Singapore's transformation into a global city was likened yesterday to the way a start-up evolves.
Its founders, led by the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, had the imagination and vision that needed to be translated into action by hard- working and disciplined people, said Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, the Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation initiative.
Dr Balakrishnan, who was part of a panel session discussing innovation and Singapore at the Innovfest Unbound conference yesterday, recounted a telling anecdote.
"About 12 years ago, I was on a cruise with the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew to the Southern Islands here. As we were returning to Singapore, we saw the panoramic skyline of the city. I asked Mr Lee how he felt about Singapore's development," said Dr Balakrishnan.
"I thought he was going to say something about imagination and vision.
"His answer was, 'It's the hard-working and disciplined people who built all this.'"
Likewise, it is not enough for start-ups to have great ideas and vision - they must also be actionable.
A fellow panellist, National University of Singapore (NUS) professor Tan Chorh Chuan, said Singapore is an extremely good place for innovation because it had invested in education, which has provided talent, and an enlightened political leadership that has created a conducive environment for innovation and entrepreneurship.
While Dr Balakrishnan feels that Singapore cannot replicate Silicon Valley, the country has other attributes.
The minister noted that it is located in Asia, the world's fastest-growing region in the world, and is hyper-connected, with many submarine cables linking Singapore to the rest of the world.
Besides, half the members of the Cabinet are engineers and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is a mathematician who can also code.
"So we get it, we understand high-tech."
Because of this, Singapore is an important part of the "digital Silk Road" helping companies plug in to other parts of the world.
Mr Yossi Vardi, founder of high-tech conference firm AcreWhite, asked at the session what aspects of Singapore's success could be adopted in other countries.
"What is transferable is technology, teams and access to global markets," answered Dr Balakrishnan.
Water technology is an example. Singapore technology proved that drinking water can be obtained from sea water via reverse osmosis.
Today, about 55 per cent of drinking water here is generated by this technology.
"This is transferable. We took a technology, prototyped it, upscaled it and commercialised it. Today, our water companies' calling card is that they have solved our water problem," added Dr Balakrishnan.
AcreWhite co-organised Innovfest with NUS Enterprise, the entrepreneurship unit of the NUS.
Innovfest is the largest tech event to be held here in recent years. About 2,700 investors, entrepreneurs, policymakers and corporate executives are attending this two-day event ending today. More than 250 start-ups are exhibiting their products and services.
About 12 years ago, I was on a cruise with the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew to the Southern Islands here. As we were returning to Singapore, we saw the panoramic skyline of the city. I asked Mr Lee how he felt about Singapore's development. I thought he was going to say something about imagination and vision. His answer was, 'It's the hard-working and disciplined people who built all this.'
- Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, the Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation initiative
This article was first published on April 29, 2015.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.