Reshaping the Asian Tech Landscape


Singapore’s Helix Bridge

California’s Silicon Valley established itself as a destination for start-ups by offering access to top tech talent, financial support, expert guidance, and supporting infrastructure. And at least one Asian nation was watching and now stands to follow suit: Singapore might just be the next global start-up capital.

While some of Singapore’s appeal lies in its prime geographical position — at the crossroads of vast Asian markets like China, Indonesia, and India — it’s the nation’s investment in digital connectivity that differentiates it as an ideal destination for start-ups.

The World Economic Forum’s 2016 Global Information Technology Report rated Singapore first in the world on its Network Readiness Index, noting that the city-state has one of the best pro-business environments in the world and a government that has established a clear digital strategy to spur innovation. According to Akamai’s State of the Internet Report, the nation continues to come in first for fastest connection speed, and it also tops McKinsey’s Connectedness Index based on inflows and outflows of goods, services, finance, talent, and data.

“The [typical] Singaporean is a person that owns one to two smartphones, definitely has 4G, and back at home has fiber internet because it’s cheap and readily available,” said Samson Leo, co-founder of Xfers — a Singapore-based fintech start-up devoted to online transactions and peer-to-peer payments — which has received funding from Silicon Valley and Asia-based angel investors. Among them is Eduardo Saverin, a Facebook co-founder who is now based in Singapore.

Tech Events Epicenter

It’s no surprise, then, that Singapore is host to a multitude of technology and start-up business events — including Tech in Asia, innovfest unbound, Echelon Asia Summit, the 2016 CSX Asia Pacific Conference on cybersecurity, the Internet Engineering Task Force, and the Singapore International Robotics Expo. It even hosts Inside 3D Printing Singapore, the world’s largest professional 3D printing event. At these meetings, regional start-ups and others like them raise funding, seek inspiration, and acquire expertise.

This preponderance of tech shows is due to the wide array of resources available to event planners throughout their events’ lifecycles. Singapore’s seamless Wi-Fi coverage enables organizers to collect and analyze vast amounts of data to understand and engage attendees. And with its ImmersiveAV Suite that uses holographic projection technology, Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre serves as a main draw for event planners and tech-industry insiders focused on how to best showcase their innovations.

Singapore’s other notable start-up institutions include the Advanced Remanufacturing and Technology Centre (ARTC), Asia’s first R&D center to develop technologies for remanufacturing, and Blk 71, a vibrant entrepreneur enclave, home to hundreds of tech start-ups, venture capitalists, and incubators.

But Singapore’s commitment to tech entrepreneurs goes beyond just bandwidth and technology events. Its Smart Nation Initiative works with citizens and businesses to co-create a better future through tech-enabled solutions. Between 2008 and 2015, Singapore’s National Research Foundation invested $29.5 million in 144 start-ups. In 2014, Singapore-based companies attracted an estimated $1.9 billion in venture capital funding, putting the nation well ahead of its Asian counterparts. To further foster innovation, the government sustains R&D spending at about 1 percent of GDP.

All of which enabled Xfers “to interact with some of the bank personnel which normally at the start-up stage wouldn’t entertain us,” Leo said. “It was instrumental. We were better able to position our product.”

Singapore makes a clear effort to reduce many of the logistical barriers associated with starting a business, including minimizing time to incorporation. The government’s open-data portal also gives start-ups access to data sets that make it easier to develop innovative ideas, such as Beeline, a mobile app that lets users crowdsource bus routes. If enough commuters ask for a new route, private bus operators make sure it is created. To date, more than 100 apps have been created using the open-data portal.

From 2016 to 2020, Singapore plans to pump $13.6 billion into scientific and technological research under the Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) 2020 plan. Through its comprehensive effort to leverage technology and promote digital transformation, Singapore stands poised to both expand its influence as a global innovation hub and reshape the Asian technology landscape in the coming decades.

To learn more about Singapore’s burgeoning tech scene, visit the Singapore Exhibition & Convention Bureau’s website.

This article was developed for Singapore Tourism Board by Quartz Creative, the in-house branded content arm of Quartz.

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