Danish startups must look to Asia for new opportunities
Danish startups must look to Asia for new opportunities

‘Innovation Lab Asia’ has created a knowledge-base of the most high-profile leaders and stakeholders in the Asian innovation ecosystem.

‘Innovation Lab Asia’ has created a knowledge-base of the most high-profile leaders and stakeholders in the Asian innovation ecosystem.

For almost 50 years, tech entrepreneurs have focused their attention on cracking Silicon Valley. Now that strong innovation ecosystems are starting to emerge across Asia, Danish startups need to start looking to the East. After all, Silicon Valley is no longer the epicenter of innovation. China has surpassed the Bay Area both in terms of funding and number of startups. Moreover, startup communities in Singapore, Beijing, and Bangalore consistently rank among the top global players. 

Despite the fact that startups need to connect with and take advantage of these new superpowers, almost no Danish startup has done so.

As Peter Johansen, project lead of Innovation Lab Asia, pointed out: “Denmark is one of the most entrepreneurial nations in the world, according to the Global Entrepreneurship Development Index. But when it comes to internationalization, we’re close to the bottom. We’re often just looking to Germany or the Nordic region – and maybe the United States on a good day. But we very rarely look to Asia, and that’s a big problem with Asian growth and funding opportunities on the rise.”

Innovation Lab Asia is a joint venture between TechBBQ and Asia House aimed at changing this trend by helping startups access opportunities in Asia in a feasible and strategic way.

 A vision, but no guides

While several Danish startups have scaled to Silicon Valley, no one has ever made it big in Asia. This makes it hard for young companies to navigate the Asian market. Without a peer to guide them, startups have to be pioneering and resourceful. For that reason, The Danish Industry Foundation lent its support to two non-governmental organizations, TechBBQ and Asia House on their 2-year project Innovation Lab Asia.

In describing their approach, Johansen explained: “If you look at Bangalore, you’ll see hundreds of accelerators and investors, but you have no idea where to start and who to work with. Our task is to find the best needles in the haystack – those who have a Nordic context or have experience working internationally.” 

During its first phase, Innovation Lab Asia spanned 10 cities – across China, India, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan. Their findings will be presented in six reports at this year’s TechBBQ, which will make life easier for hungry startups looking to expand to Asia.

In Johansen’s words: “Our journey in Asia has pretty much confirmed our assumptions. While there are some startups from Finland, Sweden, and Estonia, there are almost no Danish startups out there. We hope to change that in phase 2, when we start working in-depth with select innovation communities to help spark collaborations.”

Asia has much more to offer than potential customers

The goal is to convert the initial findings from this project into tangible opportunities during the next phase of the project, aptly named “Information on central players and tangible advice on doing business in Asia.” 

Importantly, Innovation Lab Asia wants startups to know that the Asian markets hold much more than potential customers. As Johansen sees it, “The image of a small, Danish startup scaling their business to somewhere in Asia and providing a water solution for millions of people simply isn’t realistic. But there are so many other entrances to Asia – offering more than potential customers.” 

Co-creation, production facilities, data, and investments are some of the areas where Danish startups can look for Asian opportunities, without the need to move their entire company to a different country. But finding the right partners, who know how to work with Westerners, is a big step towards successful collaboration.

Johansen suggests that “Startups should be motivated by other opportunities in the Asian markets above and beyond the sheer size of it. If you look at Shenzhen in China, there are great opportunities for rapid hardware prototyping, and investment opportunities are flowering for Nordic startups in Japan. Any kind of partnership or startup engagement in Asia will be a success, because at this moment we have barely any.”

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