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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.

Leonard emphasised celebrating achievements and the successful exits (when start-ups get off the ground and get an IPO or achieve a status of viability). "We need to excite the kids," he said. "The secret sauce is to celebrate the exits and create more excitement."

Engineered serendipity

Bruno Lanvin

Professor Bruno Lanvin, Executive Director, European Competitiveness Initiative, INSEAD

Professor Bruno Lanvin, Executive Director, European Competitiveness Initiative, INSEAD, brought out the concept of 'engineered serendipity'. He said that innovations don't happen in labs but in the cafes. He cited the example of Bell Labs where many of the last century's technical innovations happened. Founded by the inventor of the telephone Alexander Graham Bell, researchers working at Bell Labs are credited with the development of radio astronomy, the transistor, the laser, the charge-coupled device (CCD), the UNIX operating system, and the C, S and the C++ programming languages. Seven Nobel Prizes have been awarded for work completed at Bell Laboratories. But that was in the past. Now, most of the innovations are happening at the cafes in the Silicon Valley.

Change the mindset and encourage diversity-that was Professor Lanvin's mantra. This immediately reminded me of the Silicon Valley and the Wild Wild West thesis (a daring and adventurous mindset, people from various backgrounds coming together to achieve success).

"Innovation can come from anywhere," said Susan Pointer, Senior Director of Public Policy & Government Relations for Asia Pacific, Middle-East, Sub-Saharan Africa and Russia, Google Inc.

Julian and Susan

Google's Susan Pointer (far right) and Julian Persaud (centre) discuss Google's approach to innovation

According to Pointer, innovations happen when there is a cluster impact, allowing smart people to connect. 

She said that in every country she visits, the governments want to foster a culture of innovation. But the mistake they make is that policymakers have an urge to codify and regulate the ecosystem that stifles creativity.

She referred to the soft culture of the Silicon Valley where people found it safe to exchange ideas sitting in a café without any fears. "For innovation to flourish, we need to have a culture of exchange, and not guard ideas with jealousy," she said.

For those entrepreneurs who struggle to raise funds for their projects, Pointer asked them to persevere. "Perseverance beats resistance," she said.

By the time the Big Tent event ended, I had the feeling that Singapore already had an atmosphere of hope and achievement. The government is doing its best to encourage innovation (through abundant funds, low taxes and ready availability of expertise) and there are some successful role models ('exits' as Leonard calls them) too to excite the new entrepreneurs.


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