Produced by SilverKris for Mishcon de Reya
For the essence of ultra-modern Singapore, follow your nose to any of its hawker centres. While you’ll find all the classics, from chicken rice and laksa, to roti prata and even English bangers ‘n’ mash, there’s one traditional ingredient that is becoming increasingly scarce: cash.
Singapore is fast making QR code payment the de rigueur settlement mechanism at hawker stalls, handing out a monthly bonus of S$300 to vendors who go cashless. Proactive policy to spread digital culture is a key reason why Singapore ranked No. 1 in KPMG’s 2020 ranking of global tech hub rivals to Silicon Valley.
Look more closely, and you’ll discover even more factors cited by KPMG for Singapore’s rise to tech hub leadership. An eager embrace of the world. Diverse lifestyle attractions. Above all, an abundance of talent and entrepreneurial drive. Thanks to a convergence of open innovation, digital infrastructure and government support, Singapore is fast winning a reputation as Asia’s Silicon Valley.
Unicorns such as mobility super-app Grab and gaming and ecommerce platform Sea are reimagining the digital experience, even as Singapore shoots to the top of Asia’s VC investment scoreboard – with nearly 300 funds and more than 4,000 startups. Singapore’s financial services prowess plays a key role, matching funding to promising startups and driving a three-fold jump in investment into Singapore from 2017 to 2019 to US$8 billion.
Meanwhile global tech giants such as Facebook, Google and Amazon are setting up regional hubs and R&D centres, injecting Silicon Valley expertise and startup mentorship into a dynamic ecosystem.
“In a nutshell, Singapore is a flourishing ecosystem providing fertile ground for startups, supported by a forward-looking government ensuring ease of doing business, conducive infrastructure, strong research bases at local universities and a skilled talent pool,” according to Patrick Yeo, Venture Hub Leader at PwC Singapore.
Choice ingredients for tech hub success
No doubt Singapore competes with star players for the title of Asian Silicon Valley – including Seoul, Shenzhen, Beijing and Bengaluru. And the city-state needs to work on deep tech capabilities – the ability to build rather than adapt game-changing technology – to bolster its claim. But only Singapore brings together the advantages most cited by tech players as reasons to launch or invest in a new market.
In KPMG’s 2020 tech innovation survey, company leaders ranked factors for a successful tech hub in this order: 1) modern infrastructure, 2) attractive urban environment for young professionals, 3) at least one research-intensive university, 4) available investment funding, 5) a pipeline of skilled talent and 6) a favourable regulatory environment.
Singapore comes out on top because it excels in all six categories, and shuns complacency. Over its 200-year history, the Little Red Dot has honed competitive edge through reinvention, be that in maritime trade, financial services or digital transformation.
“This game is not about hierarchy or organisation. Successful ecosystems are ones that are able to connect and support each component within the network and facilitate valuable knowledge and information sharing,” says Dan Sinclair, Head of MDR LAB, law firm Mishcon de Reya’s series of programmes dedicated to supporting the next generation of LegalTech.
Only Singapore brings together the advantages most cited by tech players as reasons to launch or invest in a new market
According to the World Economic Forum, Singapore has now made strides in building deep tech clout, citing 260% investment growth in advanced research startups between 2017 and 2019. Driving the strategy, says WEF, is Startup SG, a government-led programme to forge an ecosystem for tech players including startup founders, VC investors and digital incubators.
As Covid boosts the need for groundbreaking digital solutions, Singapore is adding resource intensity to Startup SG. It has allocated more than US$110 million to boost the programme – opening the taps to startup capital and tech incubation.
Not least, Singapore is positioning itself at the frontier of sustainable industry through the Advanced Remanufacturing and Technology Centre (ARTC). It’s Asia’s first R&D centre for giving industrial castoffs new life through innovation. ARTC is developing 3D printing, smart manufacturing and advanced robotics to build sustainable solutions for a resource-strapped world.
Gateway to the digital future
As Southeast Asia’s tech innovation hub, Singapore is the gateway to a region seen as the next big tech story. Southeast Asia’s increasingly tech-savvy population of 600 million is the world’s third-largest market. And it is home to an explosion of digital innovation, from Gojek in Indonesia to ELSA in Vietnam.
“Singapore is often seen as a great test bed for new technologies,” says PwC’s Yeo, “and the gateway to access the broader Southeast Asia market opportunity.”
Singapore’s status as a leading tech hub gained momentum with the November launch of the world’s biggest trade deal, bringing together ASEAN, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
As the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) takes effect, Singapore’s tech leaders gain unprecedented access to both emerging and mature markets covering nearly 30% of global GDP, and almost a third of the world’s people.
Speaking to WEF, Michele Ferrario, co-founder at StashAway, a digital wealth management platform, drove home why Singapore is as ideally placed in the digital era – as it was in the maritime golden age – to reap the fruits of tomorrow.
“Singapore is a unique place,” he said. “It provides access to the very fast growing markets of Southeast Asia while offering the benefits of a global financial centre.”