Brinc’s Sustainability Associate Program Manager, Elisa Riou, shares her experiences and key takeaways from two recent sustainability events in Singapore
At end-September, I had the opportunity to attend two prominent sustainability conferences in Singapore: one focused on start-ups and venture capitalists; the other centered around governments and corporations. Both events revolved around the vital topics of solving global challenges and unlocking capital, making them offer a perfect snapshot of the groundbreaking work happening in the APAC region. Let’s take a deep dive into what went down and discover the latest industry trends…
Hello Tomorrow APAC Summit: Nurturing Real Solutions for Global Challenges
First up was the Hello Tomorrow Investor Day 2023. This event introduced VCs, CVCs, and other investors to a carefully curated mix of the region’s most promising deep-tech start-ups. Witnessing and engaging in a full day of back-to-back 20-minute “speed” meetings between start-ups and investors was a stimulating experience. I was impressed by the diversity of local climate tech solutions being discussed, ranging from CDR to circular economy and advanced materials.
Local deep tech climate tech start-ups sought accelerator support to scale up prototypes and access testing resources, infrastructure, and customer networks. Most founders were from APAC (including Green COP, a Singaporean start-up that produces biofuels by up-cycling agricultural waste using patented technologies), with healthcare, energy, and food sectors dominating. In future editions, I hope to see more advanced manufacturing and adaptation start-ups.
The Hello Tomorrow Asia Pacific Summit 2023 showcased more than 60 speakers across three stages, with 15 startup pitches at the APAC Challenge 2023 Finals. One significant climate tech trend that emerged from my various discussions at this event was the increasing investment in hydrogen and nuclear technologies, particularly in the USA, offering more resources than Singapore. Additionally, AI has become a rising force in the climate tech vertical.
Another topic that resonated with me was the “Planetary Preservation: A Multi-Specie Undertaking” discussion about what it will take for humankind to return a symbiotic relationship with Earth. Dr. Siti Maryam Yaakub, from the International Blue Carbon Institute, stressed the importance of corporate and government action in diverting from oil and gas, and embracing renewable energy sources. She highlighted the example of Ørsted, Denmark’s largest energy company, that successfully transitioned from fossil fuels to renewables. She made it clear that individual efforts alone aren’t enough to combat climate change; collective action at the corporate and governmental levels is crucial. Voting for governments that prioritize this transition is our best chance to stay on track with the 1.5-degree climate target, which, let’s face it, we may already have passed. For example, Repla, a Korean start-up, has developed a plastic recycling technology utilizing microorganisms. They were selected for the Korea Credit Guarantee Fund’s “First Penguin” program, which supports pioneering companies with creative ideas. Through this program, founders can receive up to 3 billion won over 3 years to establish themselves as global leaders and drive new growth.
This conference wasn’t just about discussions and debates — there were also winners to celebrate! The top contenders in the Hello Tomorrow APAC 2023 challenge were TopoLogic Inc. from Japan, which showcased novel topological material-based electronics, and XtaLight from Singapore, specializing in optical microstructure analysis for metals. The grand prize winner was Psylo from Australia, a cutting-edge company developing psychedelic-inspired medicine to treat mental illness.
“The [Hello Tomorrow APAC Investor Day] event was such a great experience! I had many chances to connect with numerous investors all in one day, allowing for valuable interactions and feedback. Most valuable was that all the investors I met specifically focused on food tech startups, so their feedback was right on target and will undoubtedly help me better prepare for future engagements. I was also impressed with the event organizers, who were incredibly helpful and supportive throughout.”— Chanapol Tantakosol, CEO, MUU
“The [Hello Tomorrow APAC Investor Day] offered great candid conversations about how to better understand which climate technology will work in the APAC region. It was also inspiring to see climate tech becoming an integral part of the deep-tech ecosystem.” — Himanshu Sharma, Investment Associate, Theia Ventures
Unlocking Capital for Sustainability 2023: Enabling an Equitable Transition
Moving on to the Eco-business Unlocking Capital for Sustainability 2023 (UCFS) conference, this gathering convened leaders and decision-makers from government, financial institutions, and civil society to explore pathways for an equitable transition towards sustainability.
A special guest, Temasek Trust CEO Desmond Kuek, highlighted the shift towards environmental sustainability and the importance of diversifying away from oil and gas sources to prevent economic unviability, as demonstrated by the recent Ukraine energy crisis. The Asia region was strongly encouraged to swiftly join the energy transition movement in order to avoid being left behind without proper infrastructure and a skilled workforce. He also pinpointed the potential for regions such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Laos to harness their unique natural energy sources (geothermal, solar, and hydropower). Meanwhile, the upcoming COP28 in Dubai presents a new opportunity for increased collaboration between businesses, philanthropy, and governments. Temasek’s commitment to deep-tech innovation was recently substantiated following the announcement of a joint US$75 million pilot programme to accelerate startups from the pipeline of research from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) and the National University of Singapore (NUS).
One of UCFS’s key discussions centered around the role of carbon credits in accelerating Asia’s energy transition. The region’s increasing demand for energy, particularly coal, poses a significant challenge. While renewable energy adoption is on the rise, a substantial number of coal plants remain shielded from competition and locked into long-term contracts. Carbon credits emerged as a promising avenue for expediting the retirement of coal plants and transitioning to cleaner energy sources, which Brinc has discussed in previous articles. This holds particular significance for our recent carbon removal cohort companies focusing on engineered solutions like direct air capture, as they aim to expand their operations in the APAC region. The complexities of this topic were explored from both sides: Advocates argued that this revenue stream can drive down adoption costs, generate climate finance for developing countries, and facilitate the early closure of polluting plants in Southeast Asia; the opposite camp raised concerns regarding the volatility of carbon credits, questions regarding methodologies, and potential controversies.
Opportunities and Optimism: Unveiling Asia’s Hidden Climate Tech Potential
I left these two conferences with a sense of optimism. Asia’s ecosystem, though less visible than its Western counterparts, is vibrant and willing to drive change. From academia and accelerators to venture capitalists, growth banks, philanthropists, and governments, every stakeholder is hoping to contribute to the fight against climate change.
While Asia’s role in oil and gas development poses challenges, the shifting dynamics between the USA and China present an opportunity for other nations in the region, like India and Indonesia, to emerge as major players in the global green energy supply. The commitment demonstrated by all was inspiring.
The Hello Tomorrow APAC Summit and Eco-Business UCFS Conference offered great opportunities to connect with relevant start-ups, align with investors, and other potential program mentors/partners. If you’d also like to learn more or get involved with our climate tech program at Brinc, a global venture accelerator supporting early-stage start-ups in carbon removal and agrifood tech, please reach out.