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Innovation flourishes in Singapore’s ‘conducive environment’ for tech start-ups

The government’s willingness to invest in technology ventures through various funding initiatives is helping to transform exciting ideas into leading-edge products and services

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 August, 2017, 9:15am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 August, 2017, 3:13pm

Singapore continues to foster successful technology start-ups through several government funding initiatives.

Professional venture capitalists such as Golden Gate Ventures have been involved from the start, providing early-stage funding through a range of agencies such as SPRING Singapore, which supports local small- and medium-sized enterprises. Last month, SPRING Singapore announced it was seeking co-investment partners for a new US$72.8 million venture capital fund.

The Action Community for Entrepreneurship recently hosted Fastbee.sg, a meal delivery hawker food service, which consolidates orders in the morning, at the FoodTech Solutions session. The company sends instructions to hawkers, picks up items and delivers the food to self-collection smart dispensers, helping hawkers increase their profit while bringing more food choices to busy workers.

Then there is the National Research Foundation Technology Incubation Scheme, which, via the venture accelerator Get2Volume, has funded over 100 early stage technology businesses over the past five years, including TabSquare, which develops electronic menus, and

Sprooki, a location-based

mobile engagement platform

for malls and retailers to coordinate advertising.

Meanwhile, Singapore’s National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster, the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Economic Development Board have invested US$13.2 million in a new specialist biomedical facility: the NUS Centre for Additive Manufacturing. They aim to strengthen Singapore’s international position in the field of 3D printing, and partner companies like Creatz3d are printing 3D organ models for use in training and surgical simulation while others are developing orthopaedic implants to promote bone regrowth after brain surgery. Dr Francis Yeoh, professorial fellow, entrepreneurship, NUS, says: “The Singapore government is not one homogeneous entity – there are several agencies supporting start-ups ... for the most part, the government has done the right thing in policies and funding to help create a conducive environment for start-ups to thrive [in].”

Also, the government is making life more attractive for foreign entrepreneurs by removing the S$50,000

(HK$287,300) capital requirement for EntrePass, its foreign entrepreneurs fast-track immigrant programme.

The government has done the right thing in policies and funding to help create a conducive environment for startups to thrive [in]
Dr Francis Yeoh, professorial fellow, entrepreneurship, NUS

According to Koh Poh Koon, minister of state for trade and industry, the number of start-ups in Singapore has more than doubled, from 22,000 in 2003 to 48,000 in 2015, with over 19,000 workers added as of 2015. “They complement local start-ups through the cross-fertilisation of ideas, catalyse new partnerships and good jobs for our people ... notable successes include live customer support chat solution provider, Zopim, and online marketplace Lazada, which were acquired for about US$30 million in 2014 and US$1 billion in 2016, respectively,” he said in Parliament in March.

Singapore also leads Hong Kong in fintech, hosting new payment services such as Apple Pay and fostering blockchain technology development with the launch of the Standard Chartered and DBS distributed ledger, which are described as “a consensus of replicated, shared, and synchronised digital data geographically spread across multiple sites, countries, or institutions [in the form of] a private blockchain system”.

In contrast, the Hong Kong government recently launched a HK$2 billion fund to promote fintech, but concerns remain amongHong Kong fintech experts that most of the money could end up enriching large non-innovating companies.

Singapore is also a leader in green technology. Ever since the city initiated tree planting day in 1963, the city has promoted its vision of a “city within a garden” and is now the top-ranking Asian country in the Yale University Environmental Performance Index, which scores countries according to a mixture of factors such as environmental health and ecosystem vitality, including air quality, forests, fisheries, and climate and energy.

The Lion City tops the world rankings for low infant mortality, wastewater treatment and water resources; however, it came only 109th for protection of marine and terrestrial areas.

There are other opportunities for improving Singapore’s technology industry.

In the meantime, the tech industry benefits from having a government that understands innovation and is willing to invest in its industries.