To say that FIT’s Science & Technology Counselors breathe internationalization would be an understatement. When we log into Microsoft Teams from Flanders to meet Ralph Moreau, our representative in Singapore, we immediately catch a glimpse of the Lion City’s skyline. It turns out to be a personalized background image in Ralph’s virtual work environment – teleworking is the norm in Singapore as well –, but the tone is set. Ralph Moreau: “Singapore is a progressive region where, as a Science & Technology Counselor, I can even now help build bridges between tech-oriented Flanders and South and Southeast Asia.”
Flanders’ business environment is never too far away, though. The lines of communication between FIT colleagues in Flanders and other parts of the world are always open. Moreover, there are many similarities between Singapore and Flanders.
Ralph Moreau: “Both regions have small territories, but strategic locations and open economies. There are no natural resources, but the population is highly educated. Knowledge, for instance, is the raw material for both Flanders and Singapore. Moreover, they are both known as gateways: from Flanders, you can reach the rest of Europe in no time, while Singapore is the ideal springboard to South and Southeast Asia.”
Like two innovative peas in a pod
In terms of innovation, Flanders and Singapore are like two peas in a pod as well. Ralph Moreau: “Research and development is heavily financed in both regions. In addition, innovation is often a story of close cooperation between partners at home and abroad. Many of these innovative efforts focus on important themes such as renewable energy and sustainable water, waste and materials management.
“For example, Flanders stands very strong in terms of cleantech, while in Singapore, there is a concrete demand for such technologies. Scaling up this tech into practical solutions or business models that can also be applied in various foreign markets is a major opportunity in which we as Science & Technology Counselors play a major role in harnessing.”
Scaling up technologies into solutions that can be applied in various markets is a big opportunity in which we play a major role in harnessing.”
A massive focus area
How do our Science & Technology Counselors go about their work? Because the job is so varied, the answer can’t be summed up in just a few words. “Usually, I first examine the technological developments that Singapore uses to create local solutions to challenges such as water scarcity,” explains Ralph Moreau. “These technologies find their way to numerous markets in Singapore’s broad sphere of influence: from the Indian subcontinent to South and Southeast Asia and even Australia. However, these countries also develop many technological advances, so I have to follow the technology landscape in detail there as well.
“Consequently, my focus area is in fact much larger than Singapore, but that’s how it is: you have to look beyond your own horizon to identify opportunities. Where can Flanders-based tech companies and knowledge centers offer relevant added value? Is the market ripe for their offer? Are there large projects or tenders in the pipeline in which solutions from Flanders can play a role? Are there financing opportunities to capitalize on?”
My focus area is in fact much larger than Singapore, but that’s how it is: you have to look beyond your own horizon to identify opportunities.”
“Once we’ve mapped supply and demand, it’s all about bringing Flanders-based players to Singapore and introducing them to prospects,” Ralph Moreau continues. “We often link this to an important catalyst, for example when there’s a large trade fair, an economic mission or a major government tender.
“In times of COVID-19, business trips are of course not an option, but that doesn’t stop us from prospecting and connecting companies and knowledge institutions from Flanders and Singapore. For example, we started a project in which Flanders-based tech companies are able to digitally pitch their COVID-19 solutions at large Singapore industrial groups: from airport companies and real estate groups to logistics providers and petrochemical players.”
Promoting knowledge and knowhow from Flanders
“After all your hard and dynamic work as a Science & Technology Counselor, you can experience how you’ve made the link between supply and demand, between innovation from Flanders and a need abroad,” adds Ralph Moreau. “That’s very rewarding and satisfying. The icing on the cake is that you get to ‘sell’ a top product like tech and knowledge from Flanders. Nevertheless, it remains a challenging job. You need to know what Flanders stands for and where you can find which type of expertise. Building a strong network is also a must.”
After all your hard and dynamic work as a Science & Technology Counselor, you can experience how you’ve made the link between supply and demand.”
“In addition, a talented Science & Technology Counselor is a jack of all trades. Every day, you come into contact with numerous profiles, nationalities and sectors. One moment you’re watching a researcher’s pitch, and the next, you’re listening to a government employee clarifying a subsidy system, a bank representative highlighting their regional plans, a local NGO raising awareness on a certain need… And in the meantime, you’re in constant contact with Flanders-based companies to answer their questions and share business opportunities.
“It goes without saying that a nine-to-five mentality is a no-go in such a context. After all, you have to be able to switch from one thing to another quickly, assess opportunities correctly, make the right links and leverage your connections optimally. Out-of-the-box thinking is indispensable, too. It’s not a walk in the park, for sure, but it’s an exciting and dynamic job where you can make a difference and experience the social relevance of what you do every day.”