Business - Issue 77 - Magazine | Monocle

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Plant power

Fiji [TRADE]

Germany has overturned a 12-year embargo on kava, a Pacific crop traditionally used to make a drink with sedative qualities similar to alcohol. Growers in Oceania hope the decision, which is based on evidence that the toxicity of kava is not unusually high, will revitalise global demand for the plant. At its peak in the late 1990s, the kava export industry had an estimated annual worth of $250m (€189m) and was a key part of many Pacific economies. This ended in 2002 when many European countries banned the product because of growing health concerns.

“Germany’s decision helps clear the name of kava,” says Tagaloa Eddie Wilson, chairman of the International Kava Executive Council. This is good news for Fiji, whose government recently gave $415,000 (€315,000) in grants to three kava-related businesses, including one that uses the plant to manufacture fruit-flavoured supplement drinks.

Digital deals


In a bid to encourage tech start-ups to take the leap from software to hardware, the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) has partnered with venture accelerator Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) at the University of Toronto.

“We’re focusing on radically innovative venture-fundable companies that provide software solutions with a physical component such as wearable technology,” says Dominique Bélanger, vice-president of strategic investments and partnerships at BDC Capital. “Canada’s key sectors – energy, medicine and agriculture – are full of potential for technological breakthroughs in terms of machinery and equipment.” CDL start-ups have generated ca$100m (€70m) in equity value over the past two years.

The eight-month programme accepts up to 18 nascent firms per cohort, providing them with mentorship by successful business leaders. “We help entrepreneurs working on research-based technology, which typically doesn’t attract private investment in Canada,” CDL director Jesse Rodgers says.

Michael Helander, CEO of organic LED lighting company OTI Lumionics, received ca$250,000 (€172,500) from the BDC. “The collaboration adds the critical element of start-up capital, essential to getting any venture off the ground,” he says. “They don’t tell you how to run the business but step up immediately if you ask for help.”

Watch this space

Singapore [RETAIL]

Singapore is one of the most expensive cities in the world with a retail scene dominated by shopping malls. Aspiring small-business owners are often faced with steep rental and start-up costs. In an effort to bridge the divide, creative agency Shophouse & Co is adding a new dimension to its line of work.

Through a scheme called Transitional Space, founders Stella Gwee and Adib Jalal (pictured) are partnering with property owners to design temporary spaces that bring a jolt of life to less successful neighbourhoods. By taking underutilised buildings and turning them into pop-up communal spaces, Shophouse & Co earns a percentage-based commission from sellers, who in turn get to spread the word about their products at minimal cost. For each project, Gwee and Jalal create flexible spaces that reflect the community.

“Space owners get to test demand and present their properties in a new light, while creatives have a way of prototyping their ideas in a low-risk manner. It’s a win-win situation,” says Jalal.

Last month, Transitional Space hosted its second project on the rooftop of the recently restored National Design Centre with a focus on businesses and individuals using the power of sustainable design. Plans are also in the works to bring future collaborations to spaces outside Singapore.


Damian Bradfield

Co-founder, Kuvva

Amsterdam-based entrepreneur Damian Bradfield helped set up file-sharing service WeTransfer in 2009. Three years later he founded Kuvva with the aim of providing a platform for illustrators and artists to showcase their work online. Now the business model is shifting into new waters.

How did Kuvva come about?
The initial idea behind Kuvva was to provide people with a wallpaper for their computer desktop that was more aesthetically pleasing than the usual sunshine or mountains. Users would get a different illustration every day.

How has it developed?
As of July we’re getting in touch with illustrators around the world and commissioning new works for our database. In turn, people and publications can license these out through Kuvva and each one costs a flat fee of €500.

What’s driving you?
I have always loved illustrations: I grew up reading Roald Dahl’s books with Quentin Blake’s illustrations so they are close to my heart. Generally the market for illustrators is really badly paid and there isn’t a place for new talent because a small elite gets all the commissions. It’s a tragedy. Photographers have Getty and Shutterstock but illustrators have nothing like it. We want to be the equivalent for illustrations.

What does success look like to you?
I genuinely want to see the illustrators succeed and make money through Kuvva. That’s the dream.

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