It is an incredibly exciting time to be involved in innovation in Asia. In an increasingly connected world, there is a fast-developing community of innovators and entrepreneurs in Asia. According to the 2017 Top 100 Global Innovators report, Asian companies are outperforming the rest of the world in terms of commercializing and creating more impactful innovation. With a booming digital economy, high mobile phone use and high Internet penetration, innovation in all forms is being placed at the forefront of companies’ and even governments’ digital transformation strategies across Asia.
We should not only be looking east for inspiration on how to innovate, but also thinking and innovating outside the box. Open Innovation is becoming an increasingly popular choice for companies who are looking to source and incorporate innovative ideas from outside their businesses in the form of student competitions, innovation labs and so on.
This shift towards open innovation is extremely interesting to observe in the Asia-Pacific region, where, according to UNCTAD, a large, tech-savvy population is fuelling Asian digital economies but at varying rates. The discrepancies in understanding of Open Innovation and awareness of the diversity of Asian markets can also be barriers for companies, who are realizing the opportunities in this region.
We must ask ourselves how well do we understand this new digital Asia? Do we still underestimate the Asia-Pacific region, its thirst for innovation and its rapid digital transformation? Is Asia embracing newer types of innovation, like open innovation?
Our new Looking East series by Agorize Asia will be tackling topics surrounding innovation in Asia, our blog posts will be attempting to bring you the latest news, break down the facts and start discussions!
Why Should We Look East?
Firstly, Asia is place to be for business right now: dynamic, challenging and changing everyday. Whether it is Beijing’s Belt and Road policy that is weaving its way through Asia by land and sea or ASEAN Leaders re-affirming their commitment to innovation changes are afoot.
Asia is already home to numerous hubs of digital innovation that have been established across various international cities, such as Singapore, Shanghai and Hong Kong. All of which benefit from being home to company HQs, prestigious educational institutions and high-speed Internet connectivity. In fact, Singapore has overtaken Silicon Valley to be the leading hub for innovation and technology as well as the #1 place for startups. Dell, Intel, Unilever, OCBC, Standard Chartered, KIDDI and even the Singaporean Government have all opened innovation labs here to take advantage of infrastructure, funding and proactive changes to regulations and policies.
From Kuala Lumpur to Seoul, the dispersion of innovation hubs highlights the non-homogeneity between different Asian countries: mature and developing economies, diverse consumers, varying regulatory framework and delayed rates of innovation and digital transformation can make it a trying environment for Western companies to operate and innovate in.
In fact, younger economies have an advantage in facilitating innovation, as their companies are younger and more agile, so can leapfrog the issue of legacy technology that bogs down older, most-established companies. For a broader example, look at China’s advancements in mobile payments: Chinese consumers have skipped debit and credit cards to using their mobiles to split the bill – leaving their wallet at home along with the rest of Asia and the world who are playing a game of catch-up!
Speaking of jumps, the millennial generation who will soon make up the majority of Asian countries’ workforces are tech-savvy and highly educated. There is a strong preference for STEM graduates in Asian universities, numbering 4.7m graduates in China, 2.6m in India and 206,000 in Indonesia in 2017. Universities and educational institutions are pro-active when encouraging entrepreneurship and extra-curricular achievements; with many competitions and challenges created to tap into this young and energetic resource.
Adopting an Open Innovation Mindset
Nevertheless, millennials are also increasingly conscious of businesses’ ethics and motivations, which is why sustainable innovation and corporate social responsibility are important factors when they make decisions as consumers and employees. So, open innovation and collaboration are good opportunities that businesses can capitalise on and open up their company to external stakeholders.
This shift in mindset is now being adopted by corporates as well as governments’ in their decision-making. The traditional top-down management hierarchy, prevalent in Asian companies, actually facilitates the implementation of an open-minded and entrepreneurial digital transformation strategy. On a national level, governments like Singapore have actively positioned themselves to attract talent and startups in the APAC region, by emphasizing innovation and digitalization in their business and political agendas and investing in universities and research centers. Hong Kong’s position as a gateway into Asia, especially China, means it hosts numerous leading tech and innovation conferences, for example, The Economist’s Innovation Summit Asia, Rise, StartMeUpHK and many more… Bangalore (Bengalaru) in southern India is taken advantage of the largest digital talent pool in Asia to attract startups. While Malaysia has recently announced its aim to be in the top 30 countries in the Global Innovation Index by launching Industry4WRD – a new policy to tackle Industry 4.0. The list goes on…!
Not convinced yet?
If this blog post hasn’t convinced you that some of the most exciting innovation and digital transformation opportunities are taking place right here in Asia, there will be more blog posts ‘Looking East’ coming soon. We will be discussing the newest innovation labs focusing on FinTech in Asia, whether China’s unique business (and Internet) environment helps or hinders innovation, and much more… Subscribe to our newsletter to receive these blog posts straight in your inbox!