How Singapore is driving global innovation and what it means for India’s startup ecosystem
A modern city state with skyscrapers that challenge perception, seamless civic infrastructure, and a thriving cultural heartbeat, Singapore is many things all at once. Singapore’s dynamism is also reflected in its business culture.
Singapore: Global headquarters for the world
Ranked #1 in Asia for innovation, and #8 globally, Singapore over the years has deepened its capabilities in key sectors such as Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering, Urban Solutions and Sustainability, Health & Biomedical Sciences, Services & Digital Economy and FinTech, earning the title as South East Asia’s regional powerhouse. A supportive
government, highly-skilled talent pool, strong IP regime, and well-developed tech infrastructure add to the allure.
That’s why it is not surprising that the island nation houses the global headquarters of thousands of multinational companies like Flextronics, Wilmar, DBS Bank and serves as the regional headquarters for big businesses like Bosch, BMW, Unilever, Novartis, Google. In fact, Singapore overtakes all other business capitals in Asia and Australia combined.
An innovation-driven economy
Singapore’s thriving research and innovation ecosystem has played a key role in its emergence as a global business hub. Its ecosystem brings together academia, government and the private sector to collaborate and innovate on solutions that are relevant and practical to address the needs of the global market.
The effort started in the 1990s when Singapore started investing heavily in its universities and its research institutes to build up its R&D capabilities and thereby build a strong talent pool. It followed up these efforts by focusing on growing private-sector R&D capabilities and grooming high-growth innovative enterprises to commercialise public IPs. For instance, it has ramped up its five-yearly Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) investment to $19 billion for the RIE 2020 plan.
The happening place for startups
Home to over 40,000 startups, Singapore houses six out of the 12 Southeast Asian unicorns. Razer, Sea, Lazada, Grab, Trax and Bigo Live. Supporting these startups are over 100 incubators, accelerators, venture builders and over 150 VC funds, including the likes of Wavemaker, Mistletoe and GGV.
Apart from the private players that contribute to the growth of a robust startup ecosystem, there are also government agencies that champion them. Enterprise Singapore, the Singapore government agency that supports the growth of Singapore as a hub for global trading and startups is one example. The agency’s investment arm, SEEDS Capital, co-invests in nascent and strategic industries such as Advanced Manufacturing & Engineering, Health & Biomedical Sciences, and Urban Sustainability & Solutions, as well as emerging technologies such as fintech and AI.
Enterprise Singapore has also teamed up with public and private sector partners to establish Startup SG, an umbrella brand of programmes, both financial and non-financial, to support startups based in Singapore. As of last year, Startup SG programmes have supported the growth of over 1,160 Singapore-based startups across key sectors such as health, urban solutions, fintech and digital services.
And putting the spotlight on Singapore’s vibrant startup ecosystem and the possibilities it presents are a number of startup and innovation events, some of which enjoy global renown. A case in point is SLINGSHOT, a startup pitching competition that sees startups from all over the world pitching for grant prizes ranging from $50,000 to $200,000, which was launched in 2017.
This year, Singapore is hosting a first-of-its-kind confluence of deep tech and FinTech event. The inaugural edition of SFF x SWITCH, is a collaboration between Singapore Fintech Festival (SFF), the world’s largest platform for the FinTech community and the Singapore Week of Innovation and TeCHnology (SWITCH), the leading deep tech platform for the Global-Asia innovation ecosystem.
Get the best of both worlds at #SFFxSWITCH, where #FinTech and #deeptech innovation ecosystems connect, collaborate and co-create. It's going to be best yet technology event you have ever been part of ! Register now.
Why are Indian startups headed to Singapore?
Given all these factors, it isn't surprising that Singapore is being increasingly preferred as THE destination by an increasing number of Indian startups to develop, test-bed solutions and expand into the region.
Take for instance, KaHa - the startup behind Cove, an end-to-end IoT platform for smart wearables. KaHa’s CEO, Pawan Gandhi, had previously worked in Singapore. So, when he decided to start KaHa in 2014, he decided to launch in Singapore.
In many other instances, Indian startups that kick-started their journey in India, moved to SIngapore to rev up their prospect of going global. Tookitaki, a tech startup offering enterprise software solutions in the anti-money laundering, portfolio risk, and reconciliation spaces for the financial services industry, was founded in India in 2012. It relocated to Singapore in 2014 for its regional expansion in Asia Pacific. Zilingo, Instarem and Grey Orange are among the increasing number of startups with Indian founders that have moved to Singapore.
One reason why Indian startups see Singapore as a springboard into Asia and beyond is because they have strong partnerships with countries from East to West. Singapore’s startup ecosystem has a strong knowledge of these markets, which is essential for startups to scale up.
To bridge connections with international markets, the Global Innovation Alliance (GIA) Acceleration Programme, was launched in 2017. GIA is a network of Singapore and overseas partners in major innovation hubs and key demand markets, with a focus on technology and innovation.
In the last two years, GIA Innovation Launchpads have been established in 12 cities, namely Beijing, Suzhou, Shanghai, San Francisco, Berlin, Munich, Paris, Tokyo, Bangkok, Jakarta and Ho Chi Minh City, the most recent being Bengaluru in October 2019.
Aside from policies that enable ease of doing business, cultural affinity, strong tie-ups with other ecosystems, the other key attraction is that Singapore is known as a strong financial centre. In fact, SEEDS Capital and SGInnovate co-invested close to S$36.5 milion, with Startup SG’s co-investment partners, in 52 startups, catalysing about S$118 million in private investments in 2018.
Towards collective prosperity: Why Singapore matters
As much as Singapore is an exciting proposition for startups, India too is beginning to be seen in a similar light, thanks to its strong pool of skilled technology talent and a maturing economy. Corporates and startups from Singapore are increasingly venturing into the Indian market.
While Grab established an R&D center in Bangalore two years ago to develop payment solutions, DBS Group, a leading financial services group headquartered in Singapore, launched DBS Asia Hub in Hyderabad, the group’s largest technology and operations hub outside of Singapore. The governments of both nations are collaborating and co-innovating in key sectors such as healthcare, urban solutions, smart city, rural solutions, agriculture and water.
This symbiotic relationship between Singapore and India is just one part of the big picture. Today, a number of Singapore startups and businesses setting up offices in other South East Asian economies and startups from those economies setting up base in Singapore.
Singapore headquartered marketplace startup Carousell has set up development offices in Vietnam, and operations in places such as Indonesia, Go-Jek, Indonesia’s ride-hailing giant, set up an R&D centre in Singapore.
While opening up of the economies is one push factor furthering this trend, the other is also because Singapore has been strongly advocating that different players and markets in the region complement each other, and as a region, Southeast Asia can build a collective value proposition for international tech and startups to set foot here.
Ready for more
Singapore’s consistent effort to keep pace with innovation and build a global startup ecosystem has only increased its attractiveness among Indian startups looking to go global. Many founders say that by stepping into Singapore, they are not only able to leverage the island nation’s robust startup ecosystem and thereby strengthen their offerings, but also equip themselves with the knowledge and connections they need to break into new markets in Southeast Asia, China, the Middle East or anywhere else in the world.