"A safe testing ground": What it’s like pitching a Nordic startup in Singapore

5 min read
25 Apr 2019

The NIH-SG team from left to right: Emil Akander (Business Sweden), Pål Kastmann (Innovation Norway), Sami Jääskeläinen (NIH-SG), Jacqueline Chen (NIH-SG), Riku Mäkelä (Embassy of Finland) and Marcus Kuusinen (Business Sweden). Photo: Startup Guide/Clement Lim

“The event was a good example of how we support our startups,” Sami Jääskeläinen, community director at NIH-SG tells Startup Guide.

In addition to events, NIH-SG offers its members networking opportunities, mentorship and resources. While Nordic Innovation House has locations in New York, Silicon Valley and Hong Kong, it’s keen on establishing Singapore as its HQ in Southeast Asia.

Having officially launched last February, NIH-SG supports Nordic tech startups and scaleups in their entrepreneurial journey to Singapore and other markets in the region.

It's an opportunity to talk about what you love to do, so have fun.

Their most recent event, PitchLab Nordic Edition, was held at WeWork City House in Singapore on April 15. Four NIH-SG members were given the chance to pitch for five minutes, followed by 10-15 minutes of feedback from the audience.

“Nordic startups might be used to pitching in general, but it’s a different audience here,” Sami explains. Sami has called Singapore home for the past nine years.

“Startups have to be clear on where exactly they want to launch their product,” adds Juliet Kasko, who’s been running other PitchLab editions monthly over the past seven months. “We talk about their pitch deck and I ask them to adopt it to Asia.”

PitchLab gives entrepreneurs a safe training space when it comes to fine-tuning their pitches and receiving feedback. It does this in an environment in which there’s no pressure to convince the other side or reject the pitch.

Juliet Kasko of PitchLab speaking to the audience. Photo: Startup Guide/Clement Lim

‘An appetite for Nordic green solutions’

During the event, a question came up for a startup called PlugIT, which provides electrical vehicle charging solutions. “The question was whether we need electric cars in Singapore, as the environment isn’t a huge concern here,” Juliet says.

In Europe, everyone thinks from an environmental perspective, she explains. “When I moved here three years ago, I was amazed that locals don't separate their rubbish, but I learned that it’s not part of the education or the culture here.”

In spite of the cultural differences, Sami says there’s an appetite in Southeast Asia for green solutions coming from the Nordics.

“Topics like the circular economy and sustainability are hot topics in Asia as well, and since the Nordics have lead the way in these areas for decades, people here are very keen on learning more about the region,“ he says.

The themes NIH-SG is focusing on in the year ahead that are crucial to the local landscape include smart cities, Nordic digital health and the circular economy.

Make sure you’re really knowledgeable in your field. You never know who's in the audience and the questions you might be asked.

Erik Ingvoldstad (left) and Tadeusz Jankowski (right). Photos: Startup Guide/Clement Lim

Three of the pitching startups

Erik Ingvoldstad cofounded EedenBull, a banking as a service fintech provider that helps banks compete in challenging markets.

“We're a year old, we’ve signed with 66 banks in Norway, and we’re already in discussions with banks outside of Europe,” Erik says.

Tadeusz Jankowski is head of the Asia Pacific region at PlugIT. The startup, which began as an electric vehicle charger installation company in 2012, aims to offer a reliable electrical vehicle charging network in Finland and beyond.

Aleksi Heinonen is the cofounder of RenGlobe, an energy saving company that launched last year. RenGlobe applies tech like AI and IoT to air conditioners.

“Here in Asia, cooling homes can be a huge challenge,” Aleksi says.

Aleksi Heinonen, cofounder of RenGlobe, during his pitch. Photo: Startup Guide/Clement Lim

How did your pitch go?

Erik: It was the first time I presented our concept in public, as we've mostly taken private meetings with potential customers. We got some amazing feedback.

Aleksi: It went well and I received valuable feedback too. A big part of it was the preparation.

Tadeusz: I was pitching a proof of concept, so I had to set the scene from the beginning. I said that electric vehicle chargers are very cost efficient, it’s a free app and you can make money from it.

Then I got helpful feedback from the audience raising concerns that this would create more CO2. But actually in the long-term, it’s less CO2. So for me, educating the crowd is part of the journey.

This is the first time I'm getting feedback on this concept. I've been trying to convince property owners to get on board but it's not easy, even though Singapore is perfect because nobody drives that far. There’s actually no reason why they shouldn't invest.

The circular economy and sustainability are hot topics in Asia. Since the Nordics have lead the way in these areas for decades, people here are very keen on learning more about the region.

Did you notice any particular cultural differences?

Erik: The audience was quite diverse. Also, all of us have lived in Asia for a while, and in Singapore it's fairly easy to get around cultural differences from a presentation perspective. From a product perspective, the problem we're solving at EedenBull is universal; we've talked to companies and banks all over the world.

Aleksi: Generally in Asia the questions are more straightforward. For instance, they might ask you how much and how fast. In Scandinavia and Europe, they ask more about your business or product and how it works.

Erik: What was really interesting was that the questions were delivered with lots of enthusiasm. They weren't just asking questions for fun. You're always at your best when you explain why you do things, and not just what you do, and there was a lot of that.

Tadeusz: I found the questions to be detailed. They were worried about Singapore losing all its gas revenue if petrol stations started to close down, and asked me about that.

They thought that a lot of revenue in Singapore comes from oil and gas, but it's not that much. In the Nordics, they just tax people more. Again, it goes back to education.

You have to make sure you’re really knowledgeable in your field, because you never know who's in the audience and the questions they’ll ask. There's always someone who's really deep in the topic.

A question from the audience. Photo: Startup Guide/Clement Lim

Sami mentioned there’s a good chance there’ll be another PitchLab Nordic Edition this summer. Do you have any tips for those startups?

Aleksi: People will remember 50 percent of your presentation, on top of the fact that you only have five minutes. So in this small amount of time, you should be able to deliver two core messages. PitchLab will help you with the preparation. If you’re well prepared, you can just relax and take it easy.

Tadeusz: I echo that as well. I had a single proof of concept that I wanted to demonstrate today. I didn't talk about a lot of things. I just talked about one small niche area.

Aleksi: It also depends on what you're pitching for. If you're pitching for fundraising, you need to be able to give an overall picture, rather than specifics.

Erik: You should have fun, because it's an opportunity to talk about what you love to do. It’s also a very safe testing ground. Since my company isn't raising money at this time, Juliet suggested I ask for something else during my pitch. So I added a slide saying I wanted to connect with as many banks as possible. I had a queue of people afterwards wanting to connect.

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Main photo by Startup Guide/Clement Lim