South East Asia Center for Asia Pacific Excellence Singapore Tour

Author: Danica Burke


Last month NZ Chamber once again hosted a group of New Zealand business students on an immersive tour of Singapore as part of the SEA CAPE Tertiary Market Immersion Programme run by SEA CAPE. Danica Burke shares this years activity.


Imagine being 21 years old and getting an all expenses paid 3-week trip through Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.  For those readers already living and working in Asia, imagine, before you began your business journey in this region, how great would it have been to have a guided tour of what it’s like to live and work here, meet and learn from Kiwis and Kiwi companies that have come before you. Imagine how great it would have been to explore the business landscape and opportunity space for business ideas you had and test them out on industry leaders before you embarked on them?

For 16 lucky students from 7 universities all around New Zealand, they didn’t have to imagine any of that. They got to do it all. Imagine having that opportunity at their age?

This January, NZ Chamber was once again asked by the Southeast Asia Center for Asia Pacific Excellence to create and host the Singapore leg of their student business immersion tour. It is our third year doing so. In 2018 we hosted the first cohort of bright eyed 17-18 year olds selected from the Young Enterprise Scheme, last year that programme was repeated and they were also joined by the first 19-21 year old cohort of the Tertiary Market Immersion Programme. All of these students enter a competitive process to earn a place on the tour, selected to ensure a diverse representation of backgrounds and business interests, but a shared enthusiasm to doing business in Asia in the future.

This year the TMIP returned for a second year, and after a week in Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur each the group landed in Singapore for their third and final week of the tour. The students were chaperoned by SEA CAPE Director Siah Hwee Ang, Dep. Director Laura Sessions, Programme Co-ordinator  Katrina Walsh, and further chaperoned by senior lecturers Dr. Michelle Renton, Ben Fath and Antje Fielder. TMIP groups the students into four topic areas of overlapping interest, overseen by a professor who specialises in that area. They start their research together in New Zealand during their Summer holidays, using the abroad trip as the immersive market research portion, they pitch their business ideas at the end of the trip, before returning to NZ to refine their solutions and submit a final report. The four focus areas of this trip were:

  • Social enterprise models for sustainability in Indonesia and Malaysia

  • Singapore as a hub for New Zealand’s engagement in Southeast Asia

  • The allure of the Indonesian, Malaysian or Singaporean food and beverage market for New Zealand

  • New Zealand’s services into the Indonesian, Malaysian, or Singaporean markets


It’s a bit of a culture shock to land straight in to Indonesia when you’re coming from the fresh air, open spaces and walkable streets of New Zealand’s small towns and comparatively tiny cities. Thankfully Singapore’s previous High Commissioner Dr. Jonathan Austin is now the NZ Ambassador to Indonesia and was there to give them a warm Kiwi welcome. Having just missed the floods, the group still had the chaotic Jakarta traffic to battle on their way to visiting business and NGOs (such as XSProject, Suwe Ora Jamu, Greenhouse, M Bloc and BRI Microfinancing) to learn about sustainable business and micro-financing, and even visited the ASEAN Secretariat where they learned about Indonesia’s key role and its relationship with New Zealand.

In the Malaysian capital the students took up 2-day internships, giving them hands-on experience and insights into Malaysian work culture. They also visited businesses (such as Accelerate Global, Storiiu, Fonterra, NZ Unlimited and Datacom), learned about the power of relationship building from SEA CAPE ASEAN@50 fellow Senthil Balan, before having the opportunity to  network and share their learnings so far at a reception at the residence of the NZ High Commissioner to Malaysia, Hunter Nottage.


Unlike the high school age groups I’ve hosted previously, who meet each other as they board their flight to Singapore and land wide-eyed and gobsmacked by the cityscape, this TMIP landed relaxed in each others company and loudly voicing their relief at the sight of safe, walkable footpaths and civilised levels of traffic. And as much as they have been loving exploring the local food on their trip, there was a few whoops and hollers when I informed them that we would be dining at a Kiwi-themed restaurant on their first night in the garden city.

After 4 years of hosting visitors you learn a thing or two about impressing your guests with the iconic sights of Singapore. Taking them to dinner next to the church made famous by the wedding in Crazy Rich Asians is one of them. Bonus points were achieved when an actual bride walked past and waved to her applauding ‘fans’. Andrew Wee, owner of MoaTiki, shared his entrepreneur journey and business advice while we enjoyed the relaxing ambience and beauty of Chijmes.

After a weekend exploring the city and a few races down the SkyLine Luge on Sentosa, the group bedded in at the NZ High Commission to hear each of the NZ Inc agencies share their regional perspective and strategy. Thank you to Clare Wilson (East Asia Regional Director, NZTE), John Laxon (Asia Regional Director, Education NZ), Edward Kwek (Business Events Manager, South & South East Asia, Tourism NZ), Sharmin Rheeman (Head of Business Development, Tech, NZTE) and especially HE Jo Tyndall (NZ High Commissioner to Singapore) for sharing the past, present and future of the NZ-SG relationship, but also your expertise in the sustainability and climate action space. Key takeouts from this morning was the strength of the connection between our two nations, thanks to a history long connected by military, diplomatic, trade and educational ties. But the students also noted that we cannot rest on our laurels and New Zealand must compete on the international stage to maintain relevance and desirability in a crowded market where many foreign nations vye for Singapore’s friendship and market share.  The New Zealand story of exporting premium produce from its primary industries is a powerful one, but what will differentiate us and drive future economic ties to Singapore will come from the technology and innovation spaces. 

No trip to Singapore would be complete without a visit to some of New Zealand’s most iconic brands. Building on the work experience days in KL, the group visited Fonterra and then Xero, two very different business models in very different industries who between them gave a broad perspective on the challenges and opportunities that businesses like theirs face when entering and expanding throughout Asia.

Of course not all Kiwis arrive in Singapore with established businesses, there’s the special folk who forge their own path, the entrepreneurs who see a gap in the market, have the skillset and the determination to not only make it happen but also the drive to see it thrive. For this we turned to two veteran Kiwi entrepreneurs: Joseph Barratt who founded not only one of Singapore’s best and most awarded PR companies, Mutant Communications, but has found more recent success with his start up concept Trouble Brewing who started making custom brews and is now the biggest independent brewery in Singapore. Later, celebrity baker and author Dean Brettschneider, told the story of the rather spontaneous and opportunistic beginnings of Baker&Cook and the risks and rewards along the journey to becoming Singapore’s best loved expat neighbourhood bakery and cafe chain.

To complete the F&B day we had a little surprise lined up. Indradi Soemardjen, owner of Soma Cafe in Tanjong Pagar took us upstairs - waaay upstairs to the 72 floor roof terrace atop the the Skysuites @ Anson - from there the students could see not only the ports of Singapore, but also as far as Malaysia and Indonesia, bringing into perspective just how small Singapore is and how our nearest trading partners are literally a  stones throw away - stark contrast to the geographical isolation of New Zealand. Indradi is a amember of the strategic Advisory Board at NZ Asia Institute, Global Advisory Board Member of AGREA’s Leaders & Entrepreneurs in Agriculture Forum (LEAF), Treasurer of the Sustainable Coffee Platform of Indonesia (SCOPI) and his own coffee company Javanero exports coffee beans to New Zealand. He spoke in detail about his homeland, the challenges with Indonesia’s reputation and it’s battle to compete against larger coffee regions despite it being one of the oldest growers and the opportunity it presents for both Singapore and New Zealand. Over a traditional Peranakan dinner the students were joined by Indradi and Kori Miller, a Kiwi F&B consultant who has worked with many great Singapore restaurants - Justin Quek, Panamericana and & to name a few and is a great advocate for premium New Zealand produce in Singapore.

Before the students locked themselves away in the well-appointed meeting rooms of ANZ to finish their business presentations, the NZ Chamber premier sponsor hosted a panel to provide the students with an opportunity to drill leaders in the banking, logistics and education export industries. Shane Marsh, Head of ANZ’s Financial Institutions business, Marnie Watson, CEO of the University Partnerships division at UP Education, and Jay Thng, GM Singapore and Head of Asia & Europe for NZ Post, shared their knowledge and perspectives on using Singapore for a hub for doing business in South East Asia.

After three weeks of intensive tours, talks and travelling the big day finally arrived when the students would have to show the fruits of the trip. Nervous energy filled the room as the teams trickled in, cue cards in hand and butterflies in the bellies as they waited for their mystery ‘Dragons Den’ judges to arrive. Special Guest Judge HE Jo Tyndall dressed for the occasion with a dragon embroiled on her back. She was joined by NZ Chamber President Nick Vanderkolk, and two speakers from earlier in the week Indradi Soemardjen and Jay Thng. Each team had 10 minutes to present their business solution to their assigned topic space, followed by 5 minutes Q&As from the judges.

Adam Hitchiner, Maisy Bentley, Khorshed Tarapore, Grant Tunnicliffe explored how New Zealand businesses can use Singapore as a hub and gateway to the rest of South East Asia.

Hannah Jang, Abbey Smith, Monique Neal, Zach Withers pitched “2nd Life” a social entrepreneurship concept address food wastage in hotels and food security in vulnerable communities in Jakarta.

Angus Syme, Imogen Graham, Magdeline Huang and Karan Kalsi presented their concept on Exporting New Zealand Patient Data Management Systems to Malaysia. 


But after deliberation by the judges it was the team that was addressing the opportunity for NZ food & beverage in Singapore that came out the winner. Diane Tran, Xavier English, Anahita Piri, Irmine Kabimbi Ngoy  pitched the idea “Maori Herbal tea (Kawa Kawa, Horopito, and Manuka Leaves) in the Singapore market”. As explained by Irmine “Our focus was to open the pathway for indigenous Maori Brand’s within the Singapore Sector. WE believe that our three tea flavours gives our product an authentic and unique story. With its Long list of health benefits when consuming these leaves, to it’s deep history, our priority is to educate the target audience about the Maori culture and heritage. By informing our consumer about the value proposition of our Maori tea, it will strengthen the perception of Aotearoa New Zealand.” 

The judges commended the teams delivery of their presentation, their comprehensiveness in the business model sourcing  from small communities and iwi business and then selling into strategic premium and wellness-focused cafes and hotels in Singapore. The topical nature of the product concept was also noted with multiple iwi currently promoting their natural New Zealand produce and goods with a similar story of premium provenance.

SEA CAPE Director Siah Hwee Ang with NZ Chamber President Nick Vanderkolk, SG Programme Co-ordinator Dancia Burke, and the Winning Tea-m (L-R) Diane Tran, Irmine Kabimbi Ngoy, Anahita Piri and Xavier English.

Myself and NZ Chamber have had the pleasure and honour of being part of shaping the next generation of business leaders who will undoubtedly go on to make a positive impact in the world, and we hope to see many of them return to work and thrive in Asia in years to come.

Thank you once again to all the incredible people and companies that make up the NZ business community here in Singapore, as well as Malaysia and Indonesia. We could not put together such an amazing programme for the students without the generous and consistent support and enthusiasm from our sponsors, partners and members.