Sandra Appelqvist has been involved in startups in Asia for many years. She recently launched Apples & Spears, a Singapore based market entry consultancy.

What’s your story?
Born and raised in Sweden with a family background from Slovenia and Croatia, I’ve spent the past 16 years in East and Southeast Asia working with business development in different industries. I’ve been involved in setting up a digital agency and facilitating learning journeys in digital communications in Singapore, managing accelerator programs for startups and SMEs back in Sweden and heading up a sales team in the creative industry in Japan. Today I’m a co-founder of Apples & Spears, a Singapore based market entry consultancy with a growing network of local partners and specialists in Southeast Asia.

What excites you most about your industry?
Facilitating market entry processes puts us in touch with companies providing really smart and sustainable innovations that can clearly add value to the Southeast Asian markets. To be part of bridging these innovations from one market to another is very exciting.

What’s your connection to Asia?
In 2000 my husband and I decided to relocate from Sweden to Japan. Our intention was to stay for only a few months and explore the country, but those months quickly turned into years as we were wholeheartedly fascinated by the local culture, friendly people and breathtaking nature.
We spent seven years living, working and traveling as much as we could throughout Asia. Then in 2010 we had the opportunity to move to Singapore, which is where we live today with our two children. During this period of my life in Asia, I’ve had the chance to appreciate and collaborate with people from all over the globe which has indeed broadened my outlook and understanding of different cultures and humanity as well as my own.

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Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
I would say Singapore. According to the World Bank, in 2015 the nation was ranked as the no 1. place in the world for the ease of doing business and no. 8 regarding the level of transparency. Foreign companies planning to establish their business in Asia often choose Singapore as the starting point for the above reasons. The country serves as a great hub with its central location from where to expand the business into other parts of the region. However; one should not ignore the positive and rapidly evolving developments taking place in some of the neighbouring countries such as Vietnam and Indonesia. Despite having challenges related to red tape and bureaucracy these markets have grown vibrant startup communities from where lots of fascinating innovations are born.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Someone once told me to “just leave yourself alone,” meaning move away from your ego and start focusing on those around you instead. Those four words have always stayed with me, and I try my best to apply this advice to my everyday life and work. To understand cultural differences and how we can learn from each other, you need to be present and engage in conversations on a deeper level. For example, from a cultural perspective, we have Sweden where I’m from, which is one of the most individualistic countries in the world while most of the Asian countries have more collectivistic values and norms. There are these deep cultural roots that affect how we do business and interact with one another that I believe are valuable to understand to enjoy fruitful collaborations across borders.

Who inspires you?
My two children, no doubt about that. They both inspire and challenge me everyday with their fearless and open minds. I can’t count the times my kids have come up with very creative solutions to various challenges. I think there’s so much that we as adults can learn from children.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Ok, this is not a joyful topic, but it’s a reality we are facing. A 2015 recent study from UNESCO shows that 1 out of 11 children in the world, (60 million kids) are out of school! The most underprivileged are girls, particularly in South and West Asia. Over 80% of out-of-school girls will never even start school in comparison to just 16% for boys. Gender equality and education for all must be some of the most urgent issues for governments and societies to tackle. I hope my kids will be able to experience a more inclusive society when they grow up where everyone has the same right to education, no matter what your gender is or where you’re from.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would follow my inner intuition and enjoy the journey in my endeavors more rather than striving for success as the end goal. Just a few years back I was running errands on behalf of others working on projects with very little long-lasting impact and direction. Today my intention is to lead a life with purpose where I can be part of a positive change no matter whether it’s for business or life in general.

How do you unwind?
Haha… give me an ax and some wood to chop and that’s unwinding for me. I enjoy physical work outdoors such as house painting or garden work. This summer I spent a lot of time off refurbishing our old summer cottage back in Sweden, and that was pure relaxation for me where I had time to reflect and think. Besides that, I enjoy lazy days together with family and friends.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
There are plenty of stunning places I would recommend, but Bali would be one of my favorite destinations for its lovely people, rich culture, and serene nature. The Japanese Alps are also fantastic if you like skiing and hiking.

Everyone in business should read this book:
A book I recently read that I can recommend is “Leading from the Emerging Future: From Ego-System to Eco-System Economies” written by Otto Scharmer and Katrin Kaufer. The authors are looking at current economic systems and how we collectively over and over again create results that nobody wants. Systems that nurture negative processes which causes lack of natural resources, financial collapses and a growing gap between the rich and poor. Instead how can economies and businesses shift and change these models to be more inclusive, intentional and sustainable to benefit the whole rather than just a few? At Apples & Spears we want to be a part of this shift together with our partner network and clients.

Shameless plug for your business:
Apples & Spears act as the bridge between Scandinavian innovation companies and the Southeast Asian markets. Our clients are typically StartUps, SMEs or social entrepreneurs providing a service or product that can clearly add value to this region. Together with our local network of specialists here in Southeast Asia, we support them with guidance around issues related to the market entry process such as market analysis, market strategy planning, implementation, business development and facilitating workshops around internationalisation and business culture. Our clients come from a range of industries such as CleanTech, MedTech, Education and ICT.

How can people connect with you?
E-mail: [email protected]

Twitter handle?
@Applesandspears

This interview was part of the Callum Connect’s column found on The Asian Entrepreneur:

CallumConnectsCallum Laing invests and buys small businesses in a range of industries around Asia. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is the founder & owner of Fitness-Buffet a company delivering employee wellness solutions in 12 countries. He is a Director of, amongst others, Key Person of Influence. A 40 week training program for business owners and executives.

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