She has come all the way from Singapore, and finds that Mauritius is very innovative. Min Lee, Chief Executive Officer of Red Dot, thinks that Mauritius can become the gateway to Africa, but we cannot do so by innovating from Mauritius. She also shares her entrepreneurial experience in our country, and affirms that it’s hard for start-ups in Mauritius to get customers. It was during the First Innovation Leaders Breakfast held last week in collaboration with the Mauritius Institute of Directors
>> How innovative are we in Mauritius?
I would say very innovative. Mauritius is naturally very entrepreneurial. For example, my hairdresser has two side businesses – he roasts chicken and he runs a car renting services! There is a lot of entrepreneurial energy. The next step is how do you channel it to a high value innovation, to really increase the value of the innovation.
>> So, are we on the right path?
Definitely! And that’s what got me excited in Mauritius. Once you have the mindset and the process in a structured way, a lot of innovation can come through.
>> And compared to Singapore, where you come from, what do we lack?
One thing, for me, is that Mauritius is very isolated. Singapore is a very open economy. The flow of ideas and capital of people is a lot more. Because of the open nature of it, the speed of ideas and innovation goes faster. What I would love to see is that Mauritius becomes a more open society. During the workshop, a lot of the directors evoked the ‘ego problem’ of executives. Mauritius is very top-down, and Singapore was like that. The next step is how do you balance leadership and bottom-up innovation.
>> You raised one question during the workshop: why does innovation fail at companies’ level? Is there any clear answer to this?
I would say there are two things. One is that most of the time the Chief Executive Officer does not really empower people to innovate. Therefore, he takes innovation upon himself, and that’s a disaster because one person is usually not the most innovative. A diverse team with connection to customers usually come up with the best ideas.
The second thing is, millennials especially are looking for more meaningful places to work, where they actually see their impact. Unless a company intentionally creates space for that, they would be very disengaged at work. Once you are disengaged, you do not feel any ownership, and if you do not feel that ownership, you would not want to come up with better ideas.
This is a sustainability problem - how do you create real authentic places and empower people to actually give their best.
>> You shared your entrepreneurship experience in Mauritius with the audience. We understand that you found it difficult to start. Can you share this experience with us?
We are very grateful because we partnered with someone in Mauritius. If I came here and started on my own, I think it would be a real challenge because there is a lack of information. I do not know where to go and where to do what. The processes are very long. I have to go to one agency four times because I do not have that information.
Because we partnered with Natasha – who did two businesses before –, she helped us on the journey.
I think the second piece of it is it’s very hard to get customers in Mauritius for start-ups. We operate in a different paradigm. We operate globally, and we know that we are creating very unique value in Mauritius. Because of that, we have got a surprising amount of interest in just a few months. People want to try and innovate. They want to work with us. They want to connect globally. I think that if we do business in a way that is open, a lot more dots connect. And finding the right people, I would even say the right progressive people in each organization, can help us make them succeed. That’s a win-win situation.
>> As you might be aware, Mauritius aspires to be the gateway to Africa. But you expressed some reserves on this issue. Why?
Mauritius can definitely become the gateway to Africa. I do not have enough data. From what I know – which is very little – I do not think so. Even when we talk about Mauritius, it’s almost like we are not part of Africa, when we actually are! It is very similar to my experience of Singapore and the South East Asia. Everyone says that “Singapore is a gateway to South East Asia.” But we know that South East Asia represents so many different countries, so many different languages, and so many different levels of development. And for Singapore to say that we know enough of every country to be a gateway, I think that is a good vision to have, but we need to be very smart about how we do it.
There are start-ups in Singapore going into Indonesia, into Myanmar… Each of this requires a very different strategy, a different product and a different team.
I would say it’s the same over here. I do not think you can innovate from Mauritius for Africa. You need to be there. You need to do your human centre design and you need to understand the market. You need to be strategic about how you do it.