, an inventory system, a POS system and tools to manage service and promotions.
Hairdressing is a big, ever-green business. In Singapore alone, there are over 3,000 hair salons. However, there are very few apps tailored for hairstylists, an opportunity that Gamurai seized.
In order to maximise the business opportunity, the company needed to be first to market.However, to develop the technology solutions independently and quickly seemed like a big task for a start-up with limited resources.
Sze Ming was pleasantly surprised that this was not the case.The breadth and depth of assistance available in Singapore was contrary to popular belief that there was limited support available for entrepreneurs.He realised that it was “not about the lack of resources”, instead, it was all “about being resourceful”.
The company’s innovation journey started when Gamurai identified and won a nation-wide competition organised by A*STAR ETPL to find innovative commercial applications for 3D face modelling technology developed by the A*STAR’s Institute for Infocomm Research (I²R). This led to the signing of a non-exclusive licence agreement for the 3D face modelling software and patent, and ETPL also supported the new start-up by assisting with its proof of concept demonstration for hair salon applications.
The comprehensive support provided by ETPL helped to nurture the company’s growth.
“We received help to showcase the technology at innovation events and trade fairs at home and overseas, and also got assistance with introductions to useful contacts, like industry associations and trade bodies.” These introductions included potential funders investors and collaborators.
Gamurai benefited from increased market exposure through such introductions and trade events. This has led to collaborations with multinational companies, for instance when the company worked with Samsung to showcase its technology on the latter’s mirror displays. In return, ETPL benefits from helping a dynamic young company implement its technology and deliver ‘real world’ impact.
Traditionally, IP licensing deals have been quite problematic for start-ups and early stage companies, because the costs are prohibitive (in terms of upfront fees or large royalty payments), the timescales too protracted, or the licence clauses too burdensome. Nevertheless, licensing-in can often make commercial sense owing to the time and cost savings compared with creating something in-house from scratch.
As Peter Tay (Assistant Vice President of ETPL) explains, a lot has been done to streamline the process. “ETPL has developed new ways of working with business partners, based on what is needed for their business case”.One such way is ETPL's Simplified Licensing initiative, which aims to standardise and shorten licensing agreements with business-friendly terms to help close deals faster and accelerate time-to-market – benefiting both the IP owner and the partner.
The on-going collaboration between Gamurai and ETPL is an example of how the government can lower the entry barrier for SMEs and start-ups looking at entering the innovation space. It shows that with an agile start-up, a non-exclusive licence may be all it takes to get a new product or service to market early, enabling the business to better concentrate its resources on growing the company’s business and brand.