‘Rigged’ contest denial by Channel News Asia

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Imagine sending out a low cost autonomous Search and Rescue Drone (Flying robot) into the southern Indian Ocean in search of wreckage from MH370.

That was what Gabriel Pang was developing at his start-up, Sensory Robotics. As he described it to two venture capitalists, the drone can be launched from a ship to perform ocean search and rescue in a man-over-board situation, in a plane or helicopter crash at sea or used as an early warning system against pirate attacks in dangerous waters. It can also deployed by firefighters and law enforcement. Unfortunately Pang did not make it past the first round of the new Channel News Asia (CNA) reality show, The Startup Asia (showing on Tuesdays at 8:30 pm).

A total of more than 100 entries were submitted, according to CNA, but the show is now featuring only the eight remaining finalists. But an allegation that the contest is “rigged” has been made against the programme, by a complainant, who asked not to be named. The complainant claims to be acting on behalf of a friend whose start-up — unnamed — was eliminated. She sent the complaint to the Media Development Authority as well.

CNA’s Yong Chung Jin told The Independent Singapore: “We have investigated (the allegation) and we can confirm that there was certainly no pre-determination of winners as alleged.  All finalists went through rigorous rounds of selection before proceeding to the next level.  Selection was based only on the merits of their business model and their performance on the programme.”

The allegation (no evidence was provided, either to The Independent Singapore or MDA or CNA), by the nature of such accusations, does however cast aspersions on the integrity not just of CNA but also of well-known venture capitalists Leslie Loh and Eddie Chau, whose teams are involved in scrutinising the startups’ performance each week. Shooting began in early December and ended a month ago, but the allegation only surfaced on March 25, a month after filming ended.

Alleging the rigging, the e-mail said: “Through connections, my friend found out that two of the participants have already been declared the winners even before the first shootings. These two winners ALREADY won the SGD600,000 in seed investments. (CNA says winners will be awarded S$500,000) So these two winners are just going through the show for “formality”. While the rest of the participants were fooled to enter a competition that they have ZERO CHANCE to win.”

The e-mail named only two winners, whereas the programme seeks to give up to four start-ups the seed money of $500,000 each.

Winnie Tang’s Split-it! (www.split-it.sg), a free location-based taxi sharing app that provides a safe way for users to book and share taxi rides in Singapore, would be a start-up that deserves support.

If you’ve missed The Start-up Asia, try catching the last two shows on Tuesday. It’s worth watching!