Last updated: 13 March 2023
Published on: 30 January 2023
7 MINS READ
By Justin Ang
For almost its entire history, Singapore has been a place where connections are made. As early as the 1300s, Malay, Indian and Chinese traders exchanged goods in the region. Europeans followed a few centuries later, in pursuit of commodities like cloth, spices, gold. Singapore became a free port in 1819, which helped it become a thriving strategic centre on the Maritime Silk Road.
From a cosmopolitan port city under colonial administration, an independent Singapore emerged, determined to press its advantages - and to use the lessons it learned from its mercantile past to transform its economy into a leader. Instinctively, Singapore’s leaders understood the value of being a place where connections are made; not just where traders meet each other, but where entrepreneurs can find investors, where MNCs can find a workforce, where foreign investors can find new customers.
Singapore is still the best place to make those connections, especially for the newest crop of tech disruptors who are revolutionizing the global economy and changing the way we live.
At present, the global economic and geopolitical environments are challenging, and investors are harder for tech companies to find. The upside is that the tech companies who can weather this storm are likely to have staying power. And there’s no better place for them to steady the ship and chart a course towards future growth than Singapore.
Much as Singapore’s founders sought to build on the city-state’s strengths by expanding into manufacturing, finance and then tech, its current leaders see the value of investing in disruptive and innovative businesses. Singapore is doubling down on tech leaders.
Today, nearly half of Southeast Asia's unicorns and investments are from about 80 of the top 100 global tech firms. But at the IMDA, we’re more interested in the more than 4200 start-ups who are following in their footsteps with innovative technology and new business models. These businesses come from as far as China, Japan, Israel and the US. And they could succeed anywhere – but they choose Singapore.
Our four-pronged approach – involving partnership, access, people and global perspective – leans on the very best of Singaporean culture to attract the world’s most disruptive companies. Along with the opening of the world after a global pandemic – these four pillars offer us a moment in time opportunity, that could be hugely lucrative for Singapore.
Using true trader hustle, we are seeking out and partnering with the best startup ecosystem organisations around the world. From Japan to Australia, Israel to the Nordics and the UK to Spain – we have teamed up with them to focus on the added-value of Singapore in helping disruptive startups from both ecosystems to test-and-learn, to build enterprise scale or to help meet their vision to address some of the biggest challenges in the world via technology.
The IMDA Accreditation program is the vehicle that helps these promising companies establish credentials and position themselves as qualified contenders to government and large enterprise buyers around the world. It doesn’t include direct financial incentives, but there are still huge benefits for partners and their portfolio companies in progressing through accreditation.
For example, in China we partner with TusStar, which is part of Tsinghua University’s ecosystem, the largest startup and innovation network in China with over 170 centers covering all major cities in China. The first IMDA-TusStar MOI was signed in October 2019 and led to the creation and co-curation of four joint events. After identifying 88 promising Chinese deep tech start-ups, four of them landed in Singapore within the first six months.
But why would these world-class disruptive companies choose to come to Singapore? For Viact - it was about access and IMDA’s ability to quickly facilitate introductions and access to strategic government projects. For many companies, accessing, scaling and succeeding within Singapore’s world class infrastructure (e.g., law, IP-protection, financial systems etc) is a huge advantage. Our ability to identify fit-for-purpose projects, while evaluating and safely integrating innovative technology into a broader enterprise architecture sets Singapore apart from other countries, where public service opportunities and technology integration might be slower or harder to achieve.
For Virspatial it was about the unique added value of our people and processes.
“Singapore’s political stability and world class talent are top consideration for our business outside of China.”
Managing Director of Virspatial Technologies
Our talent pool and an ecosystem where disruptive start-ups mingle and grow is an incredibly strong selling point for disruptive businesses looking for a global or regional hub. Vinnie Lauria, Managing Partner of Golden Gate Ventures says it best.
“Singapore and Silicon Valley share a unique quality, they are magnets for talent across the globe. Magic is sparked when people from different backgrounds come together to solve a problem.”
Managing Partner of Golden Gate Ventures
Last but certainly not least, our global perspective makes our landing program hugely attractive for disruptive technology companies. As a global hub across key sectors such as transport, logistics and financial – IMDA’s ability to deliver successful local proof-of-concept solutions, where our infrastructure is integrated into the regional and global standards and systems make startups feel like Singapore is globally super-charging their global opportunity. Like the traders of old, we are taking their raw products and adding a uniquely Singaporean flavour and value, which makes the finished product more attractive and palatable for the rest of the world.
So that’s great for disruptive technology companies from around the world, but what’s in it for Singapore? S&P Global says “the weight of the APAC region in world GDP has risen from 27% ($US9.5 trillion) in 2000 to 37% by 2021, with a further increase to 42% projected by 2040.” Much of that is likely to come from digital innovation leaders.
The benefits range from hiring and developing local talent, to providing first-mover advantage in adopting innovative technology to driving productivity or having Singapore lead in the adoption of technology to address major societal challenges. Sourcing and attracting disruptive technology companies will continue to build the reputation of Singapore being world-leading and world-class - as we become the world’s first digital metropolis.
Finally, as global economic headwinds start to bite, disruptive technology can play a key role in helping minimize the impact. As the dotcom bust and Global Financial Crisis demonstrated – slow-downs are a great time to identify and support the next Amazon, Grab or Alibaba. If a company is still building and forging forward during a down-turn, it shows how committed and serious the leaders are. Therefore, IMDA believes there’s no better time to support startups around the world. And we are committed to scouring the globe to find the best businesses to build our future.
Find out more about the IMDA’s Accreditation Program here
This article was published on The Business Times on 19 January 2023.
Mr Justin Ang is the Assistant Chief Executive for the Media and Innovation Group as well as the Communications and Marketing Division at IMDA where he leads the group in establishing strong and strategic partnerships with key technology and media players as well as government agencies to grow Singapore’s ICM ecosystem and capabilities.