Singapore can be a gateway to Asia with its tech expertise and business-friendly environment.
Through a new office opening in London by the Infocomm Investments Pte Ltd, Singapore can provide a gateway for UK firms into the rest of Asia with its tech expertise and ability to provide a holistic view of how tomorrow’s technology can flourish in a city.
“We’d like to be a gateway for [Western] companies who want to expand into Asia, to address the rising affluence here, and the mobile-savvy population,” said Mr Steve Leonard, Executive Deputy Chairman of Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA). Infocomm Investments, or IIPL, is an investment arm of IDA.
While the number of smart cities globally continues to grow, Singapore might be one of just a handful that can be a smart nation because of its size, he said. The country’s size and built-out infrastructure allows for a holistic view of its people and nationwide effect of government policies, he added.
Mr Leonard was addressing a delegation of British and local tech companies and investors at the Cambridge Connection 2014 event, a tech sector trade mission.
Highlighting the country’s investments towards its smart nation plan, Mr Leonard pointed to Singapore’s next-generation nationwide broadband network (NBN), which currently covers 95 per cent of the island. This will be complemented with the planned sensor fabric network to form a comprehensive communications platform, marrying fixed and wireless technologies, he said.
“We’re on a rampage to build,” he noted. “We’d love to work with anybody that can help us explore, innovate and create, and to have Singapore as a lab because we’re interested in issues like health and public safety.”
Mr John Davies, ICT sector specialist with the UK Trade & Investment government department, said these priorities align with several of the UK’s big technology focus areas. The “big eight” priorities for the UK are regenerative medicine, synthetic biology, big data, satellite technology, energy storage, robotics, agricultural science, and advanced materials.
Like other top world powers, the UK is trying to figure out how new technology can fit into the rapid urbanisation of its cities, explained Mr Davies. In 2012, the UK hit 90 percent urbanisation, and staying low carbon with high tech is a pressing priority, he said.
“I would describe the UK’s national picture as very fragmented. We face huge challenges in linking all of the industries,” he said.
He believes medium-sized companies in the UK will have a good chance of expanding into much larger firms when they embark on their Asian expansions, because they have the requisite processes in place. “We’re targeting high-value opportunities internationally,” said Mr Davies.
Dr Alex Lin, head of Infocomm Investments, an IDA subsidiary, noted that Singapore’s multicultural environment can be a great boon to foreign firms trying to “test drive” their hypotheses about expanding into Asia.
He nodded towards Chinese company Tencent when it first released its messaging app, WeChat. The company had only launched its service in China initially and took time to iron out the kinks in catering to a broader Asian market. This priority given to cultural sensitivity paid off, Dr Lin said, noting that WeChat’s base of 100 million users exploded to 400 million in the two years since it launched globally.
“For anyone who’s thinking of going global, Singapore and London are good choices because you’re exposed to many cultures,” he said.
Mr Patrick Farrant, head of technology at Taylor Vinters, said the ability to connect innovative companies can multiply the effect of what they are able to achieve in solos. This “hotspot” effect can add to the different moving parts of the tech investment ecosystem, which includes public sector funding, angel networks, crowd funding, venture capital, and corporate venture funds.
Mr Farrant said: “Success breeds success. Investment money is vitally important, but the networks are crucial too.”
Countries: Asia Pacific, Singapore, and South East Asia