Wherever he travels, Ng Yi Ming always makes it a point to hunt down a good speakeasy. While the tipple might be a welcome nightcap, it is the conversation with the mixologist that the co-founder of Tribe Accelerator anticipates. What he’s after is the opportunity to make a connection. “I’m the kind of guy who likes things off-menu, so the whole idea of communicating with the bartender and getting him to mix a drink based on my preferences – that’s the appeal,” says the 28-year-old blockchain entrepreneur, who counts watering hole Sober Company in Shanghai as one of his favourites. This applies to the deep technology work he does too. Ng has made it his mission to seek out the human element in the highly technical field.
Tribe, his Singapore-based blockchain accelerator, aims to help start-ups develop blockchain-based solutions to real-world problems. These include supply chain visibility in tracing food from farm to table for DiMuto, verifying the history of second-hand cars for sgCarMart, and authenticating limited-edition toy collectables for Mighty Jaxx. In essence, by making the history of a product unalterable on a decentralised ledger, blockchain helps reduce fraud and deceit. He launched Tribe in 2018 when blockchain was synonymous with the speculative cryptocurrency Bitcoin. “There was so much distrust in the traditional world. We felt there could be a lot of good uses for blockchain technology,” says Ng, who first encountered blockchain as a mechanical engineering student at Imperial College London, where he saw friends mining bitcoins.
“We care about the benefits technology can bring, more than the technology itself. The aim is to humanise technology and focus on its impact on mankind,” he adds. Together with co-founder Ryan Chew, Ng appeared on the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list of young entrepreneurs in April this year. He characterises Tribe as a “professional matchmaker” that connects start-ups, corporations, governments and universities with interests in blockchain applications, in one sphere. To date, Tribe has helped the start-ups in its portfolio raise about $40 million. It is backed by government organisations such as Enterprise Singapore, Monetary Authority of Singapore and IMDA, as well as corporate entities such as BMW Group Asia,Citibank, IBM, Intel and Ubisoft. A tech-for-good initiative it has helped get off the ground is AID:Tech, a forerunner in providing blockchain-enabled digital identification so social welfare programmes can track remittances, donations and healthcare to needy communities.
Another way Tribe is investing in the next generation is through its recently launched blockchain academy. Ng muses: “There is a need among corporations for talent. In these times with a lot of retrenchments and fresh graduates without jobs, how do we help people get access to employment at a good tech company?” Tribe Academy will offer courses in data science, blockchain and programming for successful applicants. Programme graduates are placed in jobs with Tribe’s partners, including Zalora and Shoppee, with a small percentage of their salaries covering the training cost. There are currently 75 students based in Singapore, with plans to expand to Indonesia and Vietnam later this year.
Last month, IBM Skills Academy announced a collaboration with Tribe Academy to help students build their digital credentials. Ng’s spirit of encouraging adaptability is also seen in his personal life. A self-proclaimed foodie, he bought meals from Japanese, Spanish and Italian restaurants for his parents during the Circuit Breaker period, to expand their “traditional” palates. “I thought I should try to spice up their life and encourage them to be more receptive to change. They were hesitant. But now, my mum even uses Facebook to discover restaurants.”