Last week, the Committee for the Future Economy (CFE) produced a report with recommendations on how Singapore can maintain its competitive position in the global economy in the face of worldwide financial turmoil and political instability.
The report met with mixed reactions, with people split between those who applauded the government for being proactive and those who felt it’s just a rehashing of older proposals with few concrete strategies on how to move the city-state to the next stage. The latter group included scholars and even former Singapore Member of Parliament Inderjit Singh.
As a big part of the report – and Singapore’s strategy for the future – involves technology, small businesses, and venture capital, we thought we’d check what people from those spaces thought of it.
Better for investment
Recommendations to lower the barriers for VC fund managers have already resulted in the Monetary Authority of Singapore issuing a consultation paper proposing how to go about it. More moves are expected to surface during the 2017 Budget announcement on Monday.
Investors think the announcements are a good first step. “There needs to be a lot more reliance on the private sector,” Peng T. Ong, managing director of Monk’s Hill Ventures, tells Tech in Asia. “We need to realize how the government can incentivize the experts rather than try to become the experts.”
The proof lies in the details and the execution, Peng suggests. “We have compliance rules around fund management, where if you want to set up a US$10 million fund, the cost will bankrupt you,” he laments. This makes MAS’ attention to easing these regulations a welcome development.
It is the right step to push for more funding for companies.
Hian Goh, partner at NSI Ventures, agrees that entrepreneurship is going to make up a significant part of Singapore’s economy in the future and the report recognizes that at least. “Like in the #startup world, the acid test is now in the execution of this plan and the implementation of the recommendations,” he says.
“It is the right step to push for more funding for companies, which has been a cry from the community for years,” says Christopher Quek, managing partner for Tri5 Ventures.
Peng feels the paper’s vagueness comes with the territory. “You have a few hundred people contributing to one report – there are so many opinions, they’re bound to look like the average,” he says.
The emphasis on commercializing research is a particularly important aspect, according to Peng. “We’ve had more than a decade of spending on research and development without focusing on the translation side,” he says. Between all the innovation and research happening in Singapore’s academic circles, more ideas should make it to market.
“I like to think our government is capable of figuring out these high strategies. Maybe it needs to listen harder and react faster,” he concludes.
Christopher agrees the CFE report might not be everything Singapore wanted, but it’s useful nonetheless. “While it is not spectacular, the CFE recommendations are an important step for the government to recognize the economic needs of the nation and craft policies accordingly,” he says.
Startups benefit from international connections and tech boost
Building the country’s digital skills and resources and maintaining international ties are two recommendations that resonate with local companies.
PropertyGuru co-founder Steve Melhuish says that building strong digital capabilities is even more important where traditional industries like real estate are concerned. The alternative is to lose relevance with one’s audience.
The solution to every problem in the world will have a software component to it.
“As consumers are online, it is critical for any business (let alone real estate) to be digitizing,” he points out. “I believe this is a practice that the larger business community should adopt to future-proof itself against the ever-changing global environment.”
“The solution to every problem in the world will have a software component to it,” says Jordan Dea-Mattson, a 35-year veteran of Silicon Valley, recently appointed VP of engineering at Carousell.
A strong and vibrant community of software engineers and technologists is vital for the country’s future economy, focusing on areas like machine learning, data analytics, internet of things, and more. Industry and academia must work together to foster these communities, he adds.
Meanwhile, keeping Singapore open to the international markets is imperative for the growth of local businesses. Steve cites PropertyGuru’s expansion through Southeast Asia, most recently with Vietnam, as an exmample. This year, the company is looking to help investors look for property in China as well as drive Chinese investors toward Southeast Asian real estate.
“While the world is growing increasingly hostile towards outsiders, we look to deepen and diversify our international connections,” Jordan says.