As We Celebrate Singapore's National Day, Let's Reflect On How Enterprises Can Shape Our Nation
This year is an especially strange year, as Singapore celebrates her socially-distanced birthday, at the age where one is able to collect her CPF (a retirement fund). Singapore's history as a nation-state is comparatively short vis-a-vis other larger countries, like the US, China or even our Southeast Asian neighbours. At a mere age of 55 years, Singapore stands as a country that has witnessed remarkable economic growth and development of a highly educated population, with strong roots in meritocracy.
It's no surprise that as a small nation, we have to punch above our weight in the international arena. But we often do so while seeking to create a win-win situation for everyone.
As a growing city-state then, the state authorities had to prioritise on the three critical pillars of nation-building — housing, healthcare and education while other forms of ‘luxurious pursuits’ (like entrepreneurship and the creative arts) had to take a backseat.
If Singapore is caricatured as a student, she would be a straight-As, rules-abiding and book-smart student that excels in math and sciences. In that aspect, Singapore’s success has always been attributed to our merits to survive the stacking odds, and the grit to create a future for ourselves. Things have always been smooth sailing for our economic success, so that gives rise to the impression that driving innovation within our country is not as important.
Moving forward, one may question how this quality of survivability can take us to SG100 and beyond, against the backdrop of the unforeseeable geo-political climate. In order to respond to future challenges, we would need to avoid being blindsided by outdated methods to solving new pressing problems. In other words, we need to innovate quicker and better, in order to stay ahead of the curve.
In Singapore where traditional meritocracy is prevalent, entrepreneurship hasn’t always been held in the same regard as today. Unlike today where being a co-founder is the latest fad, being entrepreneurial just a decade ago was often met with criticism and raised eyebrows.
Here’s a short history of Singapore’s enterprise development, almost 40 years ago.
Started in 1983, the Trade Development Board, housed under the Ministry of Trade and Industry, primarily promoted our local exports internationally and developed Singapore as an international trading hub. In April 2002, it was formally renamed to International Enterprise Singapore (IES) which adopted a more strategic approach in supporting entrepreneurs develop their businesses both locally and overseas.
Timeline of Singapore’s Economic Transformation from the 1980s to early 2000s
Just two years ago, International Enterprise Singapore merged with SPRING Singapore, another enterprise development agency under the Ministry of Trade and Industry — forming Enterprise Singapore. Through these several stages of revitalisation, entrepreneurial development has discursively manoeuvred to the changing needs of the economy, as well as the growing talent pool. In the face of today’s challenging economy, it would be no surprise that Enterprise Singapore has to adapt in creating new opportunities to support the entrepreneurial ambitions of the workforce.
The merger of Spring and IE Singapore Credit: TODAY
With the establishment of entrepreneurship faculties in universities and ground-up initiatives to support local enterprises, it seems that we are heading in the right direction. This is a result of the state's deliberate efforts to agitate towards other peaks of excellence — namely in liberal arts, performing arts, entrepreneurship and other forms of non-STEM achievements. Historically, if you think of a Singapore startup, you would often (only) hear about Creative Labs (even my business school lecturer would regard Sim Wong Hoo, as one of the pioneer tech entrepreneurs) but that would be it. Now, there’s easily more than 10 startups that are founded in Singapore. The startup scene can be described as a startup garden with numerous enterprising seedlings (for the lack of a better word) blooming.
According to Crunchbase, Singapore has over 1,200 startups, as compared to Israel (dubbed as the startup nation) which has 1,437 startups. Singapore also stands in the Top 30 Global Startup Ecosystems, alongside other innovation hubs like Berlin, Tel Aviv - Jerusalem and Shanghai. Also, in another report done by USC Marshall School of Business, Singapore holds 2.2% of the world’s share of unicorns, with US and China holding 64% and 13.8% of the total share respectively. Contrary to what critics may lament about entrepreneurship, our city-state has in fact made significant headway nurturing new founders and indicates that our startup development is poised for greater growth.
In retrospect, we have come a long way. Rather than discourage, that should spur us to do even better. Towards a bolder future, there’s much potential in cultivating the next generation of changemakers and startup founders.
'We are not returning to a pre-COVID-19 world' opined Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing. As disruptive changes are here to stay, creating new jobs and seeking opportunities now seemed like the most comforting solution.
Being a co-founder myself, it means more than just another addition to my LinkedIn profile but rather it reflects an enduring commitment to create impact — for the future we all have a stake in.
Here’s a list of startup grants, incubator and accelerator support initiatives in various ASEAN countries: Singapore
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Written by Sherman Tham
Sherman is the Marketing Ensign at Reactor School.
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