FMAS – Heartland Innovation Challenge

Project Scope

There are over 15,000 Heartland Enterprises in 14 town centres across Singapore. These entities provide convenience, affordable goods & services, and employment for many Singaporeans.  As an important part of the fabric of Singapore’s culture, they serve both social and economic purposes.

Unfortunately, many Heartland Enterprises struggle to stay competitive due to several factors: 

  • Increased competition from shopping malls and supermarkets.
  • Increased competition from online businesses. 
  • Changing consumer behaviours and needs. 
  • Poor branding and a lack of unique offerings.
  • A lack of digital adoption and transformation.   

Many of these Heartland Enterprises operate in a very low-tech manner (pen and paper, money bins etc.). The lack of the right capabilities and general resistance to change makes sustaining their businesses difficult.

Design Sojourn was engaged by the Federation of Merchant Associations Singapore (FMAS) to design and facilitate a Heartland Innovation Challenge (HIC) hackathon.  The objective was twofold.  Firstly to foster collaboration between almost 20 Heartland Enterprises (or Merchant Associations), and tertiary students from local polytechnics and universities to ensure a better appreciation of Heartland Enterprises by younger people. Next, was to use design thinking as a methodology to develop new innovation opportunities for these Heartland Enterprises.

Due to the excellent feedback from the first program, Design Sojourn was reappointed to facilitate the second and third runs.  (2021, 2022 and 2023.


HIC 2023


HIC 2021


HIC 2021

At the end of the 1-week innovation hackathon, the Heartland Enterprises, Merchant Associations and tertiary students were able to:

  • Uncover insights from customers through various ethnographic research activities.
  • Use these insights to identify gaps within Heartland Enterprises’ product and service offerings.
  • Identify innovation opportunities and develop new value propositions.
  • Brainstorm ideas and create prototypes to test/illustrate concepts so as to encourage adoption.

At the end of the workshop, the various teams pitched their concepts through various mediums – PowerPoint presentation, cardboard models, low-fidelity digital prototypes, role-playing activities etc to the facilitators. 

Feedback shared after the session provided guidance for the teams to refine their concepts to ensure it fulfilled the key facets of innovation – feasibility, viability and desirability.

The teams then proceeded to refine their concepts and prototypes for a month before the final judging session in a friendly competition.  Selected winning concept(s) were provided assistance by government grants to commercialise their ideas. 

During this month of refinement, Design Sojourn conducted check-in sessions with the various teams to monitor their project status and provide consulting advice.

Status: Completed 3 runs: 2021, 2022, with the latest on the 18th of May 2023.
Competence: Design Thinking Workshops and Design Advisory.

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