Compass points to S'pore for start-ups

For entrepreneurs looking for a place to kick-start a business, Singapore could be a better bet than Paris, Toronto or Sydney.

However, they would have to contend with the difficulty in hiring skilled workers, as well as a lack of openness and sharing among the start-up community.

In a report by US business analytics company Compass, Singapore's start-up environment came in 10th and ahead of cities such as Paris, Toronto and Sydney. It is also a seven-place leap from 2012, when the last report was issued.

The report, titled Global Start-up Ecosystem Ranking 2015, attributed Singapore's good standing to strong government support, strategic geographical location and deep ties with other Asian markets.

But it noted that the local start-up ecosystem faces a talent crunch, with a lack of experienced computer engineers. The report did not include China, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, citing a lack of data due to language barriers.

Members of the local start-up community The Straits Times spoke to agreed with the bullish take of the report on Singapore.

One entrepreneur who has benefited from the flourishing start-up ecosystem is political science graduate Keith Tan who, 21/2 years ago, raised $100,000 from grants, business plan competitions and investors to launch Start Now, which provides management software for the social sector.

"When we started out, it was easy to get that first thrust of funding. There are a lot of financing options, and a lot of investors are familiar with Singapore and have a presence here," said the 26- year-old.

Mr Christopher Quek, 37, director of pro bono incubator Angels Gate Advisory, said: "There are definitely more investors now in the Singapore ecosystem, thanks to the many government investment and grant schemes."

One of the agencies which has been instrumental in administering these grants is enterprise development agency Spring Singapore.

Mr Edwin Chow, Spring's group director of industry and enterprise, said: "The Singapore's start-up ecosystem is well placed for growth... With a greater level of involvement from the private sector, we hope to position Singapore as a major start- up hub in the future."


The healthy financial environment also provides ample opportunities for an exit plan. In July, Mr Tan sold Start Now for a "mid six-figure sum" to a private equity fund.

But although his start-up journey was a relatively smooth one, he has found hiring staff to be a challenge - a factor which was also highlighted in the Compass report.

"A fresh computer engineering grad with no experience can command as much as $6,000 a month, but if you offshore the work to Indonesia, a very skilled engineer with over 10 years of experience costs just $1,800 to hire," he said.

Another challenge is the lack of an open and sharing culture.

"There are still many people... who think their idea is very special and unique, and are unwilling to share for fear that others will try to replicate it," said Mr Aloysius Ang, 25, who will be launching handmade and vintage marketplace mobile app Thinges in September.

An entrepreneur who is trying to change this mindset is Mr Thomas Wong, 35, founder of data analytics company ORT Solutions. He hopes to do so by creating a community space at HubQuarters on the fourth floor of Scape for folks in the start- up industry to interact, network and exchange ideas.

"If there are newer companies, we can help them by introducing them to various parts of the ecosystem," he said, adding that besides funding, there needs to be a shift in culture and mindset to support entrepreneurship in Singapore.

This article was first published on Aug 12, 2015.
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