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Monday, April 18, 2016

Building a strong startup culture in SG

I have been thinking about the role of startups and the role they play in the SG economy. Part of this is interest, part is because I am a volunteer on a economic planning committee. Here are the key thoughts I have on this topic. Please do feel free to comment.

WHY DO WE WANT STARTUPS?
Startups matter because they are the future MNC and SMEs of our country. They also matter because they add vibrancy and innovate quicker than established companies. Personally, I also advocate entrepreneurship for those with the right temperament because it is a way of life that is immensely empowering.

WHAT KIND OF STARTUPS DO WE WANT?
I don't believe only certain sectors will produce all the high value add companies. We should encourage all types of startups and focus more funding, grant money, govt help on the low lying fruit like ICT, certain services (eg. fund mgmt. startups), Medtech etc. But if a startup in F&B starts growing like bazookas and builds a strong regional brand, we should embrace the company. It is actually the way the entrepreneur innovates, dreams and executes that counts most at the end.

We also want startups that succeed with or without govt help. Government schemes that end up creating a crutch mentality are a major no no. All government level help given to the startup ecosystem needs to viewed through this lens.

OWNERSHIP MATTERS
Local ownership of startups matter because citizen ownership implies knowledge and profits stay in SG. However, we have a shortage of founder and cofounder talent, so we need to open our doors to outside talent to come here and start companies at least in the short to medium term.

HOW TO ENCOURAGE MORE STARTUPS?
We need to dispel the idea that failure in work life is bad. We need society to view enterprise as something very positive and as a worthy career path if one is so suited. We need an active funding landscape at Seed, Series A, all the way to IPO level. One that not just funds SG startups, but also regional startups that take SG money.

ENTREPRENURIAL LEARNING IS KEY
We need to raise the quality of our startup entrepreneurs. The best entrepreneurs are always comparing, benchmarking, improving their knowledge. To this end, we must provide both formal and informal learning channels for startups to learn from each other, from mentors and from universities.

THE ROLE OF GOVERNMENT
One important role of government is to catalyse specific startup segments like what was done with ICT. This can be via funding, grants, special manpower quotas, partnerships with MNC/GLC/Govt/Overseas etc. Another key role is to get MOE to start including entrepreneurship as a career choice at school level. Government can also take the lead in awarding more contracts to SMEs esp majority locally owned ones.

Finally, government can also influence talent development and where it goes. Recognition of stock options as compensation, raising ICT salaries and training more ICT graduates are all good measures.

HOW DO WE KNOW THIS IS THE RIGHT PATH?
As with anything worth doing, we must define and measure our startup ecosystem. Its not just about funding rounds and exits though those are important metrics. It is also about the broadness and quality of our investor base, quality of employees who choose to work in startups and of course, the number of startups that graduate to become the next SIAs of Singapore creating many jobs and wealth for our country.

It is my hope that in 10 years time, startups become a core strength of our economy with a constant, deep pool of talented founders and employees creating vibrant, innovative new products and services demanded by sg, regional and global consumers and businesses.

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