ECONOMY | Contributed Content, Singapore
Vivek Kumar

Breakthrough for B2B startups: Insights from a live exchange in Singapore


An ability to innovate is often the critical success factor for any global city. Or, for many of us as employees or entrepreneurs. 

Being an Unusual Labour Movement, NTUC also hosts a community called U Startup. The volunteer leaders in the U Startup community, together with our U Associate professional guilds – Action Community for Entrepreneurship (ACE) and Singapore Chapter of the global Entrepreneurs’ Organisation (EO), strive to help our startups tap into each other's experience, network with established businesses in the wider LM network, and find new ways to attract talent to grow their businesses.

U Startup Exchange 2.0 brought startups in the healthcare space together with hospitals, nursing homes, public policy experts, healthcare union, global pharmaceutical companies, healthcare economists, and doctors to one roundtable.

Here are some interesting observations:

A. Do we hear you?
Startups shared a general unhappiness about established players being less responsive when they are approached. Yet, as the discussion progressed, it was clear both sides didn't quite understand what the issues are the other side is struggling with.

They ranged from manpower crunch in the healthcare sector, to discomfort of elderly patients to be cared for by a robot, to a policy approach of 'no harm to patients first' – a quite reasonable one I must say – to access to medical data without breaching patient confidentiality. Much to mull over. 

B. If a door doesn't open, try the window!
Most startups thought of patients, doctors, and hospital administrators as the primary contact points. Yet, as the discussion progressed, it became clear they shouldn't feel constrained because they can't get direct access to these people.

There are others, such as the nurses, allied medical professionals, and caregivers related to patients, who could provide a treasure trove of advice and guidance to the startups as they develop or pivot their products or services.

C. Innovation = tech?
The surprise startup in the room was from the union. Seeing a lack of nursing talent, leaders from the Healthcare Services Employees Union (HSEU) devised a startup to bring back retired nurses to help the current workforce.

They had to devise a system to allow these retired nurses to do flexiwork, a framework to re-train them so their skills were relevant, and work with the employers. The union's perseverance prevailed and the initiative was a success.

D. Hear from the horse's mouth
Why do our elders still use umbrellas as walking sticks? Why shouldn't the government intervene and subsidise or buy the new superior quality walking sticks for our elders? Sounds logical.

Then, the immediate past president of Association of Psychotherapists & Counselors Singapore (APACS), an NTUC U Associate, spoke. A pioneer generation member himself, he explained the reason is simply since the elderly don't wish to 'lose face' by walking around aided by a stick. It has nothing to do with how good or bad a walking stick is. Hmmm…

The biggest learning for me was, whether for startups or established businesses, innovation would happen when people across sectors, doing very different roles, with diverse skill sets, experiences, and expectations, choose to share a platform and trust each other sufficiently to be candid.

There is an elephant beyond the parts that each of us can touch or feel individually. We need to have the ability to pull the outline of an elephant out of the partial observations. That may well mark the difference between success and failure for any organisation!

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Vivek Kumar

Vivek Kumar

Vivek is Director of U Associate & U Future Leaders programmes, National Trades Union Congress. He is the Honorary Chairman of Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council in Asia-Pacific and keynote speaker at industry conferences around the region.

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