In about one week, our flagship Asia Investment Conference (AIC) will take place in Singapore for the third time – the biggest one here yet.
This year’s event, which bears the tagline “All Eyes on the Next Decade”, will cast the spotlight on key, disruptive trends in the Asia Pacific investment landscape, specifically the underserved yet highly attractive mid-market segment.
We will have the honour of having Singapore’s Emeritus Senior Minister and former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong speak on the geopolitics of business at the event, in addition to other luminaries in the investment community.
Tom Lembong, Chairman of the Indonesia Investment Coordinating Board and former Trade Minister for Indonesia, will deliver a keynote address on the opportunities for South-east Asia as an up-and-coming technology and manufacturing hub within Asia.
Some 500 delegates from around the region, comprising global leaders from the private equity and venture capital, technology, banking, healthcare and government sectors, are expected to turn up at the event.
With months of preparation drawing to a near-close, my partners and I finally had some time for a breather – to look back at our journey so far.
And the one thing that stood out most for us was that the AIC has come a long, long way from when it first started in 2016.
Stumbling into the business
To tell the truth, we had stumbled into the conference business.
When we set up IJK Capital Partners in May 2016, all we wanted was a platform to bring our business contacts together, to introduce ourselves formally and to develop opportunities that would help kickstart the business.
This culminated in the idea for our first conference, then called “China Investment Forum”, to be held in Macau in November that year.
Unlike other media or market intelligence firms that organise conferences of such scale, we had no subscriber base to leverage on, and no track record. What we did was to sit down and send hundreds of personalised emails to industry leaders, inviting them to speak at our conference – most of them people we’ve never met in person before.
But it was an uphill task because IJK was new. Nobody had heard of us. For every hundred emails we sent, we would get only five replies.
The same thing happened in our search for sponsors. Cost was a huge issue, and we were prepared to empty our pockets and underwrite losses in our personal capacities.
But as any businessman would tell you of the back-breaking entrepreneurial journey: persistence is key. And for us, it did pay off.
The first few people who agreed to speak at the conference included Nicole Musicco of The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, Kazushige Kobayashi from Capital Dynamics, Eduard Wehry from PGIM. They came on board because they felt that our programme honed in on a niche spot with on-the-ground content that was practical and relevant – almost like a one-day masterclass for raising a fund.
It also helped that our conference focused on Asia at a time when China was still a relatively new market for many investors.
Practitioners and funds/fund managers were trying to figure out the best strategy for entering China, while limited partnerships wanted to get a handle on choosing the right fund managers. The conference was an avenue for that two-way conversation to take place.
Nearly 100 people participated in the event. It was a small start, but a good one.
We’ve held six more forums after that, across China and Singapore, each more successful and meaningful than the last. Discussions were sparked, conversations initiated, even deals were brokered.
At the 2017 Southeast Asia Private Equity Conference, for instance, we facilitated investor meetings for a US-based healthcare company because they needed help to connect with the right people in Asia. The company went public a year later. A Tinder of sorts for businesses, if you will.
A think-tank for businesses
Over the last three years, the AIC has evolved into a brand of its own – a much bigger entity than we had imagined.
We hope to be able to replicate this model in more locations going forward, including outside of Asia.
For us, the broader goal is for the AIC to become a think-tank for global business leaders and a hub in Asia that facilitates investment in the private funds market, in line with IJK’s focus on developing cross-border opportunities between Asia and rest of the world.
This year’s AIC is centred on Southeast Asia for the simple reason that it is one part of the world investors just don’t know enough about.
Amid rising global risks and uncertainty, such as those created by US-China trade tensions and Brexit, the region’s prominence in the global trade order is only set to climb. Just look at British technology giant Dyson, which announced in January it will relocate its head office to Singapore.
While investors worldwide are busy chasing the biggest companies, the largest deals, the firms set for IPOs (Initial Public Offerings), the small and medium-sized enterprises in Southeast Asia have been overlooked despite their very strong growth potential.
Our take is that there are many “hidden gems” to be discovered in Southeast Asia. It is about finding them, navigating the fragmented business environment, and providing the right amount of funding or management strategies to help these companies grow further, either within the region or beyond.
Investors at the upcoming AIC will share insights on unearthing these hidden gems and their strategies for managing such opportunities, among others, against a backdrop of disruption and change.
And at the heart of the conference is a simple objective that we have kept to since day one: to connect the best minds in the global business community, right here in Asia.
Organised by IJK Capital Partners, the Asia Investment Conference will take place at The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore from May 2 to 3. For more information, visit here.