Singapore needs to boast about its entrepreneurial success

Singapore needs to boast about its entrepreneurial success

Singapore and London can use more "buzz" to promote their technology ecosystems to the world - though each is already an innovation and finance hub in its own right, said Eileen Burbidge, the UK government's first Special Envoy for FinTech, and venture capital partner at Passion Capital.

"Tech is a noisy industry, just look at (what's happening on) Twitter," she told BT in an interview. While the buzz can be a distraction, it is legitimate when "something happens", she said, which in the startup world could entail a successful fundraise, an exit, or even a favourable review of a new product.

But compared to Silicon Valley, London and Singapore are "not boasting enough" about their entrepreneurial successes, said Ms Burbidge. And investors care for buzz, which can also spur ambition and competition among entrepreneurs, she added.

Asked why London is excelling as a fintech hub, she said: "London combines the innovation of Silicon Valley with the financing heritage of New York's Wall Street and the policy-making of Washington - all in one city."

Plus, the UK government genuinely supports entrepreneurship, she pointed out. "The 2007/2008 financial crisis crippled London's services industry, and London doesn't want to go through that again. So the government encourages companies to embrace innovation, and recognises that this is an ecosystem."

For instance, the UK now leads the world in equity crowdfunding, an industry that has matured and burgeoned owing to "progressive" policy-making by regulators, said Ms Burbidge. Retail investors in the UK are allowed to invest in companies in exchange for shares - an act reserved only for accredited investors elsewhere - though they must certify that they are not committing more than a 10th of their net investable assets.

While the US is reportedly following the UK's lead, other countries, such as Singapore, remain wary. Said Ms Burbidge: "It's tricky. Singapore is being more protective (of its retail investors) and is still testing the waters . . . It's got to let it happen and see how it pans out."

Policies and standards should not be enemies of innovation, according to Steve Leonard, executive deputy chairman of the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA).

He had pitched this last December to an innovation festival audience at unBOUND London 2015, an event that observers said capped off a good year of fraternising between Singapore and London, the two cities having forged stronger synergies in tech and entrepreneurship.

unBOUND, for instance, was organised by Singapore- and London-based tech conference producer AcreWhite, and supported in great measure by Singapore companies, which include Singtel Innov8, NUS Enterprise, IDA and IDA's venture arm Infocomm Investments (IIPL).

Jeremy Basset, head of the Unilever Foundry and a speaker at unBOUND, pointed out: "Just as Singapore is the hub to test interesting opportunities and business models for South-east Asia, London is the gateway to Europe."

For that reason, the London-based corporate innovation platform, which connects startups to Unilever's over 400 consumer brands, in January 2015 set up shop in Singapore - its fourth market after the UK, Australia and the Philippines.

Entrepreneur First (EF), another London-based initiative, a "pre-idea, pre-team" startup accelerator that finds and grooms the best technical individuals into entrepreneurs, is also considering a launch in Singapore.

Co-founder Alice Bentinck said: "I visited Singapore (in 2014) and was impressed. There are good universities and good technical talent. The startup ecosystem is also in its nascent stage like where Britain was three years ago." Last July, EF raised £8.5 million (S$17.7 million) in a funding round in which IIPL participated.

Then there was the 2015 Founders Forum (FF) Smart Nation Singapore launch in April, organised by IDA and FF (a London-based private network of tech entrepreneurs) to invite global tech influencers to join Singapore in discussions on Smart Nation. That had been FF's first meeting in Asia.

This article was first published on January 4, 2016.
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