On June 10th, SGInnovate and TechNode Global presented a panel to discuss how the rapid rise of China’s technology sector can lead to the development of local deep tech capabilities, alongside its various stakeholders. SGInnovate is a Singapore government-backed Deep Tech investor and company builder that helps entrepreneurial scientists and tech startups that are looking to innovate in areas such as health care, quantum tech, and autonomous technology across various industries.

About our panelists

The panel was moderated by Li We, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Transfong Ventures. Transfong Ventures is a cross-border venture builder, helping Singapore and China form innovation parterships (Singaporean tech companies in the Chinese market, and Chinese tech companies in the Singaporean market.)

Irene Cheong is the Group Director for A*STAR (Agency for Science, Technology and Research), Singapore’s lead public sector agency that spearheads economic oriented research to advance scientific discovery and develop innovative technology. She works with companies to figure out how they can solve their problems through technology.

Leo Jiang, Chief Digital Officer of Huawei, takes care of building up the digital ecosystem for Huawei’s Cloud and AI businesses. He makes sure that Huawei’s support structure is accessible to all startups and companies who are interested in working with tech giant.

Jackson Aw is the Founder and CEO of Mighty Jaxx, an urban culture company developing digitally enabled collectibles and consumer products.

Haier Singapore Innovation Center (HSIC) Director of Innovation, Jing Jiang works on buidling the innovation network and ecosystem with Singapore’s innovation community and to bring all the innovators and startups together in one network.

Main Topics

What is the biggest ‘China Opportunity’ for a Singapore startup, and how can your company help these startups?

Irene started off by describing how she finds that one of the more attractive aspects of entering the Chinese market from a Singaporean company’s point of view is the size of the market. Aside from this, she also explained how both countries can definitely benefit from each other as Singapore is rapidly “aging” when it comes to the digitization of services and the market. Having similar tech capabilities and habits will definitely give both countries more opportunities from a tech standpoint.

Leo then went on to explain how China’s market is very much driven by policymakers. He gives the Net Zero Emission Policy as an example and mentions that this is most likely going to be the next biggest opportunity in China that startups can capitalize on. The China market will most definitely zero in on sustainability technology as the country aims to achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.

The market is undeniable. Jackson couldn’t have described China’s market any better. When a startup enters China, you always have to look at the bigger picture. Jackson also explained how he sees an opportunity to look introspectively and understand how Singaporean culture will fit into the world, specifically in the Chinese market.

Dr. Jiang saw the booming consumer economy as a big opportunity for companies to capitalize on. People are now moving up from necessities and opting for more premium items that improve their quality of life.

When it comes to Singaporean innovators and startups looking into entering the China market, Irene mentioned how the recently launched A*STAR Partners’ Centre (A*PC) can help in gaining access to networks and leverage on expertise for expansion in China and the rest of Asia.

What are the key challenges for innovators and startups to establish a China-Singapore Innovation Partnership?

One of the bigger challenges that Singapore startups will be experiencing as they enter the China market is language. Though Singapore is a country where locals speak at least two languages, and Mandarin is used for day-to-day conversation, the majority of the panelists had similar experiences when dealing with the different Mandarin business terms.

Another challenge, which most of the panelists also experienced, is the difference in culture between the two countries. Leo explained how the Chinese are generally more competitive and very demanding when it comes to work culture. He advised that when you start to work in China, you may need to be a little bit more thick-skinned because the way they communicate may not be as polite as what most Singaporeans are used to in a more Western setting.

The panelists advised innovators and startups to just be as open as they can, to focus on strengths, and to be more adaptable and quick. Leo also finished his answer by ensuring any possible prospects that once you start working with business in the other side of the region, things will get easier as you build better relationships with them.

What value can Chinese companies gain from operating in Singapore and vice versa?

The biggest value any international company can gain from operating in Singapore is that its diverse culture allows companies to be exposed to different kinds of foreign markets while maintaining a semblance of familiarity with their consumers. Singapore acts as a bridge from the West to the East, and vice versa.


With the trend of local talents moving to China, will there be any delay in local innovation?

Irene explained how local talent migrating to China will benefit the local innovation in the long run: “I think it’s not negative at all. And, interesting when you say delay. Given the global gateway that Singapore is, I can’t imagine that it will be a one-way journey. Much like your own experience where or Jackson’s experience where you had to spend some time in China if you are really serious about the Chinese market? I imagine that the Singaporeans who are headed there are doing exactly that. You can’t swim until you are literally there. And I think we encourage it but we see it as a two-way street.

What are the different trends that startups can pick up during the pandemic?

Jackson explained how the company strives on meeting the different fandoms of the different consumer goods that they offer. With the pandemic hitting, the company had no way of physically reaching and engaging with its market. To remedy the situation, the company created a virtual environment where a consumer can control an avatar, walk through a gallery of the company’s different offerings and some other digital content, interact in that digital space with a community, and purchase items. Jackson also mentioned that when creating the space, they didn’t have sales in mind. The company simply wanted to create the digital equivalent of a physical meetup.

Leo added that when it comes to looking at trends that startups can follow to innovate during the pandemic, it actually has very little to do with the advancement of technology. He sees a trend in what he describes as a contactless economy, where people shift from physical retail to e-commerce and from restaurants with no digital footprint moving towards the digital space. He also differentiates that the digital economy is more tech-driven, but the contactless economy was born out of necessity due to the pandemic and will continue to gain traction as the world goes back to normal. Leo finishes his answer by saying, “It’s not about technology, it’s more about how do you encourage more circulation of the economy to exchange within the society.

How does Singapore’s Innovation Ecosystem benefit SG businesses in China?

Dr. Jiang explained that as soon as a business enters the Chinese market, these startups are pushed to think bigger and scale faster due to the country’s size. As Singaporean startups in China grow, you will naturally see parallels in local growth.

Featured image credits: Unsplash