With Singapore Week of Innovation and TeCHnology (SWITCH) just around the corner, there is a significant interest directed at Singapore these days.
Of course, there has always been interest in Singapore’s tech and startup scene, especially when the city-state became the only Southeast Asian country to rank in Startup Genome’s Top 20 Startup Ecosystems in World report in 2015.
But if you’re only just discovering Singapore’s tech and startup scene, here’s ten things you should know about it.
1. A steadily growing entrepreneurial activity
Over the last five years, Singapore’s startup landscape has grown tremendously. According to Jonathan Lim, Director of Startup and Global Innovation Alliance of Enterprise Singapore, the number of tech startups has grown from 3,400 in 2012 to 4,000 in 2017.
While Singapore has been a significant hub for startups since the late 90’s, this 17 per cent boost in a span of five years is a significant number that can be attributed to a conducive business environment, ample government support, and a strong entrepreneurial community.
“Singapore has a very positive outlook when it comes to trying new things and finding innovative ways to solve different problems,” said Yuki Shimahara, CEO of LPixel, a startup specialising in developing AI for Life Science research.
2. Highest amount of startup funding in the region
In 2017, startup investments in Singapore reached US$7.3 billion, making up 45 per cent of all deals in the region. This is not a one-off; Singapore has been steadily growing to this number, with venture funding alone growing from US$136 million to US$1.37 billion in just a span of five years (2012 to 2017).
3. Singapore starts them young
The median age of entrepreneurs in Singapore is 28 years old – the youngest globally. By comparison, the world median is 40 years old. As an example, let’s take a look at Structo.
Structo is a startup that develops high-speed, industrial-grade additive manufacturing 3D printing systems using its proprietary Liquid Crystal Mask Stereolithography, with a niche in dental applications. It was founded in 2014 by four National University of Singapore graduates, and have managed to draw in investments about US$720 thousand investment from SEEDS Capital and Wavemaker in 2016 and an over-subscribed round of US$2.9 million investments from various investors.
Also read: National University of Singapore to spend US$18M to launch 250 deep-tech startups
4. It’s the home of unicorns
Singapore has seen the birth of five unicorns – Grab, Lazada, Razer, Sea, and Trax currently valued at a collective US$12 billion. Being headquartered in Singapore gave them access to the talent, funding, and connections that they needed as startups.
Singapore’s startup landscape has provided these companies with the support they needed to grow big – something that young companies like LPixel are banking on. “Overall, I think Singapore is an excellent place for new startups like us, to offer new values and solutions,” said Shimahara.
5. A launchpad to ASEAN
Market-wise, Singapore is small. This is not a hindrance, however, as it only pushes startups to create strong relations with neighbouring countries.
“Our aim is to develop Singapore as a reference test market for startups that want to access the region and we have made concerted efforts to strengthen our connections to those key markets like Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand,” said Lim.
This is a claim that has a lot of history backing it; going back to the previously mentioned five unicorns, all of which operated regionally while headquartered in Singapore.
6. Tangible government support
Enterprise Singapore, part of the Singapore Government, has been actively working with different partners to develop Singapore’s startup landscape.
It works with partners such as private VCs and accelerators, Institutes of Higher Learning and public agencies to put in place a wide range of programmes that meet the needs of startups under Startup SG.
Startup SG represents the shared interests of the startup community and showcases Singapore as a leading startup hub. It is the brand for all local support initiatives and provides stakeholders with a platform to connect globally.
This support could mean mentorship, funding and investments, and incubations, which are all critical to the growth of startups.
SLINGSHOT@SWITCH powered by Startup SG, for example, was launched in 2017 to showcase the best global startups in deep tech. This year, the startup competition returns as one of the key events at SWITCH 2018.
“Winners of SLINGSHOT will have a chance to tap on Singapore’s network of startups, VCs, accelerators and corporate partners to expand not only in Singapore, but within Asia, given our strategic location in this region,” said Lim.
Also read: SWITCH has 9 partner events, here is why you should go
7. Ample opportunities for partnerships
While Singapore is geographically small, it packs a punch when it comes to conduciveness of starting a business – something that entrepreneurs all over the world are aware of. In the 2017 Startup Genome report, they estimated about 463 entrepreneurs moved into the country for the purpose of starting a business. The global average is 300.
This means more entrepreneurs, more businesses, and more opportunities for partnerships locally and internationally.
Government support also plays a significant role in these partnerships, such as with the experience of LPixel. “We got in touch with some medical institutions through the government’s network. We are actually in the middle of exploring joint research opportunities with some of them,” Shimahara said. “This process would not have gone smoothly without the support from the government.”
8. It’s a gateway to the going global
Singapore is ranked 3rd globally on the ability of startup leaders to connect and form relationships with entrepreneurs in other countries. The strong startup community in Singapore allows founders to build relationships and partnerships not only locally but also internationally.
Singapore is home to many international tech and startup conferences, after all. And while there is a strong local support for these conferences, there is also an equally strong international interest in them, resulting in potential million-dollar partnerships in the works.
“We want Singapore to be a vibrant and self-sustaining global startup hub that is deeply connected with other startup ecosystems, especially those in ASEAN,” said Lim.
9. Deep tech thrives here
There is an increasing number of deals and VC investment amounts in deep tech. As showcased in SLINGSHOT, the Singapore government focusses on attracting and building more startups in deep tech sectors like medtech, cleantech, fintech, and future mobility, among others.
These are also in line with the global trends – increased focus on Industry 4.0, increasing emphasis on healthcare due to an ageing population, as well as rapid urbanisation and digitalisation, particularly in Asia.
One such example is MiRXES, a spin off from A*STAR’s Bioprocessing Technology Institute. The startup has developed an alternative non-invasive solution to accurately diagnose cancer through blood tests, at an earlier stage and with a higher degree of accuracy. MiRXES has raised about US$2.9 million in Series A.
10. Singapore is one of the best countries for women entrepreneurs
In a study conducted by Mastercard, Singapore ranked 5th best market globally for having strong supporting conditions and opportunities for women to thrive as entrepreneurs. Women made up 27.5 per cent of total business owners in Singapore; one of the higher proportions in the total markets studied.
And while the numbers may seem paltry, the conditions on the ground are not. There is a growing, vibrant community of women entrepreneurs in Singapore that aims to inspire women to create the next big thing.
Whether you’re a homegrown Singapore local, or an international entrepreneur searching for a friendly place to plant your startup roots, Singapore is one of the best places to consider.
“Startups play a key role in contributing to Singapore’s economy, especially in creating innovative solutions to support the growth of our companies,” said Lim. “We have managed to build a vibrant startup ecosystem over the years through our good business environment, investment in R&D and strong MNC presence.”