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Challenges and Opportunities in the time of COVID-19

COVID-19 is truly an amazing challenge that has brought about many new innovative ideas. On May 13th, 2020, Plug and Play hosted a webinar where featured panelists are invited to share more on their thoughts and perspectives. How is the current pandemic affecting your country and company? What are the restrictions placed by your government? Are there any new opportunities or challenges that surfaced in such tough times?

In this panel discussion, 3 distinguished speakers are invited to share their thoughts and perspectives on the issues discussed. The speakers are:

  • Kristine Romano, Managing Partner of Mckinsey & Company, Philippines

  • Edwin Chow, Assistant CEO, Innovation & Enterprise, Enterprise Singapore

  • Yoo-Shin Jung, Dean, Management of Technology, Sogang University and Chairman, Fintech Center Korea

  • The panel is moderated by Aaron Nio, Director of Plug and Play Indonesia

In this post, we will summarise the key takeaways from the virtual event.

What are some of the restrictions placed by your government and how does it affect the country or the community?

With the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia, tight restrictions have been placed in several countries. To prevent the community spread of the disease, restrictive lockdowns have been placed in numerous Southeast Asia countries as shared by the panel.

“The headline for us is across the world, this is an economic crisis that we have not seen, since World War 2,” said Kristine. The strict stay at home policy has inevitably led to a negative growth rate due to reduced consumer spendings. The negative growth rate is seen globally with the next quarter expected to be worse. While startups are in dire need of help, industries such as non-oil domestic exports and pharmaceutical companies have held up, running on full steam in Singapore. Whereas in Korea, their advanced online delivery system and strong online presence are relatively successful in keeping the country running despite reduced social engagement and activities.

What are some of the actions taken by your company in view of the COVID-19 situation?

“All of us have to start getting used to using Zoom and Webex but for some of us of a certain vintage it doesn’t come naturally,” said Edwin. Above and beyond stay home restrictions, many companies are forced to work from home to uphold social distancing measures. Some experienced an increase in productivity while others found it challenging having to juggle between working from home and taking care of kids with home-based learning.

Company-wise, Mckinsey has been a cautious follower in all the COVID-19 restrictions, developing company protocols for all offices in over 60 countries to operate from home. Similarly, Fintech Center Korea has been working with the government to foster the digital economy and digital industries by devising many fintech tools such as an open banking API platform to help cope with the situation. On the other hand, Enterprise Singapore has some essential services which require workers, and officers to go out and ensure that companies are complying with the rules and regulations. In such cases, frontline employees are properly trained and protected in order to ensure their safety when conducting company visits.

What are some of the fiscal policies implemented and what are the impacts?

“South Korea’s government has launched a fiscal expansion policy of about 45 trillion won through 3 supplementary budgets,” said Jung. Many governments have introduced and implemented substantial fiscal stimulus packages and disaster aid packages to help with companies, households, and individuals who are deeply affected and vulnerable. Many small business owners are collapsing and hence, by introducing such fiscal policies, governments plans, and hope to mitigate the situation as much as possible.

As a country with an emerging market, the Philippines’ stimulus package is sizable in terms of its own economy’s GDP. Instead of disaster aid packages, the government offered zero-interest loans and grants to help protect as many livelihoods as possible. Extra grants are given to companies who are pursuing digitization.

Other than financial support, Enterprise Singapore has also partnered with Action Community for Entrepreneurship (ACE) to come up with innovation challenges and hackathons to help startups gain more experience. There are also market-led innovation challenges mentioned in the discussion, whereby the government is ready to pay for a solution that will solve the problem posted, this will help startups attain quick market validation.

One key insight as a takeaway.

“This is a challenging situation. It’s a grey cloud but in every grey cloud, there are silver linings ” said Edwin. It is up to the startup community to find this solution instead of waiting for big companies to do so.

“Let’s always remember that this is indeed about livelihood,” said Kristine. Because it is an unprecedented crisis, it does create a lot of discontinuities that we’ve never seen before. This is where all the entrepreneurs can disrupt the big guys to find opportunities to excel.

“Great opportunity comes with a great crisis,” said Jung. COVID-19 is not a cyclical issue but a structural changing issue. We will have to prepare for a new era of digitalization.


This is a once in a century pandemic and every company, every sector, and even individuals will have to adapt and change. The common denominator here is that during a crisis, you see innovation, and innovation is key. This is observed throughout the 3 countries that have engaged in this panel discussion. We do have to face the reality of the current situation but there are opportunities and we just have to go out there and actively seek that.


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