Why Singapore is a Startup Paradise
Enterprise Singapore's Jonathan Lim shares government strategies that are helping the startup ecosystem's growth
Despite being an island nation inhabiting just 5.6 million people, Singapore has become one of the world's leading centers for technological innovation, and the go-to place for entrepreneurs — big or small, local or international. A report published last year by US-based Startup Genome project, which covered 10,000 start-ups and 300 partner companies, stated that tiny Singapore has overtaken tech mecca Silicon Valley as the world's number one for startup talent. The report cited the country's innovative policies, significant government subsidies, ease of starting businesses, and geographical location that acts as an effective gateway to nearly 600 million people living in the Southeast Asian region as the reasons for its success.
We spoke to Jonathan Lim, director of Enterprise Singapore's Startup and Global Innovation Alliance (GIA), to learn more about the country's startup ecosystem and the government's future plans. Edited excerpts:
What role has the startup ecosystem played in Singapore's growth?
An extremely significant one. Our startup ecosystem has also made significant progress over the past decade. Singapore is currently ranked among the top 12 startup ecosystems globally, with the number of startups going up from 22,000 in 2003 to 43,000 in 2016. There was significant increase in both the number as well as aggregate valuations of startup exits. In 2015, 220 venture capital deals worth more than $1 billion were completed, compared to 26 deals worth $80 million in 2013. We have also developed an internationally recognized startup community at JTC LaunchPad@one-north (a Silicon Valley-inspired startup cluster primed to be Singapore's startup valley).
Are there still some areas that remain untapped?
We are focusing on building more deep tech startups in areas such as medtech, fintech, advanced manufacturing and engineering, foodtech, and agritech. There's a huge opportunity in this area; Singapore can play on our strengths of quality, trust and regional connection to stand out. This is also in line with the government's RIE2020 (Research, Innovation and Enterprise; a plan that focuses on deepening capabilities in health and biomedical sciences, advanced manufacturing and engineering, urban solutions and sustainability, and services and digital economy) national R&D plan, where S$19 billion has been committed over 2016-2020 across some of these sectors.
How is Enterprise Singapore collaborating with other countries and partners to co-create innovative solutions via startups?
Partners play a very important role in our goal to continuously build Singapore as a vibrant startup hub. On our own, we have limited reach and resources. What startups need is a supportive growth environment. Singapore houses more than 100 incubators and accelerators today, complemented by more than 150 venture capital investors actively looking at potential investment opportunities.
We have connections with government-supported landing pads in established markets such as Germany, Australia, Japan and Korea, and bilateral funding agreements with Germany, France and Israel to support co-innovation between local startups, small and medium-sized enterprises. Startups here can also work with a strong community of corporates, both local and international, seeking innovative solutions for their products and services.
In line with this approach, last year, Enterprise Singapore launched the Startup SG brand, which encompasses our support initiatives and makes it easier for entrepreneurs, startups and investors to access assistance and connect with each other through such a one-stop platform.
In 2017, the Singapore government also introduced the Global Innovation Alliance (GIA) to enable more information exchange and encourage co-creation of innovation and ideas. This helps strengthen Singapore's connections to major innovation hubs around the world, allowing us to connect Singapore-based startups to the various ecosystems to find partners, new businesses and more. We have to date launched programmes in eight cities, including Bangkok, Beijing, Tokyo, Munich, Paris, San Francisco, and others.
Germany is the newest addition to the GIA network, and through our partner, the German Accelerator Southeast Asia (GASEA), we will be offering a two-year programme to support more than 40 Singapore-based startups enter Germany, and access the local and wider European markets. Since March, GASEA has already enabled entry of German startups into Singapore. Enterprise Singapore plans to roll out to more locations globally.