Digital Skills Academy
Singapore: Smart Cities, Startups and Innovation

Singapore: Smart Cities, Startups and Innovation

Singapore is a lively city state of 5.5 million people with a serious reputation for financial prosperity and business acumen. In this blog post we look at Singapore from a smart city, startups and innovation perspective. We also share some key takeaways and insights for our readers across the globe to consider in relation to their own businesses.

Look outward, have a regional and global strategy

Singaporeans work hard. They declared independence from Malaysia in 1965. Since then, and despite having very few natural resources,and no local water supply, the country has become a financial powerhouse of both South East Asia and globally. In the current era of tech inspired startups (both software and hardware) location is becoming less of a limitation to your business. This enables anyone, anywhere, potentially, the opportunity to compete globally if you can create a compelling product or service.

Singapore has actually benefitted from its relatively small size to enable it to have a clear overall strategy regarding the goals it wishes to achieve. There is a strong ethos on working collaboratively. Government, universities and businesses all work closely together to try to ensure good ideas are developed and turned into viable commercial products.

Be aware of your limitations, and aim to maximise your talents

Singapore had few natural resources but has become a world leader for global commerce, finance and transport by focussing on doing a few things well. Their natural, deep water harbour provided the opportunity to attract global shipping, and then a secure and stable economy enabled Singapore to become an attractive location for regional and global banking outlets.

Despite previous success, innovation and creativity remain important for future success too

Singapore’s education system ranks very highly in the world. However, children also spend long hours in school and have high levels of homework. As Singapore now looks to embrace an entrepreneurial and startup culture, it is a question whether this thinking can be fostered from the top downwards. Singapore as a nation faces the classic challenge of whether an industry leader (think of Nokia and any other business undercut by newer more nimble competitors) can successfully manage to remain competitive and relevant over time.

If you are small, it’s important to think big

Singapore has a great location as an entry point into the larger economies around it, while offering a base with a high level of security and low corruption levels. The country has a number of different indigenous ethnic groups, further added to by the large number of residents from the near neighbours of Indonesia, Malaysia and other close neighbours. This has ensured a pragmatic approach to dealing with different beliefs and practices. Further afield you have Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, and then the mega neighbours China and India. This complex patchwork of interests has forced Singapore to follow a careful and strategic approach to building and promoting its businesses by developing good relationships with as many of them as possible.

Realise that cultural diversity in your business is a strategic advantage when working in diverse markets

In terms of people, within the country there are at least four main languages spoken and different ethnic groups represented. As well as their Asian neighbours, there are also large numbers of westerners who have chosen to relocate here to do business. All of this means that when building teams to deal with nearby but varied markets there is the opportunity to hire people with relevant local insights and connections. Pursuing a culturally diverse team within your organisation therefore becomes a highly logical and strategic policy to follow.

Lessons to learn and apply to your own startup, wherever you are based

These factors cited, dealing with many different countries, and building a culturally diverse team are smart business moves wherever you may be based. Many companies have successfully grown out of Singapore, Ireland, Finland and other coutries with smaller population bases. This is due to companies recognising the need to look globally for their markets. 

Look to do as well as possible in the markets you chose to enter. Question very carefully if they are the right places for you to locate and how much time and resources you are willing to spend to get your desired market share.

Re-invest profits to build the company. For a country that is barely more than fifty years old it has built a massive amount of infrastructure. The number of active cranes show the rate of activity is unlikely to slow up anytime soon. Singapore itself has grown by 23% (130km squared) through land reclamation schemes to maximise the landmass available to it. Singapore does not have all the answers for successful business development but it certainly provides some interesting approaches to consider.