Singapore: The Asian Startup Hub

ByTravelling For Business

November 29, 2016

Whilst Singapore has been known as a financial hub for years it is fast becoming a hub for startups. We spoke to Gabriel Lim, CEO of Media Development at IMDA to find out what Singapore has to offer those looking expand their businesses into new markets.

How has the startup scene changed in the last year?

Even in the last 5 months the startup scene has been growing with more and more businesses launching. We are just about to launch Pixel Studios, aimed at people interested in digital content creation. If you want to start a channel on YouTube or you’re a blogger that wants to look at digital advertising, or own an ecommerce business building a brand proposition you can come to Pixel Studios. Here we are able to connect you to speakers, experts and VC’s that can help you launch your business. Since the change in structure this is just one of example of how we are promoting media under the IMDA remit.

We’ve also seen an increase in private companies coming into Singapore to set up their own accelerator programs. We are seeing an increase in coworking spaces and companies working together to help each other grow. Coworking spaces are very popular, entry costs are a real concern for startups, as a result we are piloting smart working centers, like coworking spaces where individuals can hot desk at very low costs and pay as you go. Again by building an ecosystem around these services entrepreneurs are able to connect and work together.

What sets Singapore apart for startups?

We are in a great place globally, whether you are a business that wants to get into the Asian markets or and Asian business looking to reach out to Europe and the States, we have the platform to make that easier, whether it be with free trade agreements or experts that can help.

There are plenty of funding opportunities for businesses in Singapore but which businesses tend to get the most investment?

The investment area is really broad. I think what we’ve seen is that the Fintech area has really picked up along with cyberecurity. I think the reason for that is that it falls very well with this basis of trust. During a recent round of awards I’ve seen personally a number of solutions around cyber security and around fraud and you can see how that’s originated.

Moving forward I think we are going to a lot more examples of how more traditional businesses can be disrupted. For example how logistics can be disrupted to improve operations along with traditionally human focused jobs can be replaced with technology.

How does media fit into your smart nation plan?

Media overlaps with many areas for us. One example would be in education where we see media having a big role to play. We’re currently looking at how AR and VR can enhance the learning process, not only in schools, but for professionals too. Whether for medical training or for fire departments, it allows training to take place in a completely safe environment, it allows them to practice and go through the process in this virtual environment before they are put into a ‘live’ environment.

We also see media in terms of overall culture and mind set and embracing those changes in technology and media has a big part to play socially in Singapore. Through media people can interact and engage with technology platforms in a much less intimidating way and a much more intuitive way. One example that we are looking at in the AR/VR space is serious games. For example with PokémonGo you can encourage behaviours through technology, so for a health application you can encourage people to go for a walk or apply it to tourism to enrich a persons travel experience. If individuals were to visit any place in Singapore and you could create trails that tell you about where you’re visiting or that you could share with your friends. Through this sort of technology you could also improve shopping experience for both tourists and locals. We really see there being huge opportunities in Singapore in this area.

What mentoring is available to startups?

In all the startup spaces that we have created we want to make sure you’re not on your own. Members have access to mentors and experts that can help you that have walked the path before. Mentoring can take a formal or informal route from sit down meetings and goals, to catch-ups and networking events with more experienced business people.

We really believe that without the mentorship startups are less likely to succeed, we want to see them not making the same mistakes that others have, and learning from other people as well as themselves. We want to raise the bar and shorten the learning curve that startups need to go through. For foreign startups coming into Singapore, they can get advice on their target market, advice looking at consumer preferences, and the dynamics at play in those markets. Again this mentorship can be as part of a formal mentorship program and informal in terms of networking.

Singapore is a notoriously expensive country, what are you doing to encourage startups to move Singapore?

Singapore is expensive, and we know we can’t compete on cost alone, but we can compete on value. So whilst you may pay a premium when you come to Singapore we are aiming to make sure that it’s worth it.

Firstly, the culture in Singapore is a vibrant; it’s an exciting place. We’ve worked hard to build an ecosystem that startups can thrive in. Whilst you may be able to go to other places around the world that are cheaper you might end up paying the long run when it comes to things like IP and legal costs if you develop something. In Singapore we are set up in a way to help businesses register and grow their businesses. We are very strict on IP protection and have a good legal system that makes sure everything is fair, and the culture is very embracive of new business.

What advantages would businesses have setting up in Singapore?

We have a network of free trade agreements throughout the globe which allows businesses to set up in Singapore and trade easily around the world. That gives Singapore registered companies some advantages compared to other locations. For example, in media some countries have policies against foreign content, however if you were to do a co-production in Singapore your content would be seen as local and allows startups to access more markets.

We also have Accreditation @IMDA which allows companies to get accredited with IMDA, with this they are able to show prospective clients that they are a gold standard of business and able to complete the job, therefore they are more likely to get more business in Asia.

The aim of Accreditation @IMDA is to make choosing suppliers easier. Given how vibrant the ecosystem is it can be a bit confusing. How do you pick a company to work with when there are so many to pick from? To tackle the problem we wanted to set up a network of tech companies that are scalable. The accreditation scheme enables us to identify promising companies; they then take part in a coaching and a mentoring program where we are able to work with them on everything from finance to scaling. A company that goes through this program and then gets accreditation has, in essence, a stamp of approval from us.

It’s a special program, it’s really about disruptive technology and looking for those businesses that are finding new and innovative solutions to traditionally and emerging industries. VC’s are starting to look at whether companies have accreditation status as part of the valuation process as well now Singapore.


Singapore is extremely vibrant and disruptive and we really see digital technology as the future and IMDA is really trying to driving that process and to do that across the whole digital framework. And it’s not just in tech but across all ages of the population, socio-economic groups and genders, it’s about improving the lives of all the residents in Singapore. It’s a big challenge and a very exciting one. ‘Empowering opportunities for everyone’ is our tagline and it really is the basis of the program. Looking at how we can create opportunities for people, up skill people to get better jobs and provide technology that makes peoples lives better.