From Left to Right:
Joseph Phua (M17), Choun Chee Kong (Pavilion Capital), Jacqueline Poh (GovTech), Teo Ser Luck (Entrepreneur), Taizo Son (Mistletoe), Daren Tan (Golden Equator Capital), Cheryl Lee (SPECTRUM)

If one word could define how the business landscape has changed in the past few years, it is surely disruption. All over the world, companies have had to deal with disruption in their own way – whether they are disrupting or being disrupted.

Disruption and disruptive new businesses are the new normal and there is no sign that this will slow down. An ecosystem with a fragmented and inefficient landscape, where key players are operating in silos will severely limit the capacity to innovate. To keep up, the way people work have changed as industries and sectors become more interconnected – no one works in a silo anymore.

Businesses now recognise the need to adapt and innovate fast enough to survive and thrive in this hyper competitive environment. In Singapore and the region, we see the desire of authorities and business associations alike to support and elevate the innovation space, as they recognise the importance innovation will come to play for Singapore’s growth going forth.

Some examples include the SME Committee Budget 2018 wishlist recommendation for authorities to consider attracting and developing start-ups into unicorns as a growth strategy; or a recently-launched accelerator – the Future Law Innovation Programme (FLIP), which is dedicated to being Southeast Asia’s first legal tech start-up accelerator, on top of many existing ones.

Also Read: China grows stronger, beating US dominance in deep tech sector: Global Startup Ecosystem Report

Despite the many accelerator programmes currently in place, businesses including startups are still struggling on the innovation front due to several reasons, including a mismatch in technology adoption and speed for regulation compliance.

This was one of the key challenges raised at the closed-door thought leadership panel discussion attended by industry leaders at the launch of SPECTRUM earlier this year. The panellists included Taizo Son (Founder, Mistletoe), Choun Chee Kong (Fund Manager, Pavilion Capital), Teo Ser Luck (Entrepreneur), Jacqueline Poh (Chief Executive, GovTech), and Joseph Phua (Group CEO, M17 Entertainment). Moderated by Daren Tan from Golden Equator Capital, the discussion focused on “Creating a context-based technology and innovation community for today and tomorrow”.

There was a collective recognition that Singapore has a huge opportunity to build an ecosystem similar to that in Silicon Valley, in order for the nation to become the epicentre of innovation in Asia.

One interesting observation cited by the panellists was that Singapore, though ranked as one of the world’s top 20 best startup ecosystems in the 2017 Startup Ecosystem Ranking report, was last out of these countries in startup experience.

Clearly, for Singapore to progress further on the innovation path, the time is now to create an ecosystem equipped with the infrastructure to facilitate business-making and innovation to enhance the startup experience.

“Silicon Valley is successful because they have the ecosystem for startups – so what’s needed is to build a similar ecosystem in Asia,” according to entrepreneur Teo Ser Luck. “What’s needed for startups to succeed is the infrastructure within an ecosystem, and for the private sector to work together with the government,” he said.

This can be done by bringing together the key elements of capital, expertise and connections within Asia.

Joseph Phua, who is also the founder of Asia-focused dating app Paktor, mentioned that Singapore was “where everybody is” in capital fundraising, with available avenues including government funds and a large pool of venture capitalists.

Beyond capital, however, the panel identified the importance of connections and expertise in accelerating business growth and entry. Choun Chee Kong of Pavilion Capital cited the quick entry speed of OBike into Singapore as a good example of how connection and expertise combined with capital access enabled for its business growth.

In the case of OBike, funding was available from Chinese ex-entrepreneurs residing in Singapore, while other parties in the ecosystem from other Asia countries, such as Taiwan and Japan, brought in experience and connection in addition to capital to the whole ecosystem. “We have to exploit the advantage of strong cultural affinity that we have in Asia, which will bring in other aspects such as talent and capital,” Choun said.

Taking a broader view of the ecosystem

Closer and more strategic collaboration between public and private organisations can provide impetus to see the ecosystem grow from strength to strength.

“On one hand, the government can provide platforms and digital infrastructure that can benefit businesses of any size to achieve scale and reach. Examples of such platforms include GovTech’s MyInfo, which has already onboarded 100 companies and a national B2B trade platform which has just recently gone live in December,” Jacqueline Poh, Chief Executive of GovTech explained.

Also Read: Keep an eye out for the Vietnam startup ecosystem and its potential for growth

The private sector, on the other hand, can provide businesses looking to scale up with the support and know-how required. As an example, Taizo Son, a globally renowned serial entrepreneur and founder of Mistletoe, bring capital, expertise as well as strong cultural affinity to guide businesses further in their growth journey.

Creating the ideal ecosystem

Taizo Son recognises that a curated business club such as SPECTRUM, through a tripartite relationship with Mistletoe and Golden Equator, is a powerful platform to support and grow the innovation ecosystem, helping companies of all sizes in their growth from out of Singapore with their sights set on the world. This is why he has chosen to base his company Mistletoe’s global headquarters in Singapore at SPECTRUM.

Without a doubt, Singapore has the right ingredients – the talent pool, capital access and expertise from successful business founders – that make it an ideal hub to create Asia’s Silicon Valley.

What it needs now is a platform focused on congregating these elements together – letting businesses easily access business-making expertise, creating an innovation ecosystem for the community to be able to access opportunities to cutting-edge innovative projects.

Cheryl Lee is the CEO and Co-Founder of SPECTRUM, a curated technology and innovation business club with the vision to create a globally connected ecosystem by providing curated counsel, the right resources and strategic networks to businesses looking to expand into Singapore and springboard into Asia.

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