Singapore is a country where numerous VCs and accelerators have been accumulated including overseas organization such as 500 Startup and Plug and Play. Among them, Focustech Ventures is the most unique VC with manufacturing background. In February 2018, Leave a Nest Co., Ltd, and Focustech Ventures Pte. Ltd. signed a partnership agreement to strengthen cooperation to nurture real tech startups from Asia to the world. Why did FTV choose Leave a Nest? This time, we will discover the secret of this strong partnership between Mr. Kelvin, CEO of FTV and Dr. Maru, the Founder and CEO of Leave a Nest, and how both of them committed themselves to nurture the next generation real tech startups in South East Asia.
Two passions attract each other, bringing two countries closer
Maru: Today, I would like to discuss how Singapore and Japan as a pivot ,we can steer the development of Asia for the future.
Kelvin: After Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, the first Prime Minister of Singapore, passed away in 2015, Singapore needed to change again.
Maru: Same expected in Japan too. I fear that we will be left behind. Anyhow Mr. Lee has led the country in remarkable way in his 50 years.
Kelvin: In the 2000s, Singapore have gathered knowledge and best brains from around the world and became a knowledge hub, especially in the field of life science. From 2010s, we have launched a new policy to accelerate the business development of the research achievements. However, I realize that it takes time to nurture deep-tech startups, and we need to garner support from ecosystem partners from various disciplines to catalyse innovation in this region.
Maru: Exactly. It was 2010, when I’ve first met you. It was around this time when Japanese large corporates started to show interest to South East Asia. From 2014, Leave a Nest set up Real-tech Seed Acceleration Program TECH PLANTER in Singapore and we welcomed you to participate as a judge. I think this experience deepened our relationship. Thanks to this, we managed to expand our business and bridge between large corporates who are interested in looking for seeds for new business in Asia.
Kelvin: I was invited to Japan in 2014 and 2017. When you brought me to visit Japanese high-tech manufacturers known as Super Factories in 2014, I was impressed by their technologies in precision prototyping & production, embedded in high quality Japanese products such as rockets, bullet trains and medical devices. Unfortunately this is no longer our core competency in Singapore. But I thought there are possibilities where Japanese Super Factory could help accelerate real tech startups all over the world. Moreover, during the Hyper Inter-disciplinary Conference in 2017, I met with global incubators, startups, researchers from and there are many Japanese large corporates and Super Factory members who have showed great passion to co-create new businesses with them. Here, I was able to see the real tech ecosystem which Leave a Nest has been creating & truly bearing fruit.
The timeline for the Leave a Nest’s history in Singapore
Nurturing young talents is the key to change the world
Maru: It’s actually been already 8 years since I met you in Singapore and it was 2014 when we officially started working together. Honestly, why did you choose me as a partner?
Kelvin: Yes, we met in 2010 through the makers community network. I guess it’s because we have much things in common. Your long term vision and passion towards nurturing the next generation of science & technology companies as well as the way you value and seek to groom young talent that truly inspires me.
Maru: Likewise I was inspired by your passion to nurture deep-tech startups in Singapore. I myself established Leave a Nest Japan in 2002, and then started Leave a Nest Singapore in 2010. In the first few years we focused on science education for children, conducting Ninja Science workshop at Science Centre, and we conducted science conference for secondary school students who started research projects in schools. By doing so, we encourage children to solve issues for the next 20 years. Hence although we have different background, we shared the same value that nurturing of next generation is the key to change the world.
Kelvin: My brackground is in precision engineering, worked through the ranks from a sales engineer at a 3000-man strong contract manufacturing firm that my father founded & took public. The company was sold to a PE firm. Previously the executive director Focus-Tech Holding, leading shareholder of that company, I subsequently co-founded FocusTech Ventures with him to focus on startup investment, seeking to nurture the next generation of engineering-related & deep tech startups.
Maru: I think that is wonderful vision. Usually VCs are rated by the number of startups it invested. But I think entrepreneurship exists in everyone, so it is more important to nurture next generation entrepreneur and create an ecosystem. It may take time but If we continue doing this, there will be more new generation who will lead the country.
Kelvin: Saying is easy, but doing it is very difficult. You have been doing this for 16 years and this is an incredible thing to do. That is why I really see you as my role model.
Maru: Glad to hear that! We actually have been working together for 8 years without any agreement or contract. I strongly believe “with whom” is more important rather than “what” to do.
Knowledge based partnership enables Hyper Inter-disciplinary collaboration
Kelvin: In 2018 this year, we finally decided to sign a partnership agreement. Eight or even four years ago it may be too early. Technology is converging towards greater maturity & accessibility. Here in Singapore, we are also blessed that our government is providing greater support for deep tech startups. I think now is the right timing.
Maru: What I have been continuing with you so far, is not just to invite you for our events for participation as a judge or presenter. It was trust and knowledge we kept exchanging. We trusted each other, exchanging the network and knowledge that dwells. We recently hear a phrase called “sharing economy” frequently. It is now quite common to share vehicles, human resources, or money. But sharing of knowledge does not yet exist. Knowledge is based on one’s own experiences, and it comes with one’s passion. It is not like information you search online. Knowledge is borderless, and it will be common to exchange knowledge across borders of disciplines and countries.
Kelvin: That’s right. The world is ever more interconnected. But there are still many pressing problems worth solving especially in Southeast Asia such as food, water, environment and urban mobility. With exponential population growth and rapid urbanization taking its toll on urban infrastructure in major cities, innovative technologies are required to support ASEAN in its bid to become the next economic powerhouse. I would like to connect Japan’s strong innovation ecosystem and expertise to this region where many opportunities lie, leveraging on our knowledge-based partnership to bridge Singapore and Japan towards our aligned objectives.
Maru: On 1st March, we launched our real tech incubation center, “Center of Garage” in Sumida district, Tokyo Japan. FTV is also a partner too. I’d like to invite more startups from Asia to Japan, having them to create prototype and incorporate their subsidiary in Japan so we can support them more. We also want government agencies to come. Aside to that, I want to install VR and AR system in both Center of Garage and FTV office in Singapore. Then startups can talk to the Japanese Super Factories anytime to consult on their prototyping.
Kelvin: That’s exactly one of the stories we used to talk about over drinks. Cooperating with the innovation ecosystem in Japan, I want to create an ecosystem of deep tech startups from Asia that can become a role model to the world.
Maru: Let’s create the future together with our hyper-interdisciplinary collaboration.
Kelvin Ong (Right on the photo)
Chief Executive Officer, FocusTech Ventures
He is the founder and CEO of FocusTech Ventures, a seed stage investment firm and approved technology incubator. As an entrepreneur and active angel investor, Kelvin currently serves on the board of several technology startups and traditional businesses.
Yukihiro Maru (Left on the photo)
Chief Executive Officer, Leave a Nest Co. Ltd.
He is CEO and Representative Director of Leave a Nest Co., Ltd. In 2002, he founded Leave a Nest with only science-major university and postgraduate students, offering cutting-edge science workshops conducted by private enterprise. He is also an innovator who has been involved in launching more than 78 startups.