Beyond Good for Business

The city-state of Singapore probably isn’t the first place you’d think of building technology startups. But consider this: In the past 2 years, 26 technology start-ups from around the world, for example, Wikinvest and mig33 from the US, and Snap Group from Europe, have come to call Singapore their Asian home. Together with the likes of investors like Joi Ito, Saeed Amidi and Brad Greenspan, these savvy investors and entrepreneurs have chosen to base their ventures in Singapore. This is in addition to more than 7000 MNCs and 10,000 small-medium enterprises that have already set up their strategic operations here, providing various collaboration opportunities for Singapore-based start-ups. It’s not surprising that the country is emerging as one of the hottest start-up hub in Asia.

Imagine doing business in a place where you can easily be connected to potential clients, business/research partners who are just less than an hour‘s car ride away. How about getting work permits for your team approved – in less than 2 days? Sounds too good to be true? These are exactly the things that foreign start-ups will find in Singapore. Singapore has established a reputation for being one of the most business-friendly countries in the world. Start-ups will also be able to tap on the country’s Next Generation Nationwide Broadband Network which will reach every home and office by 2012, providing ultra high-speeds of up to 1 Gbps and pave the way for innovative new online services. Finally, there will be no trouble staying connected with more than 7,500 hotspots island wide providing free wireless access.

Dr Rao Machiraju, CEO of reQall, says these are what attracted him to set up his regional HQ here: “What strikes me about Singapore constantly is how easily things can be done here – whether it is being connected to the internet, being able to get around for meetings and most importantly, interacting with the people – everything is straightforward and simple. As a company, you want to be in a place where you can conduct your business effectively, and things like infrastructure and people will contribute to it. That is why it is a pleasure to do business in an environment like Singapore.”

More than being a confluence of multinationals from around the world, many Indian and Chinese enterprises – about 3,000 Indian and 2,300 Chinese companies – are also using Singapore as a hub. The country also has good access to Asian markets, reaching 3 billion people within a seven-hour flight radius.

As a location for innovation, Singapore has nurtured a rich Research & Development (R&D) ecosystem and robust intellectual property (IP) regime. Singapore ranked No 1 in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report (2009-2010) for the protection of IP rights. Companies can file for IP protection globally from Singapore, whose IP regime has been harmonised with that of the US since the establishment of the US -Singapore Free Trade Agreement in 2003.

In terms of talent availability, Singapore has topped Business Environment Risk Intelligence’s (BERI) Labour Force Evaluation Measure for the past 30 years. This is something that Joi Ito, a US investor and entrepreneur who has recently set up an incubation fund in Singapore, can attest to: “They key is having multi-cultural high quality teams, which Singapore is perfect for. The government provides a great deal of support and I’m able to attract very high quality teams because Singapore has become so popular as a place to live and work.” And before you think that labor costs in Singapore are too high, think about this: Engineering labor costs in Singapore average 60 per cent that of Silicon Valley’s. “The amount of industry experience that the Singapore team had compared to folks in the United States is different but the impact they have is the same, and I think a lot of that is credit to the community and educational system here,” said Mr Michael Sha, founder and CEO of Wikinvest.

Recently, Singapore was also ranked Most Innovative Nation in the World by Boston Consulting Group, and emerged The Most Innovatively Competitive Nation in the 2009 report by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

To retain this leading position, the Singapore government recognizes the need to set up a platform to encourage innovation, attract talent and connect to larger markets. For start-ups, this means access to resources so that they can focus on developing their product or service. Foreign VC-funded start-ups setting up an engineering center in Singapore can look to government programmes for developmental support, such as co-funding of approved projects by Singapore’s leading government agency for IT development, Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), and venture capital funding by its investment arm, Infocomm Investments Pte Ltd (IIPL). These will help them extend their financial runway and allow them to do more with their development budgets.

US start-ups wishing to explore business and partnership opportunities in Singapore can also go to IDA’s Silicon Valley office for assistance. For those looking to use Singapore as a launch pad to Asia, the Silicon Valley office can provide business development information and networking opportunities. Singapore companies who wish to enter the US market can also tap on its network of contacts for strategic alliances and expansion into US. This is part of IDA’s internationalization program that also cover markets in Shanghai, Doha and Bangalore.

Currently, there continues to be a healthy pipeline of start-ups that IDA is attracting to Singapore. “These moves by the start-ups which come from innovation hubs in the world such as Silicon Valley, Israel and Scandinavia, are testament to the value of Singapore,” said Mr Andrew Khaw, Senior Director, Industry Development Group, IDA.

To find out more about opportunities for US start-ups in Singapore, contact IDA’s Silicon Valley office at

This series is brought to you by Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA), Singapore’s IT industry champion, developer and Government CIO. IDA aims to cultivate a vibrant and competitive IT industry in Singapore – one that attracts foreign investments and encourages sustainable long-term GDP growth through innovative IT development, deployment and usage – in order to enhance its global economic competitiveness.