For all the excitement, riches and glamour venture capitalism brings, it’s still a domain fraught with high stakes and risks – one that requires charm and smarts on the daily to convince investors to pour huge sums of money into what you think will be the next big thing.
An engineer by training, 29-year-old Shaun Hon is more comfortable next to a desk lamp than under a spotlight. But he loves solving problems and he wants to save the maritime industry. Hon is co-founder and general partner of Motion Ventures, a $30 million consortium-driven fund focusing on tech start-ups that want to innovate and scale in this notoriously backwards industry. The fund is still in its infancy, but since its inception in February, it has been backed by conglomerates like Wilhelmsen, HHLA and Enterprise Singapore. More recently, industry leaders like MOL PLUS, IMC Ventures and Signal Ventures have also joined the consortium – a sign of great promise.
“Fundraising is always difficult, but I think we’ve had it easier than most,” says Hon. “Our objective is to accelerate the adoption of technologies across the entire maritime supply chain. We already have a strong case when we talk to corporations since we are looking for specific solutions to problems that the industry wants fixed.”
All of these issues – from decarbonisation to optimising logistics and communications – are a far cry from Hon’s experience leading performance design in electric vehicles for clients like BMW and Ford after graduation. “I was tremendously inspired by Mythbusters when I was younger, and wanted to be an engineer so I could build all this cool stuff,” he recalls. Despite his parents’ wishes for him to pursue a career in finance, he graduated from Imperial College London with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering.
However, venture capitalism turned out to be a natural fit for the former engineer. After moving to Singapore from the UK about four years ago, Hon couldn’t find an engineering role challenging enough to hold his interest, so he turned to his alumni network, discovered venture capitalism – “My parents loved that” – and joined AI tech fund Trive in 2018 as an investment principal.
“I was fascinated as it was like a marriage between engineering and finance,” he says. “Because I have built so many products myself, I drew a lot from my engineering experience. My training also allows me to think like a system, where inputs affect outputs. As an example, if a local start-up is doing well here, should it develop a new product line or expand existing products internationally? By thinking this way, it’s easier to discern potential outcomes.”
As a result of the synergy, Hon moved on from Trive in 2020 to be a director at Rainmaking, where he launched Motion Ventures Alliance, an innovation advisory network for the maritime industry. That move paved the way for the founding of Motion Ventures.
Hon loves the resourcefulness of start-up founders and their willingness to keep putting their necks on the block for what they believe in. “I never saw that before as an engineer as I was usually sheltered by the company I was working for. This has inspired me to do the same, and to make decisions based on long-term goals despite short-term pain.”
The pain might just be what’s keeping Hon in this line of work as he enjoys solving complex, dynamic issues. If the problems aren’t big enough, I get very demotivated,” he laughs. “I loved being an engineer but I don’t miss it because the problems I’m solving now are exponentially more difficult.”