“Innovation is never a singular event – it is a process of discovery, engineering and transformation,” says Leo Jiang, Chief Digital Officer of Huawei Cloud & AI Business Group, Asia Pacific Region.

Covid-19 has shattered years of economic and social norms, and countries will need to innovate to rebuild stronger from the pandemic.

Startups are a force for discovery, Leo tells GovInsider, and will be a driver of innovation. We spoke to him to find out more how governments can nurture a thriving startup ecosystem.

A key driver of innovation

Startups have created innovative solutions that allowed countries to pivot and respond to the pandemic. Singapore-based telemedicine startup Doctor Anywhere has allowed citizens to seek online treatment for common ailments or non-emergency illnesses.

The new normal will see more overlaps between the digital and physical world, says Leo. Digital solutions must be built at a faster pace to allow nations to quickly deal with the challenges of tomorrow.

Sustenir, a Singaporean agriculture startup, is building vertical urban farms that enable non-native produce to grow in controlled, indoor environments and address food security issues.

Startups’ ability to experiment and innovate quickly will also be more valued over the typical procurement process. Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority created the Open Innovation Platform, a virtual accelerator that connects public sector problems to enterprises and startups, greatly reducing the procurement time.

But it isn’t always so simple

But startups have also been hit hard by the pandemic. Heng Swee Keat, Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister, said he received feedback that startups have found it difficult to develop their businesses during Covid-19.

The Singapore government also announced in May that it would be setting aside another S$285 million to help startups gain access to credit.

Leo Jiang

Startups also face tough competition with MNCs in a crowded marketplace. “Personally, I had two startups in the past, and I also worked for several MNCs for 16 years, so I have experienced the challenges from both sides,” Leo shared at the Huawei Cloud Summit 2020 Singapore.

Corporations are constrained by corporate rules on who they can work with and how to work with them – “an awfully long and painful process”, he added.

“At the same time, startups are struggling to get access to these MNCs even though they may have the technology and the know-how.”

Huawei’s startup accelerator

Huawei launched its Spark programme earlier in August, and aims to help deep tech startups in Asia Pacific flourish.

“What’s on the top of all startups founders’ minds is growth, which ultimately comes down to sales and marketing,” says Leo. That’s exactly what Spark programme is all about – to accelerate startup growth and keep the growth momentum.

“How to help startups achieve that keeps me awake at night,” Leo adds. Huawei builds a unique 6-month client acquisition program as part of the Spark accelerator to help startups access and acquire enterprise clients.

That alone is not enough as it is still a one-off program and single event. The sustainability of startup growth has to come from its own products and services, he says. Huawei Spark offers end-to-end technology stack including hardware, software, cloud, 5G, AI, and mobile applications to power startups’ products and services. “That’s what makes us unique in the startup ecosystem – providing access to clients and technological leadership.”

“Our acceleration program supports the government from education, incubation, business development and go-to market perspective,” Leo tells GovInsider. The tech giant is open to collaborating with governments to achieve its vision of building a fully connected and intelligent world, he adds.

An iterative model of innovation will be key to deal with uncertainty in the new normal. A vibrant startup ecosystem will help nations rebuild stronger from the pandemic and tackle the challenges of tomorrow.