NBCP and Apples & Spears synergy supports Asean market entrance

Nordic Business Council Philippines (NBCP) is a Manila-based trade & investment and business support organization between the Nordic and Baltic countries and the Philippines.

Apples & Spears is a Singapore-based market entry consultancy that supports Scandinavian start-ups and SMEs in exploring opportunities to provide their products and/or services to the Southeast Asian markets.

NBCP and Apples & Spears have partnered up in 2016 to strengthen their regional presence, and to provide broader range of in-depth market knowledge for the clients of the two businesses. The two have found what they believe is the perfect match.

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“We are very happy to have found the right partner in the Philippines. Nordic Business Council Philippines with their solid local market knowledge, extensive network and invaluable connections was the highest on our partner wish list,” says Sandra Appelqvist, co-founder of Apples & Spears.

”Thanks to the partnership, we are better positioned to reach out to potential clients, but we can provide a wider geographical range of services to our existing clients. Also, our way of working and objectives are well aligned, and as we are both small organizations, so it makes sense to craft partnerships,” says NBCP Executive Director Joona Selin.

This partnership introduces a new channel partner for NBCP’s market entry consulting services.

“Asean [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations] integration further stresses the importance of having a regional approach to Southeast Asia. While our focus is on the Philippines, the partnership with Apples & Spears adds a key element to our regional network, enabling us to serve our members and clients even better.”

Commenting further on what they foresee with this new co-operation Apples & Spears say: “Our partnership with NCBP is part of our strategy to build a strong local partner network with expertise in the region. Since many of the companies we are talking to have a regional perspective on their market entry strategy, it is only natural for us to ensure deeper cooperation and relationships in the most important markets. The Philippines is one of them. The goal with our partnership with NCBP is to take on shared projects, but also to be able to refer clients to each other.”

“For our clients, who often start their regional market entry with Singapore as a hub, the Philippines is another intriguing growth market,” explains Apples & Spears co‐founder Agneta Spjuth.

“Most companies planning a market entry in Southeast Asia have a long-term regional agenda, which we want to facilitate by building up a strong partner network within Asean,” says Sandra Appelqvist.

Apples & Spears are in ongoing dialogues to broaden their network in the region.

“When we talk about partners, we also include other types of competencies than we ourselves or partners, like NBCP, can provide. Our network also consists of local companies and consultants within HR/recruitment, cultural training, sales, data capture, accounting and administration etc. It is a constant process to organically grow our network of contacts and partners.”

Asean, it should be added, can be seen as one single market but is also the umbrella name for many, very diverse, country markets including those in Southeast Asia.

Apples & Spears describes their approach: “Southeast Asia is not a homogeneous market but have a variety of opportunities and challenges, depending on which country we’re looking at. For us, the most important starting point is to understand how our client’s business, business model, current markets, offering and strategy looks like and based on those specific circumstances drill deeper into relevant markets to identify opportunities and seek out market gaps. If a market is big, with high GDP growth and is called an emerging market does not automatically mean that it is a suitable entry market for all clients.”

Their clients, since the start in November 2014, are from several different industries such as Medtech, Edutech, Healthcare and Cleantech.

“All these industries seek innovations and services to better support the region’s long term and sustainable growth from several angles. Southeast Asia is transforming rapidly and that process demands smart solutions and ideas both from inside and outside the region. Our aim is to continue to work with those companies that can really bring added value to the market and make a difference.”

Apples & Spears’ start was based on a study that they conducted together with 30 Scandinavian SMEs already established in the region and where they identified the main challenges these were facing when starting up their ventures here.

“The study clearly showed in what areas these companies would have benefited from having more support during their market entry process, areas in which Apples & Spears together with our local network could facilitate and support.”

“Southeast Asia is a growth region with several emerging markets in need of creative and innovative products and services to help the region build a sustainable future. In this sense, Scandinavian companies have a lot to offer, a fact that was another driver when establishing our business.”

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NBCP’s Joona Selin first met the Swedish consultancy duo late 2014 in connection to a SBAS luncheon in Singapore where he held a talk about business opportunities in the Philippines.

“With this partnership, we are targeting Nordic SMEs who need external assistance in finding business partners: clients, agents, distributors, suppliers, or in studying the market opportunities in the Philippines. These companies might be present in the region, but not necessary in the Philippines yet. We are not limited to particular sectors, but most of our work has been in the ICT, healthcare & pharmaceuticals, and industrial equipment sectors – we are in a strong position to serve Nordic companies in these industries.”

As for the strongest indicators for business potential in and with Philippines Mr Selin highlights: “From the macro view the 6-7% annual GDP growth and the ongoing real estate construction and infrastructure development boom provide a strong foundation for business opportunities across a number of sectors and throughout the value chain. From the micro perspective this means new companies and brands flocking in, and new stores and restaurants opening shop. It means cranes and construction sites all over the place. In short – it’s an extremely dynamic environment where you sense growth and opportunity around every corner.”

Philippines can function as a hub to the region or destination for outsourcing – either as service or delivery center or as a production hub.

“Major Nordic companies such as Nokia, Grundfos, NNIT, and Maersk, but also SMEs are running global in-house operations in HR, finance & accounting, software development and IT here. For third-party outsourcing provider Transcom, the Philippines is their largest country of operation with ca. 10,000 employees.“

“As for manufacturing operations for the export market, the Philippines houses Nordic multinationals of the likes of Sonion (microacoustics) and Swedish Match (lighters), while also SMEs such as the SAWO sauna factory and Christmas decor and lighting factory Tema Design have found their homes here.”

SMEs are the type of businesses Apples & Spears will focus on as they continue approaching Scandinavian companies that they think should be present in Southeast Asia based on identifying interesting products or services that these offer.

“The ambition is also to be more present in Scandinavia during this coming autumn to meet clients and potential clients as well as broaden our network at home. We also actively work to spread information and knowledge about Southeast Asia through our blog and social media. By sharing interviews with company leaders, experts and specialists in the region we hope to encourage SMEs who are starting their journey towards this region – to take the leap.”

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