Singapore’s entrepreneurship and innovation quest

Singapore is the business hub of South-East Asia and is becoming a global magnet for talent.  I attended several events and met interesting people. For example, yesterday’s founders drink event at Amazon Web Services was great. There were hundreds of developers, business owners and corporate managers. I felt tons of positive energy and heard great ideas. I have had the chance to meet with four high-tech entrepreneurs in Singapore. I would like to share some data points I obtained from them.

– The Singaporean governement recognizes that Singapore needs to innovate more in order to sustain economic growth. The government is  giving $500k to any entrepreneur who has a good idea. All you need is a Singaporean resident as your friend to join your board. You may also need a certain percentage of your leadership to be Singaporean.

– It is a challenge to find technical talent in Singapore. Students are encouraged to have a career in public service. An entrepreneur said once:”The good thing about Singapore is that you’ll never meet smarter public service people!” The top 3% of a given high school class gets the chance to study in the West for the opportunity to work in the public sector.

– I visited a small start-up in the heart of Singapore a couple of weeks ago. The place was cozy and I met an INSEAD grad, whom we’ll call Joe, who started his company some years back. He said that Singaporeans are risk-averse, in the sense that they are more comfortable in buying branded products over new less known ones. For an entrepreneur with a new product, this is a tough environment to operate. Getting the first customer is one of the hardest things to do and if you can’t do it at home, it is tough for an entrepreneur. Some entrepreneurs have talked to said that starting up an Internet company can circumvent the problem.

– Joe also mentioned that what helped him is that the Singaporean government has much influence on purchase/investment decisions, far more than in a western country. He also said governement support helps in getting VC money.

– Singaporean VCs evaluate companies based on revenue metrics. This does not favor innovation. At an early stage, companies don’t make much revenue and need cash to grow. Other metrics are then needed to evaluate the company. In the Internet space, the number of users can be one metric. In other cases, it can be the number of customers.

In all, we can summarize this in a very simple sentence. In Singapore, you can find money easily from the government, but at a cost. Not so bad after all. I will take the money at any time. :).

It will be interesting to see how this develops over time. If there’s more money, the talent pool should increase and, hopefully, the technology adoption as well.

2 Comments

  1. Jianning Lu

    I am quite optimistic about the start up scene in Singapore. The government, as you said, is efficient and has a long term vision in planning and policy setting. With abundance of engineers from nearby countries like India and China, the issue of talent shortage can be resolve with flexibility, either let them work offshore or bring them onshore. And Singapore has very good legal infrastructure to protect your IP. So start your new business here and good luck!

  2. Jianning,

    I agree with you. I’ve been impressed by the optimism from the people I have met thus far. In the next decades, I think Singapore could become a entrepreneurship power horse, especially if the neighboring countries keep growing and start to rapidly adopt new high-tech products. However, I will write soon about my personal experience in marketing into Asia and the power of Silicon Valley, which should not be underestimated (and should be leveraged).

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