Spotlight Singapore #3: Scaling the Best of the Nordics in Singapore and Southeast Asia


In the article series Spotlight Singapore, we provide simple and useful tips for Norwegian and Nordic companies that consider setting up their business in Singapore. In recent articles, we have provided information about how to start a business and the tax incentives in Singapore. In this article, we will give you an introduction to Nordic Innovation House in Singapore – a joint initiative co-founded by and established in cooperation with Nordic Innovation. This series is normally written in Norwegian, however, this article is written in English to reach all Nordic countries including Norway.

Read more: Søkelys Singapore #2: Skatt

In 2014, Nordic Innovation House started their journey in Silicon Valley, where they opened a house that was used as a co-working space, incubator and resource centre for Nordic Tech companies. Its predecessor was Innovation Norway’s initiative, launched in 2011, to support Norwegian companies to establish themselves in Silicon Valley and connect them with the right people. Today, there are four Nordic Innovation Houses around the world – Silicon Valley, New York, Singapore and Hong Kong. Besides, another house is scheduled to open in Tokyo this summer. Ever since their first house opened in 2014, their main goal has remained the same – to support Nordic startups to high-quality mentors via their community and networks.

Jacqueline Chen, Community Manager and Sami Jääskeläinen, Community Director

Jacqueline Chen, Community Manager and Sami Jääskeläinen, Community Director of Nordic Innovation House in Singapore

The Nordics in Singapore
In 2018, Nordic Innovation House opened in the island city-state Singapore. The Nordic Innovation House Singapore is a collaboration between various Nordic parties: Innovation Norway, Business Sweden, the Swedish Embassy, the Finnish Embassy and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iceland as well as the Nordic Council of Ministers via Nordic Innovation.

Community Director Sami Jääskeläinen was its first employee in Singapore. We asked Sami why Nordic Innovation House chose Singapore as their Southeast Asian hub:” I think Singapore was a natural and obvious choice as the city is the most vibrant startup hub in Southeast Asia. All the crucial pieces are in place here: Singapore’s geographical position makes the city a gateway for Nordic business to all countries in Southeast Asia, around 50-60% of Southeast Asia startups investments flow through Singapore annually, over 7,000 multinational corporations have their regional headquarters here and there’s good access to talent as some of the best universities in the region are located here. Also, Singapore’s government offers world-class programs and schemes. Safety, cleanness and English as an official language make Singapore an effortless place for foreigners to start their Southeast Asia journey and tap into the 650+ million people market.”

Services offered by Nordic Innovation House
Singapore has positioned itself as a centre of innovation and research and development at the heart of the world’s most dynamic economic region. In fact, Singapore is ranked No. 2 (out of 190) in the Ease of doing business index 2020. Nordic Innovation House offers an array of initiatives to launch a business with the backing of a strong Nordic community.

“Everything in Asia is built on trust, connections and relationships. We will open our network and community to Nordic companies so that they don’t need to spend years on building it and can primarily focus on their core business right away. Our members will also have access to our mentor network covering different verticals, technologies and functions. Our investor-in-residence, Michael Krogh, can also advise companies if fundraising in Singapore is relevant for them. Events and workshops are running on a regular basis, and most of our trusted service-providers are offering various discounts and benefits for our members,” Sami says.

“Besides these, we are running various programs focusing on themes that are strong across all Nordic countries as well as relevant here in Singapore. In 2020, the programs are Nordic Health and Smart Cities. The Sustainability program with Impact Focus has been postponed to 2021 due to the Covid-19 situation,” Sami continues.

Check out Nordic Innovation House’s website to find out more details and how to apply:

A strong Nordic community
Nordic Innovation House in Singapore offers its members a place to connect with experienced Nordic and local communities by connecting them to the right people, the right places and the right network. The interest from Nordic companies is great in the region, and more and more Nordic companies are setting up an office in Singapore. We asked Sami how the community changes as the Nordic presence increases.

“The Nordic community is getting bigger, more supportive and comprehensive. Some of our members are already planning to do business together, peer-to-peer support and are actively sharing experience as well as mistakes with each other. A strong Nordic community gives you that “home-away-from-home” feeling, but it’s also important to remember the relevant touchpoints to the Singaporean and Southeast Asian market players. We have been in partnership with Antler, a global startup generator and early-stage VC, since day one, and their vibrant global community is an excellent example of this kind of touchpoint,” Sami explains.

Sink or swim – some startups succeed, but most will fail
The startup environment is a turbulent one, and according to Forbes, nine out of 10 startups will fail. We asked Sami to explain the fundamental characteristics of a company to succeed.

“Just having a good and innovative idea is not enough these days. Timing is essential, but usually, it boils down to the founding team and their capabilities to execute the company’s concept well enough. Everything is interconnected today, so the ability to connect the dots outside of your core business and build valuable partnerships is getting more critical than ever.”

In the startup world, entrepreneurs fail all the time. However, Nordic Innovation House also provides business advice to the startups that fail.

“In our case, failure usually means that there wasn’t a right product-market fit or the company wasn’t able to build enough business in the region. This doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t stay in touch with the company, rather we continuously discover new opportunities and if we believe it’s a good fit, we will reach out to the company,” Sami ends.

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