In the dynamic world of impact-driven startups, one name stands out as a visionary investor and mentor – James Spurway. Currently, he is the Co-Founder of Indochina Consulting Pte Ltd as well. With over 30 years of business experience, James has weathered five major global market events, honing his ability to take measured risks in new markets while remaining firmly “heart-centered” in his approach. Born in 1960 on a humble farm in Queensland, Australia, James’s journey from a farm boy to a General Manager of The Saigon Floating Hotel in Vietnam marked the beginning of his transformative entrepreneurial adventure.
Relocating Indochina Consulting Pte Ltd from Hong Kong to Singapore in 2015, James has spearheaded the company’s expansion and influence in the Singapore region. Passionate about supporting tech-enabled startups that address the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), James focuses on ventures that drive positive change in sectors like Carbon Removal, Energy, Food & Agriculture, and Circular Economy.
In this exclusive interview, we delve into James’s remarkable journey, his company’s impactful ventures, and his unique perspectives on building effective teamwork and fostering innovation in the startup ecosystem. Join us as we explore the mindset and strategies behind James Spurway’s trailblazing success in the world of investments, entrepreneurship, and sustainable development.
Can you please provide us with some information about yourself, including your early life and education?
I am James, born in 1960, the youngest of six siblings, and raised in humble beginnings on a farm in Queensland, Australia. Despite dropping out of school at 15, I embraced the School of Hard Knocks and the lessons life had to offer. My journey led me into the hospitality industry, where I excelled and eventually became the General Manager of The Saigon Floating Hotel in Vietnam.
Leaving my homeland for that job turned into a transformative 33-year adventure. Along the way, I started, and invested in numerous businesses, becoming an Angel Investor, Mentor, Speaker, Pilot, Author, and Strategic Founder/BOD Advisor. Values like diversity and equity are dear to me, and I focus on supporting impact-driven startups in sectors like Carbon Removal, Energy, Food & Agriculture, and Circular Economy. Now, at 63, I continue to seek growth and learning, exploring the possibility of creating a venture capital fund to advance net zero emissions.
In essence, my life’s journey has been marked by hard work, resilience, and a passion for making a positive impact on the world.
Could you tell us about your company and its presence in the Singapore region?
Indochina Consulting Pte Ltd was established in 2015 when we decided to relocate our Corporate Office and Holding Structure from Hong Kong to Singapore. The original “Indochina” company was founded in Hong Kong in 1993. I initially came to Vietnam from Australia in 1991 and eventually became the General Manager of The Saigon Floating Hotel. Upon completing my contract at the end of 1993, I formed Indochina Group Limited, marking the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey. Over the next seven years, my team and I developed five projects in Vietnam. Subsequently, I ventured to and operated businesses in Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the USA before returning to Asia in 2007.
In 2011, my family and I moved to Singapore to provide our son with better education opportunities. From there, I expanded my business activities to include ventures in Thailand and the Philippines before shifting my focus to investing in Startups, which has been my primary endeavor since 2016.
What are some of the growth and expansion plans your company has in the pipeline?
We have recently entered into a partnership with a company from the Netherlands called https://180.works. 180 is a developer with a strong focus on “proof of impact,” specializing in highly scalable and auditable carbon offset projects. Their ambitious plan aims to produce up to 100 million extremely high-impact, data-backed carbon credits (AA+ rating) annually over the next 10+ years. This will be achieved by deploying and managing millions of IoT sensor-equipped cookstoves in developing countries. As part of our collaboration, we will act as their business development arm outside of Africa and also establish a VCC Fund here in Singapore. This fund will be responsible for generating carbon credits that will be supplied to SGX’s Climate Impact X (CIX), a Singapore-based global carbon exchange and marketplace.
How has the year been for your company in terms of overall performance and achievements?
2023 has been a rebound year after experiencing a decline in operations from 2020 to 2022. We have now surpassed pre-COVID levels of growth.
In the current competitive market, what does your business offer that sets it apart from others?
My 30 years of business experience, surviving and thriving through five major global market events, along with my ability to take measured risks in new markets, while always being “heart-centered.” At the core of how I conduct business is the intent to leave the people who work for us, partner with us, and live in the communities around us in a much better personal and financial situation than they were when we started.
What measures do you believe employees and organizations can take to build effective teamwork and foster unity within the workplace?
Take a leaf out of the playbook of a company like Netflix (I highly recommend the book “No Rules Rules: Netflix And The Culture Of Reinvention” by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer). They discarded the traditional rule book on how organizations are supposed to be operated. What I’m trying to say is that the younger generation entering the workforce (Millennials and Gen Z) responds better and contributes more when they have an environment that resonates with how they see themselves and the world – from their perspective.
Netflix’s culture would most likely fail or never even be attempted in a traditional Singapore corporate setting. However, startups, regardless of their physical location, especially those with globally distributed teams, should strive to build a culture that works for them instead of following pre-conceived notions established by fully grown (mature) organizations, often from the USA in a bygone era.
Can you share some insights into your company’s focus and investment in research and innovation?
I am 100% focused on investing in, mentoring, and advising tech-enabled startups that are addressing one or more of the 17 UN SDGs (sustainable development goals). These companies are likely to have developed new technologies for measuring CO2 emissions, capturing or sequestering carbon, or utilizing waste streams to create viable raw materials for biodegradable FMCG packaging. Additionally, I am interested in companies that have made breakthroughs in sustainable energy, such as green hydrogen engines for cars and planes.
Do you have any advice or tips for startups looking to follow a similar pathway to your company’s success?
What the mind can conceive (see) and believe (feel), it can achieve. You must harness the power of your inner world to manifest your outer world. Then, as often quoted, ‘do the work.’ Dream big; aim for ambitious goals. I don’t mean to discourage starting a business that serves people’s needs and provides a comfortable living. However, in the ecosystem I work in, such businesses are not considered startups but rather small businesses. For me, a startup is a company that can grow over time to a valuation of more than US$1 billion and, having achieved that milestone, continue to thrive for another 20-30 years or more, significantly contributing to improving life on earth as we know it.
I have never been concerned about PR or publicity, as I’ve never needed it. My business now receives more clients than I can manage, all without investing a single dollar in digital marketing or building a traditional sales team.
Connect with James Spurway on LinkedIn.
Find Indochina Consulting Pte Ltd on LinkedIn.