Top 5 Insights from AVPN 2018 on Ecosystem Building

Frontier Incubators recently held a breakfast with ecosystem builders as part of the AVPN conference in Singapore.



Key Insights from Ecosystem Builders

From the 4–7th June, members of the Frontier Incubators team were fortunate to attend the AVPN annual conference in Singapore. This year’s conference theme was ‘Maximising Impact’ — and against this thematic background, it was highly appropriate to launch the Frontier Incubators initiative!

During AVPN, Frontier Incubators hosted a breakfast round table with investors, intermediaries, and development professionals. With the fortifying assistance of pastries and coffee, the participants discussed their common goals of supporting and building entrepreneurial ecosystems, guided by four key questions:

1. How might we support incubators to meet the needs of SMEs (small medium enterprises) as well as startups?

This discussion highlighted the need to acknowledge the different characteristics of SMEs and startups, in order to avoid conflation — while identifying similarities in order to support their development via best practice guides and resources. Recommendations included assisting SMEs and startups to define their own practice, and building capacity through practical ‘business foundation’ programs (such as accounting, book-keeping and HR), and building resilience through 1:1 coaching with alumni. From an investor perspective, distinctive funding mechanisms and models for SMEs was highlighted as currently lacking in the market, and therefore stymying these enterprises’ capacity to grow to scale.

2. What challenges are incubators in the Asia-Pacific region facing? What is successful, and what requires further work?

The key narrative running through this discussion focused on recognising and valuing innovation the region, and celebrate the achievements and potential of incubators in the Asia-Pacific. In supporting future growth, questions were raised concerning the best ways to support a sustainable financial environment for all parties, and how to develop a robust ecosystem beyond the already successful urban technology hot-spots.

Valuing local strengths also provided a lens for understanding the regulatory frameworks which govern and facilitate/limit growth in the sector. There was an understanding that translating models directly from Silicon Valley has failed to meet the needs of local ecosystems. In assisting growth in the region, participants highlighted the benefits of developing locally embedded and skilled staff, who in turn will encourage a wider community and knowledge base of expertise in the Asia-Pacific.

3. What will help incubators assist enterprises to scale their impact?

This questioned garnered hearty and considered responses — but the central discussion focused on ideas of focus, network, power dynamics, monitoring and evaluation, tension, access to finance and impact models. In a nutshell, one participant succinctly observed ‘impact must be baked into the DNA of an organisation — it is fundamentally a tool for decision making, not simple for reporting to funders.’

4. How might Frontier Incubators create value for, and support beyond, the cohort selected?

Facilitating broad outreach is a priority of the Frontier Incubators program, and the concept of ‘training the trainer’ was raised in these discussions as a model for sharing learnings across the region. The idea of storytelling was valued as an important narrative tool, particularly for encourage an inclusive and diverse model which incorporates multiple experiences.

5. What else should we be asking?

With all of this in mind, the final question of the day allowed space to ask: how can we best support entrepreneurial practices into the future? And how does Frontier Incubators align with the principles raised regarding long-term resilience and sustainable collaboration? Our future blog posts will begin to unpack some of these questions as the Frontier Incubators projects develops, and we can iteratively incorporate discussions from AVPN into the project methodology.

For further insight into AVPN, Avary Kent, of Conveners.Org has succinctly written a round-up of of the ‘Seven realities of impact investing in Asia.’ The excellent full article can be read here.