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Arcadis: Collaborating with Corporates is Key for Startups to Achieve Social Impact and Sustainability Balance

In October 2019, Arcadis, the Amsterdam-based global design and consultancy for natural and built assets, organized a roadshow in Singapore to introduce its Arcadis City of 2030 Accelerator -the result of its partnership with Techstars.

The roadshow aimed to search for the first Asian startup to join the second year of the program, which is set to start in March in Amsterdam. The program itself will peak in a demo day event in May.

“Arcadis is all about improving the quality of life and is always interested in people brave enough to bet their livelihood to that cause. We love that startups are more agile, flexible, and willing to take risks. They also give us new perspectives on how to solve some of our cities’ challenges by looking for unconventional solutions,” says Stephen Uhr, Executive Director Asia Pacific – Clients, Innovation, and Strategy, Arcadis.

“We are currently working with startups to deal with some of the most pressing issues in Asian cities such as mobility, resilience to climate change, and dwindling resources,” he continues.

In this interview with e27, Uhr talks about the Southeast Asian (SEA) and European startup ecosystem – and why collaboration between startups and corporates is key to the balance between innovation and profitability.

Can you tell us the most outstanding difference between the Netherlands and SEA startup ecosystem? In what ways can each ecosystem learn and work with each other?

Europe is a well-developed and accessible market with a wide talent pool. The European Union (EU) offers tax incentives to facilitate investments in startups. It is a desirable market, not only for European-based startups but for Asian startups looking to expand. The Dutch startup culture, along with the rest of Europe, is mature and its success lies in its ability to attract talent with the Netherlands being one of the largest startup hubs in Europe.

SEA has an emerging startup scene backed by government interest and driven by the rapid growth in digital adoption. Indonesia has one of the largest growth in digital adoption rates in the world – 99 per cent increase between 2013-2018 and global players are scrambling to expand capacity in infrastructure such as data centres to meet this demand.

It can be more difficult for companies in Southeast Asia to attract international talent which is why many countries have taken to appealing to their overseas communities to return to their home countries with promises of investments in their startups.

Of course China leads the way in the full integration of digital services into everyday life as anyone who has tried to pay cash in a taxi in mainland China will know.

When it comes to dealing with the challenges of climate change, how far along have startups in SEA come? What are the opportunities that we can tap into, and the challenges we need to overcome?

Many startups are focused on dealing with climate change. We’ve seen how technology can be used to clean plastic from the oceans, create zero-carbon vehicles, make buildings more energy-efficient and much more. The challenge now is to make this technology scalable and make it in the norm rather than the exception.

Also Read: Top 5 appointment news that rocked the Southeast Asian startup ecosystem this year

We have been working with BlueSG, which provides a new environmentally friendly EV sharing service in Singapore. With plans for 500 charging stations and 2,000 charging points by 2020, BlueSG is different from existing car-sharing services as drivers need not return the car back to its original location. This flexibility reduces the need for citizens to own a physical car. BlueSG’s charging stations require specialized civil engineering work for connecting to local electrical grids and telecommunications networks that are critical for EV deployment.

Arcadis’ project management expertise ensured that this development met the technical guidelines of Singapore’s utility providers as well as BlueSG.

Europe is further along on issues regarding sustainability and decarbonizing its economy and we are seeing many interesting startups in this area.

One example of a startup we have been working within this space in Asia is Sensity, a startup dedicated to collecting real-time climatic data through the use of IoT sensors. This technology is well suited to asset owners wishing to understand the actual environmental impacts of their operations.

As a business, how can startups balance between creating a sustainable company and creating social impact?

Startups are often quick to evolve and innovate and create social impact because they are smaller, but as they become successful and grow rapidly, their internal operations struggle to catch up.

This is where larger businesses can support startups by giving them access to markets, clients, and scale whilst remaining focused on the core mission.

It’s important not to lose that innovative mindset and ‘can do’ bootstrapping attitude – which has happened to many startups as they’ve grown.

Also Read: COVID-19, the environment, and the tech ecosystem: what opportunity is available out there for us?

The SEA startup ecosystem is getting increasingly popular among global investors and accelerator programs, even for social businesses. What do you think is the strength of this market, that leads the world to be interested in it?

In Southeast Asia, we see thriving economies and so the investment opportunities are very tempting to global investors. In Thailand and Vietnam, a young population and a growing middle class have become key to global growth. Governments are increasingly startup-friendly too – in Singapore, for instance, the government is actively trying to encourage startups with tax incentives.

The flip side of this rapid growth and urbanization mean that cities are facing different challenges from those they faced ten or twenty years ago, so they are looking for new ways to meet those challenges, and this inspires a startup culture.

How do you envision your positioning in SEA tech ecosystem in the next five years?
The challenges we face as citizens continue to evolve and multiply, and our lives have become increasingly digitalized. Arcadis is changing the way it does business to meet that new digital reality through automation or its core business and the growth of new technologies to improve the quality of life for SEA.

As an industry, construction has been relatively slow to adopt new technology compared to other sectors. We are starting to see this change. Not only will we be able to offer new solutions to our clients, but we are engaged in various initiatives to help strengthen our digital transformation.

We are continuously expanding our digital and data expertise; a recent example is through the acquisition of the software and analytics firm SEAMS. We are also activating digital leadership throughout the company through a knowledge partnership with Vlerick Business School. All these initiatives will spur on Arcadis’ city-centric vision and strategy of continued digital innovation and growth.

Image Credit: Mike Enerio on Unsplash

This post was first published on January 6, 2020

The post Startups should work with corporates to achieve balance between social impact, sustainability: Arcadis appeared first on e27.

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