The reply that reached Dr. Balakrishnan's ears were not profound, yet deep and moving in its incisive simplicity and insight. "All this was achieved by the hard work and discipline of a nation," said Mr. Lee.
Besides technology and resources, hard work and discipline are the pre-requisites for a nation to succeed, Dr. Balakrishnan learnt that day.
A hyper-connected nation
"We are a hyper connected nation," Dr. Balakrishnan said, referring to the sub-marine cables that connects Singapore to the world. Singapore enjoys the maximum number of cable landings in this part of the world. If you want to build a data centre with very low latencies, then you have to be in Singapore, he said.
Dr. Balakrishnan took pride over the fact that half of Singapore's cabinet ministers are engineers and 'our Prime Minister can code'.
A test-bed for the world
What would be Singapore's role in the global innovation ecosystem? We should not kid ourselves because the truth is that we can't be Silicon Valley or Tel Aviv, he said, but 'We are part of the digital Silk Road' and we could become the test bed for the world. If you have an idea, if you want to test if your prototype can scale up, then you have a market here-a place where you could test your product or service on 5.5 million people."Singapore is a small node in a global value chain," he said.
Besides the testing ground, Singapore also offers capital and mentorship and access to market to young startups, he said. "You need access to smart money and to connect with people you can trust," he added.
The latter part on connecting with people was with reference to the need of holding conferences or meet ups like Innovfest Unbound where people could talk, share ideas and find partners to work on projects.
Besides the test bed and smart money and mentorship, Singapore can also offer talent, added Professor Chorh Chuan Tan, President, NUS, who was also on the panel discussion with Dr. Balakrishnan and Daniel Seal.
The role of government
Someone asked what was the role of government in encouraging startups in Singapore. What the government can do is to provide infrastructure, provide education through top universities, offer research and development grants, frame a reliable and consistent regulatory framework, and offer access to global markets through free trade agreements, Dr. Balakrishnan said. But we are not the startups, we are only the referees, he said.
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