Digital Winners Asia plants seeds for expansion among start-ups

Start-ups from Telenor’s five Asian markets gathered today to explore what it takes to expand and succeed. Myanmar is a country in its adolescence. Not quite sure who it wants to be yet, but the transformation is underway and unstoppable. Construction cranes, freshly assembled towers and fast food logos meet crumbling sidewalks, street side tea …

Start-ups from Telenor’s five Asian markets gathered today to explore what it takes to expand and succeed.

Myanmar is a country in its adolescence. Not quite sure who it wants to be yet, but the transformation is underway and unstoppable. Construction cranes, freshly assembled towers and fast food logos meet crumbling sidewalks, street side tea retailers and children selling flowers on the street. It’s a country on the verge.

2016-11-01-08-01-32The largest city in Myanmar is Yangon and it’s where Telenor is hosting its first-ever Digital Winners Asia. A program that started several years back in Norway, as a way to recognize and reward exciting Nordic newco
mers, Digital Winners has served as a the company’s premiere gathering of leaders and innovators. Today it’s a gathering of Asian start-ups, the fledgling companies who are currently working with our business units as a part of their local accelerator programs.

So why bring Digital Winners to Asia, you ask? Well, about 190 million of Telenor’s 210 million customers happen to reside in Asia, a region that is embracing all things digital. It’s where entrepreneurs are changing lives, meeting unmet needs and reinventing the way of life for the millions. And while all of this is happening, the mobile companies are starting to understand that the tables are turning and that change is the only thing that can really be counted on.

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Andreas Ehn, the former CTO of Spotify on stage – with advice for startups.

Some call this disruption a.k.a. the beginning of the end of the telco business as we know it today. But in Telenor, we see this disruption as an opportunity and no matter what you call it; we want to be a part of it. Formally, Telenor has stated an ambition to become a digital service provider. What that means is that we as a company need to be a part of the innovation that is emerging, both inside Telenor and outside.

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EcoEnergy from Pakistan works to facilitate the spread of sustainable electricity, specifically to rural locations

What’s in it for us?
All of our business units in Asia are running Accelerator programs for their local start-ups. “We do this to increase our own pipeline of future acquisitions, to get to know more potential partners and also to realize our vision to empower societies, and all empowered societies have a healthy start-up community. We look for start-ups where we can add value or where they can bring value to us,” explained Gunnar Sellæg, Telenor SVP. And Digital Winners Asia is about both of those things.

Don’t get ahead of yourself
During the first day of Digital Winners Asia, Thye Yeow Bok who currently works with Google’s developer relations team in Singapore, shared what he learned from his own failed attempt at a start-up. He said “It’s rarely the right solution to hire someone every time there is a problem,” which is what his company did when they rapidly hired, rented spaced and moved into a new geography before they even figured out their product. Bok warned of premature expansion and how as an energetic and eager start-up team, the quickest path to failure is to build the company before you build the product.

Your company is only as good as your team
Bok was followed by Andreas Ehn, the former CTO of Spotify, who now devotes his time to angel investing and his new venture called Approach, where he experiences living in 10 countries in five years. He shared five tips to live by for start-ups: Build a great team | Build a great product | Embrace what users want |Question prevailing assumptions | Stay on top of tech shifts.

Designing their expansion opportunity
With advice from Bok and Andreas fresh in mind, the Digital Winners Asia audience moved into a service design workshop to solve the problem of how to expand outside of their own market. They will work day and night to put together a proposal, pitch to a panel of experts, and aim to be the one start-up to win funding: Asia’s Digital Winner.

They are start-ups on the verge
The start-ups attending Digital Winners Asia in many ways resemble the country where they are currently gathered: Myanmar. They are all actively trying to solve the riddle of their future success. They are eager to learn, to understand and to try, fail and try again. They are a study of contrasts, with their new fresh thinking and brilliant ideas combined with the age old needs and demands of running and managing a business. Nobody has really heard of them yet, but they are all start-ups on the verge of something great, we think. Time will tell.

Stay tuned for an update on DAY 2 from Digital Winners Asia, coming tomorrow!

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