The seventh Norway-Asia Business Summit in Singapore highlighted how technology and innovation has created more opportunities for Norwegian businesses in Asia.
The recently completed Norway-Asia Business Summit attracted many high-profile delegates including Norway’s Minister of Fisheries, H.E. Mr Per Sandberg and Singapore’s Senior Minister of State at the Ministry of Trade and Industry and National Development, Dr Koh Poh Koon.
However, this exciting future can only be fully realised after some notable challenges have been overcome. This year marked 20 years since the first Norway-Asia Business Summit took place.
H.E. Ms Anita Nergaard, Ambassador of Norway to Singapore, pointed out that in a shifting landscape, a meeting place like the Summit is more important than ever before during her welcoming remarks.
No challenge looms quite as large as trade at the moment. While some countries ramp up trade war rhetoric, H.E. Mr Per Sandberg, Minister of Fisheries, the first speaker at this year’s summit, strongly asserted Norway’s commitment to global free trade, a position also held by host country Singapore.
“Norway and the ETFA have four free trade agreements in Asia. These are with Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and the Philippines. We are also in negotiations with Malaysia, Vietnam, India and China,” Mr Sandberg said. “We believe free trade agreements promote Norwegian-Asian relations.”
More than 500 Norwegian companies currently operate in Asia. Mr Sandberg pointed out there is room for growth and the partnership between the two is only in its initial stages.
H.E. Dr Koh Poh Koon, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Trade and Industry and National Development, Singapore, followed Mr. Sandberg. He noted that there were lots of opportunities available for Norwegian companies throughout ASEAN and expressed optimism regarding further integration of the regional economies.
Mr Sandberg and Dr Koh were then joined by Mr Håkon Bruaset Kjøl, Senior Vice President, Head of Public & Regulatory Affairs at Telenor, for a group discussion that touched on some key themes.
“ASEAN has made tremendous progress. It will benefit Norwegian businesses to be invested in the development and progress of Asia,” Mr Kjøl proclaimed.
Up next was a panel on the economic and political outlook in Asia. There was a general bullishness from all three speakers when it came to regional economy. A noticeable decoupling of politics and business in several ASEAN countries, a still expanding middle class and steady GDP growth were among the reasons for the optimism.
“A new investment cycle is beginning in Southeast Asia. Government spending on infrastructure projects is up. This is boosting business confidence and encouraging more foreign investment in the region,” Mr Manu Bhaskaran, Partner at Centennial Group International and Founding CEO, Centennial Asia Advisors, said.
Attendees were then introduced to the elephant in the room, or as Presenter Mr Teymoor Nabili called it, ‘the dragon in the corner’, China. Ocean Shipping Consultants Director, Mr Jason Chiang, CFA, provided insights on China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative. This would not be the last time the topic of China came up at the Norway-Asia Business Summit and by the time it was all over, the dragon in the corner would be standing on centre stage.
Digitalisation was the focus after
lunch with exciting innovations, such as autonomous ships, and challenges, including industry disruption, in the spotlight. Mr Andreas Sohmen-Pao, Chairman of both BW Group and the Singapore Maritime Foundation, got things underway by sharing his experience with digitalisation from the maritime perspective.
“When we started to digitalise, the first thing that we needed to do was find a starting point. It’s impossible to do everything at once. We also needed to decide on who we would partner with. Even when focusing on one area, it wasn’t possible to do everything in-house,” Mr Sohmen-Pao explained.
Digitalisation can provide new opportunities for other industries outside of the technology sphere. Mr Trung Minh Tran, Head of Digital LCI at DNB Bank explained how it is has changed corporate banking and forced DNB to move away from a traditional approach. He then joined a panel with representatives from Telenor, IBM Singapore and Digital Norway to discuss how incumbent firms can survive the change digitalisation is bringing.
The last session of day one was all about the digital transformation happening in the shipping industry. Chief Executive Officer Digital Solutions at DNV GL, Ms Elisabeth Tørstad, kicked things off.
“The shipping industry is facing troubled waters. Oversupply, low freight rates and competition are all reality. Now is the time to look to the future and find ways to be more profitable,” she stated.
The next speaker, Mr Nakul Malhotra, Vice President Technical Solutions and Marketing at Wilhelmsen Group, laid out how it is possible to digitise using a process-driven solution. While many firms in the shipping industry opt to use data to make digitalisation decisions, Wilhelmsen realised it was better off using a processcentric method to utilise technology.
No matter how firms choose to embrace digitalisation, the role of the ship can’t be overlooked. Mr Morten Lind-Olsen, Dualog Chief Executive Officer, pointed out that shipboard Internet is still a relatively new feature with bandwidth speeds on land growing significantly faster than at sea.
This isn’t the only hurdle facing firms in an era of digitalisation. The legal ramifications of technology and innovation will also need to be addressed sooner rather than later.
“We have two worlds colliding: tradition versus digitalisation. This will affect maritime law as well as contracts and insurance. There are some big questions. Digitalisation will require changes to International Maritime Organization framework,” Mr Christian Ellingsen, Partner, Simonsen Vogt Wiig Law Firm, reported.
While most of day one was dedicated to the business heavyweights, day two would focus on startups. Venturra Capital Managing Partner, Mr Stefan Jung, got things started by providing a background on what he looks for when investing in startups. The topic of China would then be broached again with Mr Jon Eivind Stø, Managing Partner at nHack Accelerator, taking the stage.
“Norway needs to scale up globally. It needs to bring its advanced technology and knowledge to the world,” he urged. “China is the world’s largest e-commerce market. It also has the talent. However, if you are going to succeed in China, you need to be in China.”
Building a startup, whether in China or elsewhere in Southeast Asia, isn’t as simple as having a great idea. Mr William Klippgen, Cocoon Capital Managing Partner and veteran Southeast Asian investor, noted that a record amount of funding was raised last year in Singapore. The ability to raise capital, along with its strategic connections to ASEAN, makes it an ideal place to get started.
“They say the 21st century is Asia’s century. You can already see it becoming a centre of innovation and industry. It’s likely other regions will be playing catch up. Southeast Asia really is a good place to be a part of something,” Mr Andreas Ehn, Partner at Approach and former Spotify Chief Technology Officer, said.
A panel on building startups in Southeast Asia with a European perspective addressed why people would be drawn to something where failure is just as likely as success.
“I founded a startup since it was a chance to build something that was my own. I could create something that was mine,” Ms Nidhi Gupta, Co-founder and CEO of Portcast, said. “The key for startups is iteration. You try, fail and learn. That is the only way to find success.”
But can Norwegian startups really change the game, especially on the global level? That was the question the final panel at this year’s Norway-Asia Business Summit addressed.
“You can now just plug and play when starting a business,” Mr Fridtjof Berge, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer at Antler Innovation stated. “It is easier to get going and cheaper to enter the startup game now than it was a few years ago.”
Just because it is easy to create a startup doesn’t mean it is something everyone should do. In fact, some noted that startup fever might be getting a bit out of hand.
“Last year, there were more startups created than babies born in Norway. We don’t need to create more startups. We just need to go out into the world more,” Mr Pål Thorvik Næss, Director of Entrepreneurs and Startups, Innovation Norway, stated.
After the final panel, Mr Ole Henæs, Regional Director Asia at Innovation Norway, provided some reflections on day two. It was then revealed to the audience the NorwayAsia Business Summit 2019 will be held in Shanghai. This marks another step toward improving relations between Norway and China.
“China is now open to Norway after years of cold relations. This shift offers new opportunities and adjusted strategies for Norwegian businesses. We invite you all to come to Shanghai next year,” Jon Eivind Stø concluded.
Above left: NBAS President Mr Leonard Stornes with Norway’s Minister of Fisheries, H.E. Mr Per Sandberg, Singapore’s Senior Minister of State at the Ministry of Trade and Industry and National Development, Dr Koh Poh Koon and Norway’s Ambassador to Singapore, H.E. Ms Anita Nergaard. Above: One of the many inspiring panel discussions at the 2018 summit was this discussion on building successful startups in Asia with a European perspective moderated by Mr William Klippgen of Cocoon Capital.