I have always questioned what role the government should play in the entrepreneurial world. Do you think government's direction should be around a) Access to Capital such as Grants, Loans for seed capital b) Simplification of their Policies and Procedures c) Public-Private Partnerships d) Create and manage competition by promoting a Public Sector Units e) Help with Diplomatic channels or something beyond?
is a role, but stay away from trying to be entrepreneurs. Governments
are not wired to be entrepreneurial (maybe they shouldn't try too hard
to be such, but that's another debate). When we direct governments to feed - not stifle - entrepreneurial spirit, we all win.
The government is an important enabler of innovation and entrepreneurship in every ecosystem, providing the robust regulatory environment and building the infrastructure, community, talent and mindset for innovation and entrepreneurship to thrive. From my view as an entrepreneur and role in leading the Infocomm Investments’ fund, the Singapore government’s support has been crucial in jump-starting the start-up ecosystem and helping start-ups to grow.
The Smart Nation vision launched by the Prime Minister of Singapore will see the government pulling all the key stakeholders of an ecosystem - big corporates, start-ups, risk capital, researchers and academics - together to tackle important shared global challenges arising from the inevitable realities of an ageing population and urban density. Especially in areas ranging from tele-healthcare to self-driving vehicles, global tech builders can use Singapore as their living lab to pilot some of these exciting innovations.
Happy to share some of the government efforts in response to the areas listed by Missy, using Singapore as the case study.
Access to Capital
Singapore has rolled out a series of funding schemes to help start-ups at different stages of growth. These grants are useful in helping start-ups to grow, build their solution and access markets, while stretching their runway to succeed. To complement these schemes, the government also actively connects start-ups with mentors and plug them into networks to help them grow.
Policies and Procedures
Regulations can make or break a start-up. In this aspect, Singapore has been forward looking in clearing the way for innovations to happen, and yet measured so that the associated risk can be managed.
The fintech area which is all the rage right now, is a good example. Fintech solutions such as P2P money transfer and crowdfunding can be exciting, but they also carry risks - e.g. breach of sensitive data and scams/ loss of investment through unregulated funding. Nevertheless, the government has been very open to provide a conducive regulatory environment for these innovations to be developed. The government has adjusted its policies to allow financial institutions to launch new ideas without needing its endorsement so long the institutions’ internal due diligence are met. Another initiative has been in rolling out “sandboxes” where innovative solutions can be launched and tested within controlled boundaries. The intention is to create a safe space for innovation so that consequences of failure can be contained.
The signal from the government has been encouraging, and we see more fintech start-ups coming up, and financial institutions being active in driving innovation. Already, the Singapore banks, DBS and UOB, have partnered Infocomm Investments to launch their own accelerators at the one-stop start-up facility BASH, and we can expect more fintech start-ups and solutions to come through these programme.
Public Private Partnership
The Singapore government has also proactively engaged the private sector, particularly in co-investments to open up start-ups’ access to smart money, and tap on the private sector to take the lead on investments.
Big corporates also play an important role in a successful innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem. The government has encouraged big corporates to work with start-ups to come up with new ways to disrupt existing traditional business models, or even set up their own innovation labs or ventures. Big corporates also help with building young tech talent and capabilities in Singapore, through partnership with the government e.g. Microsoft partnered with IDA through the “Code for Change” programme to develop computational thinking skills in up to 1.2 million individuals, of whom up to 500,000 will be young people.
Create and Manage Competition
It can be tough for start-ups to get noticed and compete for contracts. To give young and promising start-ups a boost, the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) is providing start-ups with accreditation through an independent third-parties evaluation of the companies. Accredited start-ups will gain more opportunities for their solutions to be showcased and eventually be considered first for government and large enterprises projects. Just in the first year of its running, these start-ups had access to about S$20 million worth of projects, including 125 projects from 50 government agencies. Such efforts help to position start-ups to win projects for traction/ growth.
Lastly, Singapore has been establishing itself as a node on the global network as as start-ups increasingly take on a regional/ global view of their market. In regions where markets and cultures are fragmented (e.g. Asia), the usefulness of such overseas channels cannot be understated. Infocomm Investments has been successful in this area with its strong regional networks (e.g. APICTA) that links it with 15 countries in APAC. Global start-ups planning to enter Asia can join the upcoming start-up exchange programme to locate in Singapore for a period of time and build inroads to overseas regional markets. Likewise, local start-ups venturing into the US and Europe, can tap on Infocomm Investments offices in San Francisco and London, and its overseas partners to expand overseas.