Singapore is a great hub for innovation in Asia, according to Vegard Aas, innovation chief of Norwegian Telenor. That is why he a year ago moved the head of innovation from Norway to the sky rocking urban state of Asia and he is certain that was the right move.
But why Singapore? “It’s a great hub for innovation in Asia, and it’s where start-ups come when they’re ready to scale, from Thailand, the Philippines and the rest. It’s a great place to be for start-ups, and there’s lots of talent here.”
Vegard Aas has been with Telenor for three years, first as strategy director and then as head of innovation – at which point he moved from Norway to Singapore.
Telenor has had an office in Singapore for 20 years: it is where the company runs the management, legal affairs and human resources for its Asian operations.
“But we’re also starting to run procurement for the whole of the Telenor group from here, and we have a new digital business vertical, covering the internet of things, financial services and advertising technology,” says Vegard Aas.
He heads Telenor’s innovation in all its 13 markets, from Norway and Denmark to Malaysia and Myanmar, and the company has a presence in the US, both in Silicon Valley and, through an innovation fund, in New York. The head of innovation for Telenor Norway, and other branches around the world, answer to him.
“We have an innovation accelerator in Asia, and we use it for both piloting innovations and for distribution – for example, to our customers in Thailand.” Once they are tried out, “we can help distribute them to other customers in Telenor”.
Vegard Aas has been a member of the advisory board for the GTB Asia Telecoms Innovation Summit and Awards, which take place in Singapore on 19 September. He is also taking part in a Meet the Innovations session at the conference itself.
“One of the things we do in Telenor is promote internal innovation and entrepreneurship. Our staff know our customers best and our entrepreneurship program gets great engagement from our employees: they bring ideas to life.”
Each year Telenor issues a call for ideas to all its employees. “This year we had 500 submissions and we asked 30 of the best to pitch their ideas in front of a jury.” The final rounds have been held in places such as Bangkok and Singapore and the next will be in Eastern Europe. “We have had very high engagement in Asia.”