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Can Singapore be Asia’s Innovation Hub?

Zafar Anjum | Nov. 6, 2013
Can Singapore become the Silcion Valley of Asia—experts at the recently held Google Big Tent deliberated on this matter and shared some sharp diagnoses and exciting suggestions.

The secret sauce

So what is the secret sauce that lubricates the innovation engines of a country?

According to Kent Liu, CFO of Viki, Singapore has many strengths that make its innovation ecosystem strong. Great infrastructure, a growing community of start-ups, government support to start-ups in terms of grants and low tax rates-these are some of the strengths of the country.

However, there are some areas that suck. For example, raising Series A funding is difficult, he said. It means that investors here are willing to invest only in those startups that have already gained some traction. Talent crunch is another sore point. It is hard to find engineers and designers here, Liu said. 'Salaries versus stock options' is also an area of concern. He said that unlike in the Silicon Valley, employees here don't prize the stock options as their counterparts in the West do. This attitude puts a financial squeeze on the startups which are most often cash-strapped.

Bernice Ang, social entrepreneur and founder of Syinc, a social platform connecting the youth in Singapore for social change, tackled innovation from a social angle. "Innovation is about meeting needs," she said. "It is about community participation."

She has a point. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn work as platforms because they answered a need and they are about community participation.

She took a swipe at the Singaporean mindset of opting for cushy jobs instead of pursuing the gritty and uncertain path of innovation. "Why innovate when you have cushy jobs?" she quipped. She herself is a living example of bucking the trend in Singapore. She could have a cushy career in Australia where she studied but she returned to Singapore to connect the youth in her country for effecting social change.

How society sees failure-that also became a moot point.

In the US, people invest in failed entrepreneurs. Will failed entrepreneurs be given a second chance in Singapore, she asked.

It is OK to fail; but we must celebrate the successful exits

Steve Leonard

Steve Leonard, Executive Deputy Chairman of IDA

Steve Leonard, Executive Deputy Chairman of IDA, agreed with the idea of tolerating failure. Entrepreneurs need to have the confidence that it is OK to fail, he said. He gave the example of Finland which has a national day to celebrate failure.

Julian Persaud, Managing Director, South East Asia, Google Inc, also felt that there was a need to 'redefine failure'. He gave the example of Google and how the company welcomed new ideas every Friday (Thank God It Is Friday or TGIF event) from all employees globally irrespective of their rank and did not penalise engineers whose ideas did not result in final products.


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