Singapore is no longer only the place for who is who in tech but for who is next. The country has one of the most developed tech ecosystems in the world, is a leader in smart city technology and is the second most innovative economy according to Bloomberg’s 2021 Innovation Index.
The reasons behind Singapore’s success? – private-public sector collaboration, a pro-business regulatory environment, strong digital infrastructure and cross-sector co-creation opportunities.
Tech companies worldwide often cite Singapore’s business-friendly regulatory environment as one of the key factors for their investment. The country comes second in the World Bank’s 2020 ease of doing business index.
The city’s tech ecosystem is diverse and well-connected. Innovation centres connect enterprises and networks; multinationals work closely with startups to test, commercialise and scale solutions globally; the Singaporean government collaborates with industries to solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges.
The government has played an active role in supporting the growth of Singapore’s tech ecosystem and nurturing a pro-business regulatory environment through its economic and development policies.
Singapore’s regulatory environment supports R&D, experimentation and innovation. Companies have many opportunities to receive funding, grants and networking support from the government. Moreover, companies can gain from Singapore’s competitive tax system, international tax treaties and among the best intellectual property protection in the world.
Singapore’s robust tech ecosystem drives innovation. Companies operating in Singapore have access to a highly skilled and diverse talent pool and a wide range of opportunities for cross-sector collaboration. Multinational corporations such as Visa, Siemens and ABB with established innovation centres in Singapore and the Singaporean governments’ “sandbox” innovation approach, which shields against failures, are key drivers of innovation.
One of the key factors behind Singapore’s success – the country’s digital infrastructure, ranks the best in Asia. The city has 95% IoT outdoor coverage capable of supporting more than 100 million devices. It is, therefore, no surprise that Singapore is the “smartest” city in the world, according to IMD’s 2020 Smart City Index.
Singapore aims to be a Smart Nation
Singapore’s smart city journey began in 2014 when the Singaporean government laid out an ambitious national plan and opened a dedicated smart city office.
Smart City Initiatives like the Smart Nation Sensor Platform and Smart Urban Mobility make Singapore a greener, more innovative city by using sensors and data to improve urban planning, public transport and support Singapore’s car-lite city vision.
Private-public sector collaborations have been instrumental in Singapore’s successful deployment of smart city technologies. Technology solution providers have helped streamline government services for individuals and businesses, fuse data across the nation via IoT sensors and scale urban mobility solutions. Apple, for instance, has worked closely with the Singaporean government to develop a first-of-its-kind health programme, LumiHealth, which uses tech and behavioural insights to help residents lead healthier lives. Recognising the importance of 5G, regulators have established several 5G testbeds and support companies developing and testing solutions across different industries, from unmanned aerial vehicles to healthcare.
Developments such as the Punggol Digital District, which connects a business park, university and community facilities, provide further collaboration and co-creation opportunities.
Innovative technology companies in Singapore are helping make cities around the world greener, more sustainable and more inclusive. Throughout this article, you will find examples of businesses improving mobility, urban infrastructure and access and quality of utilities.
Singapore’s Talent Ecosystem
The success of an ecosystem is underpinned by the size and quality of its talent pool, and Singapore has an abundance of tech talent. In 2019, the city ranked as the second most attractive destination for global and startup talent; in 2018 – first in AI and advanced analytics talent globally.
Singapore’s educational institutions’ focus on providing professionals and students with the technical skills they need to thrive in the future industries has been an essential driver of success. For instance, Nanyang Technological University’s (NTU) dedicated Centre for Augmented and Virtual Reality offers AR/VR R&D programmes.
Government-supported initiatives like TechSkills Accelerator (TeSa) partner with industries to provide professionals with training opportunities and encourage tech companies to provide internal training programmes via funding.
Other talent programmes like Singapore Economic Development Board’s Tech.Pass grow the talent ecosystem by helping established tech entrepreneurs, innovators, and experts worldwide come and work in Singapore. Tech@SG, a Singapore EDB and Enterprise Singapore programme, helps scaling companies access talent based outside of Singapore to grow their businesses.
The gateway to Southeast Asia
As the gateway to Southeast Asia (SEA), Singapore is often the destination of choice for companies looking to expand and scale their operations. Companies setting up offices in Singapore can grow their customer base to SEA’s rapidly increasing middle class and number of consumers.
In just 2020, 40 million new consumers accessed the internet for the first time across SEA. This digital surge is expected to grow to over US$300 billion GMV by 2025, presenting a unique opportunity for tech companies tapping into Southeast Asia’s markets.
Companies like Google and Salesforce with established offices in Singapore have successfully built ecosystems around the regional markets and increased profitability. Salesforce’s Asia Pacific revenues have grown more than 100 times between FY2005 to FY2019.
More recently, the UK scaleups Rapyd, Babylon Health and checkout.com have joined Wise (formerly Transferwise), Deliveroo and Revolut in Singapore. Revolut has gained 77,000 new customers since launching its business operations in Singapore.
Singapore’s Tech Ecosystem
Recognising the opportunity of SEA and the strength of Singapore’s tech ecosystem, 59% of tech multinationals establish regional headquarters in Singapore, and 88 of the world’s top 100 tech companies have operations in Singapore.
Many of these multinationals are now establishing innovation centres, leveraging emerging technologies to enhance their products and services, creating co-creation opportunities for startups and SMEs.
Siemens, for instance, operates a fully integrated Digitalisation Hub in Singapore and has chosen Singapore as the first country to globally pilot MindSphere. The cloud-based IoT operating system connects machines and physical infrastructure to the virtual world, collecting data from billions of intelligent devices to generate new insights.
Singapore’s startup ecosystem is one of the most developed ecosystems globally and has 184 accelerators, incubators and other intermediaries and over 4,000 tech startups. About 15% of these startups are internationally rising stars.
Tech startups are solving everyday challenges faced by communities across SEA, bringing about greater economic opportunities and a higher standard of living for these communities.
The Singaporean startup Aspire operates a neo-banking-like platform to help SEA’s SMEs quickly and easily secure working capital and manage cash flow. Whizpace’s TV White Space (TVWS) brings internet access to remote locations and is the first company to test TVWS with the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
SMEs make up 99% of all businesses in Singapore and support 72% of the country’s total employment. The Singaporean government plays an active role in supporting SME growth and development through policy and programmes.
The SMEs Go Digital programme supports SMEs in adopting digital technologies by providing grants and pairing SMEs with solution providers who help them with their transformation efforts.
Companies looking to build a presence in Singapore can benefit from the SG:D Spark programme, which provides startups and scaleups with access to government projects and support from venture capital and professional services firms.
Tech companies can also apply to the Accreditation@SG Digital programme. This initiative validates Singapore-based tech companies to potential clients and increases their value in the eyes of investors and stakeholders. Through the programme, over US$206 million (S$280 million) worth of projects opportunities have been created, and over 400 projects have been awarded. Companies like Deep Identify, Kai Square and Anacle have benefited by making successful exits through acquisitions or IPO’s.
Singapore’s Accelerated Initiative for AI helps companies expedite AI patent procurement. It usually takes two to four years to procure patents; however, through the programme, China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba received its AI patent in just three months, setting a world record.
Companies looking to ensure that their solutions meet the needs of global markets can benefit from IMDA’s Strategic Partners Programme, which helps bundle or augment solutions by leveraging partners’ enterprise-grade platforms. The programme provides companies with access to partners technical and domain expertise as well as global networks.
Companies interested in opening up offices in Singapore and collaborating with local businesses and regulators have access to a wide range of programmes, government support and a welcoming, forward-thinking business community. To find a comprehensive list of programmes and support available in Singapore, download this guide.