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Meet Zoé Neron-Bancel, the French-American Innovation Consultant Who Moved to Singapore to Advance the Deep Tech Ecosystem in Asia Pacific

We met Zoé Neron-Bancel, Lead Innovation Consulting at Hello Tomorrow APAC , while collaborating on a 3-part series on Sustainable Urbanisation. Zoé traces her journey across the globe and shares insights on emerging trends in Asia-Pacific’s Deep Tech Ecosystem.

By SGN | 20 Dec 2021

Zoé and her partner, Florent Delmotte at the iconic Raffles Hotel in Singapore.

When people ask me where I’m from, my answer is never very straightforward; but I tend to present myself as French American. My passport is French, and I was born in France, although we quickly moved to England for a few years and then settled in New York. I only returned to France when I was 27, so that makes quite some time spent outside my home country!  My references, cultural traditions and social influences are really a blend of these two cultures.

Traveling has been a recurring theme in my family. I have been lucky to have lived in the USA, Canada, Argentina, Spain and now Singapore as of September 2021. Immersing yourself into a new culture and way of life is quite a unique experience and it has taught me a lot on a personal and professional level.

Journey to Innovation and Strategy Consulting

In 2012, I moved to Barcelona to start my first job with ADP (Automatic Data Processing) a Global Human Capital Management, BPO, Cloud and SaaS services leader. Today I would say this was my first position in the tech industry, HR Tech to be specific, but honestly back then it wasn’t such a conscious decision, and the Tech acronyms really weren’t as popular as they are today.

I learned how cloud-based services and outsourcing models could transform the way business strategies are conceived, and just how influential new technologies are in managing global operations and value chains. It also completely changed my view of the HR function, the vital role it plays in a company’s (successful) long term growth, talent management & retention, and how tech services transform the HR function and available service offerings.

Five years into that career, I felt it was time to make a shift and reorient my career. My master’s program in Corporate Strategy with Sciences Po Paris’s School of Management and Innovation was a turning point for me. It allowed me to discover and integrate new competencies in innovation management, new disruptive business models, entrepreneurship or new philanthropy and impact investing.

From there I entered the innovation consulting field working for FI Group, an international consulting firm specialized in public funding for innovation and R&D strategy and developed their innovation management service offering. While in France I discovered Hello Tomorrow’s work and followed their initiatives from a distance with great interest. I jumped at the opportunity of joining the APAC team in 2021 and of pursuing my career at the crossroads of deep-tech, sustainable development and innovation consulting. 

Moving from Paris to Singapore

Moving to Asia and discovering this continent has been a longstanding project of mine. Singapore’s multicultural identity and position as a central hub in Asia felt like the right match for my partner and I.

Living in Singapore means learning about a new set of cultural references, way of thinking and living as well as a integrating a new workplace environment. We both work in the field of Research, Development, and Innovation, so from a professional point of view, Singapore is an exciting place for growth and discovery. After both having worked in Europe for the past few years, we felt it was time to expand our horizons and immerse ourselves in a new innovation and technology ecosystem.

Life as an Innovation Consultant at Hello Tomorrow APAC

Every day is different. The work is very fast-paced, and I have a great team – which makes all the difference. My day may be split between contributing to thought-leadership pieces and insights on future trends around a specific industry and deep tech innovations, to leading our discovery and exploration calls with clients.

As Lead Innovation Consulting, I plan and execute our partnership and consulting initiatives. Our projects include start-up acceleration programmes, market-access initiatives, summits, innovation challenges and scientific-entrepreneurship education programmes among others.

I have had the chance to work with many different counterparts ranging from startups, MNCs, academic/research institutions, investors, government bodies and NGOs. Each of them has different needs and plays a different role in the deep tech ecosystem, which make our exchanges very rich. The common denominator is working for a mission and purpose driven organisation that works towards the translation of emergent technologies from lab to market.

On the opportunities for Deep Tech applications in Asia Pacific

The deep tech ecosystem in Asia Pacific is gaining more traction and attention from governments, corporations, and investors. Private and public sector initiatives are emerging which are dedicated to supporting science entrepreneurship and engaging with the ecosystem in a new way.

There is a strong and active global community of researchers, academics and scientist entrepreneurs that have been driving this ecosystem for several years now. That piece is in place and strong.

While the development of the ecosystem is on an upwards trajectory, there are some fundamental aspects such as the investment appetite and model, the commercialization model and market readiness which are still catching up. Supporting the translation of emergent technologies from lab to market is a very different approach than supporting digital technologies (or fast tech). There are few regional investors that view frontier tech venture capital as a viable asset class. New models are needed to demonstrate the value of hard tech.

The depth of the market is another aspect. The counterparties and infrastructure needed to help scale a deep tech start up in the long term needs to be reinforced. The region’s capacity to kick-start and support the growth of local deep tech startups is still nascent as well. 

Different countries in the region have different needs and core industries. This is one factor that can determine the type of deep tech ecosystem and trends which are taking shape. We see that they will grow in accordance with the local demand drivers and economic activity (Agricultural commodities in Vietnam, Food and Agriculture in Thailand).  Local policies and government mandates play an important role in driving these efforts.

Another approach can be by looking at megatrends. As an example, for Southeast Asia, we have the decentralization of healthcare services or rapid urbanisation. The lack of centralized healthcare facilities and hospitals in neighboring countries is pushing for the personalization of medical devices and new emerging technologies based in hard tech.

Deep Tech in Singapore

The deep tech ecosystem is maturing and evolving. A change is seen when we exchange with end users (from hospitals, transit companies to developers) which are actively sourcing, incubation and testing solutions here in Singapore. In our conversations with local industry players, that have activities in Europe and the US, we are hearing that the identification of new emerging innovations is also coming from Singapore and no longer the other way around.

In Singapore, the major trends shaping the deep tech ecosystem are tied to the city-state’s most pressing challenges. These include rapid urbanisation, ageing population, low availability of arable land etc. These demand drivers influence the government policies, private investments, and R&D efforts. This has translated into the activity we see today in the Mobility & Urban Sustainability, Energy & New Materials, Food and AgTech, and Biotechnology and Healthcare verticals. 

If we look at the Hello Tomorrow APAC Finalists for 2021, we can see how these trends are materializing. We have Quantum TX, in the digital health and medical devices, that have developed a product, using Magnetic Mitohormesis (electronmagnetic fields) which provides enhanced muscle regeneration without physical strain. The Mitohormesis field protocol also promotes the release of regenerative factors from stem cells to promote cartilage formation from stem cells. This is especially relevant for the eldercare and rehab recovery process.

In the digital health we are seeing the power of AI assistance in drug development and therapy design through the work startups such as KYAN Therapeutics and Gero. And lastly in the energy and new materials space, CBE Eco-Solutions is changing the way we manage our carbon waste by upcycling carbon waste to advanced carbon and metal products.

Emerging technology in the Food and Agriculture sector is another prime example of how economic activity and local needs come to shape deep tech trends. Singapore imports over 90% of its food and the objective is to produce more, better, richer, and more diversified food sources.

The local deep tech ecosystem pushes the boundaries of urban agriculture, agri-food technologies, alternative proteins, aquaculture, genetic engineering. Singapore’s 30 by 30 plan and the Food Story R&D Programme is accelerating smart urban city technologies and innovations to enhance its food resilience and agricultural production.

Sustainable Urbanisation in Southeast Asia

We know that urbanization lies at the heart of the region’s growth, with 100 million more people expected to migrate to cities by 2030. It is a vital component for the region’s future and sustainable urbanisation is necessary from a climate mitigation perspective.

The region will be first in line to grapple with the pressures from urbanisation (exponential increase of the energy and new build demand) and the effects of climate change are particularly pronounced.  How private and state actors meet this demand is key and the deep tech ecosystem is showing the most promising solutions to allow us to reach these goals.

The building and construction industry is responsible for the most GHGs than any other sector in the economy and embodied carbons are buried deep with the value chain. Alternative materials or carbon sequestration and waste management technologies are changing the way we build and conceive our cities.

Our transition towards clean energy and the transformation of our built environment requires collective action and our role is to be the advocates for these changes and for the solutions in our network taking on these challenges.

Volunteering with the FemTech Collective

In my spare time, I volunteer with the FemTech Collective to support their community outreach work. I believe in supporting organizations which uphold values and pursue a mission that I adhere to 100 per cent; like Hello Tomorrow, the FemTech Collective helps accelerate the rise and adoption of technologies that tackle generational and societal challenges.

As the largest community-based network for women’s health tech innovation, the FemTech Collective is dedicated to advancing products and services for women’s health. The reality is that this sector has been underfunded and under resourced for decades, and this organization is working to reverse that trend and create a receptive ecosystem to support women-centric health solutions.

While the market has mostly been growing in the US and Europe, momentum is building in Asia. The FemTech market is projected to be a $50 Billion by 2025 and this speaks to the opportunities which remain untapped in improving our services for women’s health. While I am still just finding my marks in Singapore, I am looking forward to seeing how I can engage with the FemTech ecosystem here.

About Zoé Neron-Bancel

Zoé is a French-American strategy and innovation consultant 7 years of experience in Innovation Management Consulting from (startups to large corporations) and Project Management (B to B and B to C) in Global Human Capital Management and Cloud Based Services.

Connect with Zoé here.

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