5 February, 2020

“Robots: Here to Stay But Not to Take Over” Interview with Ken Hirokawa, Director of INDEE Singapore

Here at SPECTRUM, we are always excited every time we hear of disruptive technologies like AI and robotics that promise to increase efficiency when it comes to everyday tasks. We sat down with SPECTRUM member and Director of INDEE Ken Hirokawa who is spearheading innovation through the company’s Singapore arm by supporting startups through its business development and technology consulting services:

 

[SPECTRUM]:

Can you tell us about INDEE Singapore, why it was formed and what services you provide?

[Ken]:

We set up our Singapore office in January of 2019, a subsidiary of our Japanese headquarters that has been around for a decade. We were primarily formed to help create business plans and growth strategies for startups and new businesses within large corporations – a proposition that many consulting firms fail to deliver on.

 

[SPECTRUM]:

You focus on innovation, do you specialise in any specific industry?

[Ken]:

I would have to say that our main areas of focus right now are on AI, robotics and biotechnology. My role involves me getting involved in the robotics and AI parts while my other partners handle the biotech area of the business.

Interestingly, we’ve got quite a few inquiries recently on how we can help the fintech sphere to evolve – from both Japanese companies as well as local and international ones.

This has been quite promising and reassuring that we are on the right track.

 

[SPECTRUM]:

Are there a lot of challenges for Japanese companies planning to venture into Singapore? What about for Singapore companies who want to venture into Japan?

[Ken]:

When it comes to international expansion, the Japanese model always seems to start with the sales office as a base to work out of. Companies tend to re-locate some Japanese expats to sell their products but the language and culture barrier is a problem so sales usually fall below expectations in the first year.

We also function as a medium to help them localise when they enter this market and hit the ground running.

Another factor to consider is that Singaporean businesses want to see the bigger picture and how our technology compares to that of America, Europe and the rest of the modern world. Japanese companies do not focus as much on product knowledge because there is an innate trust in the technology that they create. Brands like Canon and Fuji, for example, have already made a name for themselves and do not need to go into the details of their technology back home.

We help our clients to better communicate how their technology works to build a stronger proposition for their clients in Singapore and other markets.

 

 [SPECTRUM]:

Are there any lessons that the tech ecosystem in Singapore can learn from Japan? What can the Japanese learn from us?

[Ken]:

Japan is huge on manufacturing so commercialisation is where the Japanese companies come ahead. The country has a long history of producing quality products.

One thing that Singapore is doing well in robotics and other areas is encouraging the development and adoption of open source software. The government is actually subsidising many of these initiatives. This helps to promote collaborations and lowers barriers to entry for new players. You could say that the Japanese model focuses on proprietary software but not so much on collaboration.

Singapore also has a lot going for it. They seem to be getting it spot on – from its airports to eateries – leveraging technology to streamline daily tasks considerably. Autonomous cleaning robots seem to be present in many major shopping centres and even hawker centres here – something that you do not see in many other countries.

 

[SPECTRUM]:

Do you see more cooperation between small innovative startups and large corporations in Japan?

[Ken]:

To be honest, this has historically been an issue in Japan, with a lack of collaboration in the country. Government and large organisations tend to be bureaucratic in nature with many layers of authority to pass through before anything is approved. You still do not see many smaller private businesses working with larger ones due to this problem. We are seeing a gradual shift towards an opening up of such opportunities but it will take time to evolve.

 

[SPECTRUM]:

Is it easier for early-stage and mature startups to get funding here in Singapore?

[Ken]:

It’s definitely much easier here.

The Singaporean government seems to be huge on encouraging new tech and entrepreneurship. We have organisations here like EDB and A*STAR that focus on collaboration and human resources.

 

 [SPECTRUM]:

What excites you about the future? What are the innovations that you most look forward to?

[Ken]:

I would definitely say that the thing that excites me most is new scientific discoveries but I also enjoy the gradual adoption of existing technologies that continue to evolve as technology strengthens, such as robotics.

To see a flurry of robots around to manage the manpower shortage here and biotech to help people live longer would make all the work I put in worth it. I would have to say that I do not think that robots pose any threat to humanity even in the distant future, I doubt that they will ever be smarter than the engineers that created them.

 

[SPECTRUM]:

Can you tell us about your experience with SPECTRUM?

[Ken]:

We were considering many places before we moved into SPECTRUM but I would have to say that the vibrancy and amazing community here has paved the way for an extremely positive experience.

 

Do watch this space to find out more on how INDEE is progressing in the future as well as insights on our other members within the space. As always, you can keep up-to-date with what is going on around SPECTRUM here.

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