Reducing the barrier to entry into Europe

The idea of setting up the Southeast Asian Entrepreneurs in Europe Association came about from our own experience of being helpless when we were setting up our tea sommelier company, Hungry Tea Masters, in Germany. My two co-founders and I went through various negative experiences with our business consultants, who displayed a lacklustre attitude towards atypical non-European businesses like ours.

Most of the grants that we got for our business went to paying for consultancy services which we barely used, and we found ourselves navigating through the dark alone.  

While there are non-profit associations which help Asian businesses looking to set up ventures or expand within Europe, there is no consolidated ‘one-stop shop’ for this, especially for Southeast Asian entrepreneurs. Through SEEA, we hope to make information more accessible for everyone to encourage more inspiring entrepreneurs to take that first leap of faith.

Collaborating with Singapore entities expanding into Europe

We worked closely with several Singapore entities to help extend our reach. For example, we worked with the Singapore Embassy in Berlin to support our events and the Singapore Global Network (SGN) to tap onto their networks to look for interested Singaporean entrepreneurs in Europe to join our association. They also helped us plan our launch event in May 2022.

In terms of resources, we have benefitted from working with the Economic Development Board (ESG) and Enterprise Singapore (EnterpriseSG). In fact, it was the latter that got us acquainted with the Singapore Business Federation (SBF) when SBF was looking into bringing small enterprises here. The Federation provides free resources and an informal link to these Singapore businesses, and we helped by familiarising them to the local scene. Through this, we give the businesses a ‘soft landing’ by acting as a resource hub where they can ask for help or look for mentors and connect with like-minded individuals in similar industries within Europe.

While our focus is to guide Southeast Asian companies in their foray into Europe, our course of work has also led us to another opportunity — helping European companies break into Southeast Asia and Singapore. Most European companies view Singapore as a gateway to Southeast Asia, so to help with this, we usually link them up with EDB and EnterpriseSG.

Growing the network and building stronger ties

SEEA is currently in the build-up phase where we are working to get our association known to entrepreneurs and linking up with various institutions and networks. At the same time, we are growing our own network. We currently have entrepreneurs at various levels of their business development — from start-up to growth, and a mix of successful entrepreneurs and budding ones at the seeding stage.

We hope to strengthen our network and resources by collaborating more closely with SBF to develop these key areas:

  • Sharing more information on how to simplify the understanding of expanding into Europe and how to navigate the bureaucracy in setting up a company in Europe.
  • Linking our existing members with Singapore companies in the same industries to give industry-specific advice.
  • Providing mentor-matching opportunities either by country or industry to create a stepping board for Singapore companies.
  • Allowing Singapore companies to tap into our existing network to look for business consultants, venture capitalists and the likes.

Plans for the future

We are aiming to formalise our association as a legal entity by 2023 so that we can establish greater networks with Southeast Asian communities and missions, and European institutions. Being a legal entity will also allow us to tap into funding schemes offered by the German government, which can help with the planning and execution of activities and events for our members.

We are also planning to open chapters in other European cities to build on our existing one in Germany and our recently formed chapter in Switzerland. On top of that, we hope to offer pro-bono consultancy services to companies that may require it. Lastly, we are building our own angel network for budding entrepreneurs, so members have the opportunity to get in touch with angel investors.

Advice for budding entrepreneurs

My advice to budding entrepreneurs is not to be afraid of the bureaucracy and the language barrier that they will encounter when doing business in Europe. Most entrepreneurs are put off by this before they even start, but bureaucracy is not really a problem as long as you have enough funding and have done your research. Europeans take pride in their own language and culture and prefer to converse in their native languages; hence a low language proficiency puts a foreigner at a disadvantage when it comes to advancing your career and building a business here. To address this, you can always approach SEEA and other Singaporeans who have successfully integrated in Europe for help.

Looking to expand into Europe? Sign up as a member of SEEA to gain access to our network. Alternatively, drop me an email at [email protected] if you wish to be part of our cause — we are still recruiting committee members!

Laura Ng is a multi-hatter who co-founded Southeast Asian Entrepreneurs in Europe Association (SEEA) and Hungry Tea Masters on top of her full-time job as a Performance Marketing Manager at a German Social Network company in Berlin and her role as the Co-lead for Singaporeans in Germany Club. She was recently part of a panel at the ‘Unlocking the power of European-Asian innovation’ workshop at AsiaBerlin Summit 2022 in Berlin and she also represented Singapore at the G20 YEA Summit in Hamburg as a Singapore delegate on behalf of G20 YEA Singapore.