PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong has called on leading entrepreneurs and investors from around the world to use Singapore as a test bed for solutions to urban challenges such as healthcare, transport and an ageing population.
While other countries face similar challenges, he said Singapore has an edge as it can quickly test prototypes and scale up projects because of its compact size and ability to get such scaling done.
"And if you can make it work in Singapore, you can get it to work in other contexts. If it doesn't work in Singapore, then it's worth a re-think," he added.
This was how Singapore pioneered electronic road pricing and carved out a niche in water-purification technologies, which became examples for others to follow, he said. "We are embarking on our Smart Nation journey with the same determination."
Mr Lee was speaking to more than 200 local and foreign investors, entrepreneurs and corporate bigwigs at a dinner last night to launch an event called Founders Forum Smart Nation Singapore, to be held at Raffles Hotel today.
He did his wooing on the verdant grounds of the Istana. Fleshing out Singapore's Smart Nation initiative launched last year to find ways for technology to solve social and economic problems, he said it has three key areas.
These are healthcare for the elderly, transport, and a safe and secure data marketplace.
With technology, the elderly can live independently when sensors, mobile apps and remote monitoring are integrated for them to connect with one another as well as stay in touch with relatives.
For commuters, it can give reliable and timely transport information for them to plan their journeys efficiently.
And for firms, Singapore wants to be a centre where they can easily and safely tap data to get insights on, say, consumer trends.
But for Singapore to make a quantum leap to becoming a Smart Nation, an entrepreneurial culture is crucial, said Mr Lee, adding that it is starting to flourish.
The Launchpad, Singapore's start-up enclave in Ayer Rajah, is "almost full, with start-ups, incubators and venture capitalists".
But he wants even more talent, noting that many Singaporeans hold key engineering positions in Silicon Valley in California.
"We need more of them back home. We have to attract the best and the most dynamic - Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans - to come to tackle ambitious projects and to start up their companies here," Mr Lee said.
The Government is leading the way by upgrading its engineering and IT schemes, and changing the way organisations work by creating small teams to work on interesting problems.
Company founders at the dinner, which is part of a series of events this week to advance Singapore's goal to be a Smart Nation, said Mr Lee's words had inspired them to look at the Republic as a destination for tech innovation and investment.
Ms Viktoriya Tigipko, founding partner of venture capital firm TA Ventures, said her discussions with venture capitalists and entrepreneurs here confirmed Singapore had many opportunities in her interest areas of healthcare for the elderly, transport and financial technology.
"I will fund start-ups here focused on doing business in South-east Asia. Singapore is a good hub for the region, the Government is supportive and there is affordable office space and other services," she said.
Mr Michael Birch, co-founder of social network Bebo, said Singapore is on the right track in making it very apparent that it wants investors and entrepreneurs to come here and do business.
"The Prime Minister's speech is also very clear the Government supports entrepreneurship."
This article was first published on April 21, 2015.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.