Innovation Norway’s Singapore partner JDFI explains TINC Asia

As related in the story Norwegian start-ups attend Tech Incubator Programme in Singapore Innovation Norway (IN) has partnered up with with Joyful Frog Digital Incubator(, ‘Asia’s #1 Startup Accelerator’.

Hugh Mason, their ‘Chief Frog’ talks to ScandAsia on the collaboration and explains the TINC Asia programme.


On how JDFI got involved with Innovation Norway (IN):  
“IN had been running a successful Technology Incubator (TINC) programme in Silicon Valley. IN recognized that Asia offered a huge opportunity to Norwegian entrepreneurs that many either were not aware of or didn’t feel confident to connect with. The team reached out to a number of potential partners and selected JFDI to develop and operate TINC Asia.”

The IN team showed passion and Norway’s Ambassador to Singapore, Tormod C. ENDRESEN, and State Secretary Dilek AYHAN gave their support – which inspired JDFI.

“We got the strong sense that they understood both how long it might take, and how important it could be to change culture in Norway to think about entrepreneurship for a future when the oil runs out and Asia’s rising importance in the world makes it a huge opportunity. After all, this is where the next billion people are coming online and even when you exclude India and China you’re still left with 600 million people, 60-80 million of which are middle class and want all the same things that scandinavians enjoy.”

Picking the participants:
“Innovation Norway and JFDI look at the applications that come in and run a series of interviews together with the companies. We take a view primarily on which companies will benefit and gain the most value from the programme in Asia and we are learning from experience how to judge that now.

Intriguingly it seems that very early stage, or quite mature businesses, might do best but not ones in between! If a company is still at the stage of having a handful of employees, it’s a huge stretch to think of world markets but the right kind of person can come to Asia thinking about partnership rather than selling and go a long way. Mature businesses have the resources to think about adapting their products, again often in partnership, to what this market requires. It seems harder for companies that have committed, for example with local investors back home, to a particular product or service and are really preoccupied with making that work to think flexibly about a new market far away because they just have too much to do from day to day.

A big factor in success seems to be mind-set. Once people realise that Asia is a) not one place and in fact far more diverse than Europe, and b) very much somewhere that business must be done face to face, they go a long way. To people in Asia, Europe is the ‘Far West’ just as Asia is the ‘Far East’ to Europeans. So entrepreneurs who reach out looking not to sell something but rather to build partnerships often do best, especially if they are willing to think openly about what their product or service might become.”


On Biogrid:
“Biogrid is a fascinating business because the founder is open-minded enough to realise that the kind of urban farming that could be a great opportunity in Norway may not be at all relevant to most of Asia. However, the technology required optimising plant growth and the passion for horticulture is universal. Working together we have been able to come up with an exciting concept that may just become a huge phenomenon that links people who are passionate about plants all around the world, improving lives and the environment at the same time.”

On the JFDI name:
Hugh Mason and JFDI co-founder Meng Wong were trying to think of something short that was available as a domain name and which embodied the spirit of entrepreneurship. The Harvard Business School professor Howard Stevenson inspired them to conclude on the definition of entrepreneurship to be: JFDI, meaning ‘Just F**ing Do It’ in the west.

On “…innovation is evolving from an art into a science…”:
“Innovation is what happens when inventions get translated into useful products and services. It can happen when a completely new idea comes about (like the telephone or the bikini) or when an idea gets introduced to a new place from where it was invented.

Through the second half of the twentieth century, academics put together theories about why we have the technology we have and they came up with some good retrospective explanations. But it wasn’t easy to run their explanations backwards – to use them to generate new ideas from stuff lying around today.

But over the last decade a whole load of understanding has come about – practical methods, coupled with the practical understanding of what entrepreneurs actually do, make it possible to teach innovation and the skills needed to make it happen, including entrepreneurship, for the first time. Until ten years ago many people thought that entrepreneurs were born and could not be made and that innovation was really a mystery and now we know that’s not true.”

On creating new markets or media that disrupts existing industries, and the Uber example:
“The idea that innovations and entrepreneurs disrupt existing players in the market goes back to Karl Marx and Joseph Schumpeter, who used phrases like ‘creative destruction’ to explain how technologies like the railways replaced water-canals. In our own time, skype has disrupted the 100-year-old telephone business.”

With the arrival internet, as example, dating web services made it possible for single people to find each other much more easily, with Tinder being perhaps the most extreme example, mentions Hugh Mason.

“Traditionally, many businesses are about a ‘supply chain’ – farmers grow stuff, it gets sold to processors and distributors who package it up, then retailers sell it to consumers. These are ‘one-sided markets’ – traditional businesses.

But many novel internet businesses are like dating agencies. Before YouTube, the only way for video to reach mass audiences was through broadcasting or videocassette libraries. YouTube made a marketplace where anyone with something to show on video could put it online and viewers interested could find it.

Uber is like Ebay – they both make it possible for people with stuff they wanted to sell to find people who want to buy it. In the case of Uber it’s space in a car and on Ebay it’s stuff people often want to sell from their homes and businesses. In both cases there’s a mechanism that makes it possible for strangers to trust each other – a platform or marketplace – in which the two sides can meet.

Uber is interesting because it has disrupted an industry that was very one-sided in most parts of the world. A small number of large taxi companies typically dominated every location, often ‘capturing’ local politicians to influence regulation of the industry and typically running the service in their interest, not in the interests of taxi users. The taxi marketplaces like Uber bring a lot more transparency to the simple act of booking and paying for a taxi in a way that benefits both drivers and passengers. The only people who lose out are the major taxi companies.”


JFDI expanded the range of industries TINC Asia covers:
“JFDI got started because we realized that the new science of innovation and the ability to teach entrepreneurship is transformational. Being able to teach innovation and entrepreneurship changes the game because there are innovative people everywhere – they just might not know how to do it yet or have role models around them to be inspired, or there may be cultural inhibitions around risk that hold them back.

We started with digital software products and services because they were very fast to develop and deploy and because the internet was spreading so rapidly across Asia. But almost all the companies we have worked with are not pure technology businesses; rather, they are just using digital technology to do something else, like delivering healthcare or making it easier to buy a car.

The companies that have come to us from Norway have been fascinating because they have stretched us in new directions, from the construction industry to e-book publishing to shipping. The good news is that the ‘science of innovation’ we rely on seems to hold for all these cases and so we have definitely learned as much from our visitors from norway as they have learned from us.”

Start-ups that progressed and reached scale, via JFDI seed funding:
“Our alumni Tradegecko and OurHealthMate are the companies that have progressed and grew their businesses successfully. Tradegecko, a 3 year old B2B inventory management software company have recently raised a US$6.5million Series A round and is looking to expand to 200 staff.

OurHealthMate provides a channel for Indian expatriates to remit funds to healthcare clinics in India for the medical care of their parents and loved ones there. They have successfully teamed up with more than 15,000 doctors in over 1,200 hospitals and clinics in 350 cities across India. They have about 4,000 payers in the United States, Britain and Singapore have made more than 10,000 appointments using OurHealthMate for paediatric and geriatric medical services.”

About Joakim Persson

Freelance business and lifestyle photojournalist

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