If you get to cover an innovation conference these days, you expect to hear about Blockchain, Healthtech, Fintech, Robotics and AI.   So what did Innovfest Unbound 2018 have to offer in the way of new insights?

Innovfest Unbound is SE Asia’s largest and award winning innovation festival. In its fourth year and the anchor event for Singapore’s Smart Nation Innovations Week. It is jointly run but National University of Singapore’s Enterprise team, Unbound and the IMDA.

Over two days, 12,000 entrepreneurs and 300 speakers from more than 100 countries were in attendance.  Innovfest Unbound is unique in that it brings together academic researchers, entrepreneurs, corporates, students and venture capitalists, as well as policy makers and the next generation of game changers.  Everyone from the National Gallery, Netflix and Grab, to Disney, Facebook and the LEGO group were there.

‘Innovfest unbound’s growth…and speakers spanning the biggest names to the most disruptive start ups – is testament to the power and significance of innovation in today’s digital age.’ Said Daniel Seal, founder and CEO of Unbound.

This years event hosted a marketplace full of entrepreneurs pitching their ideas, anything from premium soft serve ice-cream for F&B, on the go food replacements, probiotic beer, to synthetic tendon grafts and blindness detection systems. Across the main arena and four satellite stages, the speakers really drilled down into the tech trends of tomorrow, focusing broadly on the areas of storytelling and the media, the digital consumer and Generation Z, AI, commerce and payment and of course, the Internet of Things.

So what did we learn from the speakers we heard

The Internet of Things

Successfully connecting machine to machine is the future as are 4.0 industrial smart cities.  Tracking is massive, especially for children and the elderly so we know where they are.

Cyber Security

There needs to be much better educational awareness across the whole of your company.  Good cyber hygiene and consumer education is also a fundamental responsibility. Companies are still not talking to each other about data security but rest assured, hackers and criminals are sharing best practice.

On the Changing Media Landscape 

Trust is one of the biggest concerns now.  Authority and trust are far more distributed.   Censorship is a huge issue so independent media is important because a lot of the publishing houses are run by huge families with government links.

According to the BBC, which is now developing content in local languages in 12 countries, demographic segmentation of their audience is still relevant. Target your content to different segments so it is suitable. For example, 18-35 women living in SE Asia (especially in smaller cities) drop out of news completely, or get it from their Twitter feed or Facebook headlines.  They don’t belong to a news network and don’t know the difference between BBC and NBC.  They just want news that is pertinent to them.

While most traffic is actually coming from Instagram stories, there are huge regional variations when it comes to the best way to get your message across. In Indonesia, Blackberry messenger is still huge outside of Jakarta, whereas in Thailand and Malaysia direct mail is still big. While Laos and Cambodia don’t yet have very established publishing markets, Vietnam and Singapore have both had a bit of a boom in local writing. However, there are still some huge commonalities across the region – education and children represent 50% of the market and are significant everywhere.

Interestingly, voice is becoming more prevalent.  Google are moving towards giving you an answer with voice; trying to answer questions rather than tell you where to get the answer.

Video Storytelling in a Mobile First World

People are watching more and more video and are finding ways to get around technological problems. Mobile behaviour is totally different from TV behaviour and it is crucial to understand that.  Mobile is 41% faster so we watch it closely, making our field of vision very small so we use more processing power and are able to make decisions and recall brands a lot faster than on other platforms. 

Most people use their social media feeds 16-18 times per day so you no longer have to wait till your evening to tell your brand story, you have 18 opportunities to tell your story but it has to be different and engaging.  Tell stories without sound as people have their sound off in their feed.  Think about how you can we tell visual stories without lots of text.

Pure reach doesn’t guarantee attention. The consumer is in control and the same consumer exhibits many different types of user behaviour; on the go (quick and snappy), lean in (when we want to know more) and lean back (when you are engaged for longer) so we have to tell stories that appeal to all of them.  Further consider consumer attention quality and whether it has a high or low annoyance factor.


Wearables are a huge area of growth and a great opportunity for a younger generation of designers to learn to intuitively create for the end user and benefit from the experience of elderly baby boomers.  Getting people of different age groups to work together to get real feedback is a useful process.

We are all ageing so we need to think about how we can manage this. Disease free zones are the goal.  We are moving from rigid electronics like smart phones and watches to flexible sensors for cardio monitoring and prediction.  Earlier diagnosis is key so we can stop disease with technology. The problem is that these technologies are way ahead of traditional medicine.  Increasing healthy life span and bringing healthcare closer to home with less visits to overstretched doctors is in sight. However the need to transfer data safely to doctors so it doesn’t get hacked is still a challenge.

Building Innovation Communities

Education plays a big role in innovation.  An entrepreneurial mind set comes from education or academia, largely on an individual level.  Soft skills, such as resilience, ability to embrace uncertainty and resistance to failure, are the hardest to develop.  There is a real need to empower people and start talking from a problem solving approach.  Repositioning failure as an idea failing, not the individual is effective.  Keep in mind that both education and the culture of success are changing.

Selling to the Digital Native

For people growing up now, technology is all they know.  They see technology as oxygen and nothing special about it at all. Selling to these digital natives is very different. They will buy because of hype.  However, nothing beats talking to customers and understanding expectations. People are increasingly lonely so it’s important to create more interaction offline.  While they might use online to discover but offline is where people experience.  Increasingly, value is now put on experience, which is becoming more and more of a product. 

Many companies segment who they respond to and test and learn is a constant and necessary process. The community angle is very important, talking to customers and creating online and offline relationships. Collaborating to provide customer experiences is important so working together with other parties can give digital natives what they expect and want.

Independents Versus the Big Boys

Bigger corporate companies are now actually looking for innovation from the smaller agencies.  The need to be agile and fast in the current climate, suits the independents.

Investing in SE Asia

In the US you have 10 mega cities cities with over 1 billion people, in SE Asia there are three times that; Shanghai, Beijing and Delhi to name a few.  Moreover, growth rates with digital adoption here is phenomenal.

The challenges of the SE Asian market is that it is a country to country opportunity. Every market has its own physics so you have to see each as different. The challenge is getting the physics right for that space, especially when looking at market expansion.What is hard is what creates value. Getting the people right in each country and making sure they understand, succeed and adapt the model is really tough.

There isn’t a cookie cutter profile for B2B and B2C entrepreneurs.  Most have passion.  It is about having some unique insight or perspective and some risk they can adjust quicker than others that can create an opportunity for success in a sector.  It also depends on team. They need to have a good handle on the macro/and micro environment. Good founders know when they should make changes in the team and choose the right people.  A great CEO knows how to listen, delegate and when to stop listening and say this what’s happening.

Online Branding

List down all the relevant media outlets in your region.  Build relationships with the right journalists and build long-term relationships with the media. Create exclusive, insightful, practical and news worthy content.  Perfect your pitch and share the love on social media.

Performance Marketing

When considering SEO, Google is now more of an answers engine.  Reduce your reliance on paid ads. Build your websites for people, not SEO.   Website with lots of pictures can mean that Google will have trouble scanning it. Build it for the least able user.  Load speed is important and make sure it looks good on mobile.

Video and images are not considered text so for SEO, the best thing to do is transcribe the video so it will be picked up in searches. External links are a great tool and keywords are still important but if your page doesn’t have a lot of content then your entire website will be de-valued.

The main focus of Innovfest Unbound was tech, start ups and academia.  As insightful as it was, it was disappointing that there was only a nod to actual creativity through artistic practices with one presentation from the National Gallery so the spectrum of innovation wasn’t very broad.  However it was testament to the success of the event that on the afternoon of the second day the event was teaming with people and buzzing with networking.  We also loved the short bite sized sessions with different speakers that generally went on for 25 minutes which retained a great sense of momentum.

The key takeaways that kept being repeated across all of the presentations were:

  • Companies working together to communicate better with digital natives
  • The rise and value of experiences on and offline.
  • The accuracy and necessity for customer targeting and segmentation.
  • Knowledge sharing in communities is vital
  • Segment your audience to communicate effectively
  • Trust is very low
  • Building offline customer relationships is as important than online relationships.
  • Communication and health innovation for kids and the elderly are key markets
  • The potential in SE Asia but understanding that each country is unique and has to be treated differently.

For more tips on how you and your business and can embrace a culture of creativity, read our article and tips on how to embrace innovation.

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