Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. A very good morning to all of you. I am delighted to join you at UNICON 2019 today. For the second year running, UNICON has brought together more than 400 participants, many of whom are students, who are passionate about technology and entrepreneurship.
Growing an Entrepreneurial Society
2. I am glad to see the strong interest in entrepreneurship amongst our youth. This conference itself is a good example of an entrepreneurial initiative. It was started and driven by a core team of students, with the mission to inspire the next generation of startups. The organisers used their resourcefulness and entrepreneurial skills to secure speakers and guests, and raise funds for the event from sponsors or ticket sales. There is a lot of hard work involved and many hurdles to overcome. I commend Mr Bryan Tay and his team for taking on this challenge and congratulate them on their achievements, well done!
3. The theme for UNICON 2019 is “The Entrepreneurial Journey”. We will hear personal stories of entrepreneurs in Singapore who have grown their startups and expanded abroad. Their stories inspire and motivate us, as we know the journey can be daunting when you take a road less travelled, and not all startups succeed. In fact, many fail. And some fail repeatedly before they achieve any success.
4. Yet, despite these odds, I am heartened that many budding entrepreneurs continue to soldier on because you dare to dream and you believe in your visions for the future. Beyond building successful businesses, what is also valuable for us as a society is to develop a strong entrepreneurial spirit amongst our people, which includes a “never-say-die” attitude, the courage to take calculated risks, the creativity to develop innovative solutions and the resourcefulness and tenacity to pull it all together. The late management guru, Mr Peter Drucker, referred to this as an “entrepreneurial society” in his book entitled “Innovation and Entrepreneurship”.
Nurturing a Thriving Startup Ecosystem
5. Under the Startup SG umbrella, Enterprise Singapore works with industry and community partners to develop a vibrant startup ecosystem with access to mentorship, financing and overseas networks. This includes Startup SG Founder which provides first-time entrepreneurs with seed funding and capability-building support through accredited mentor partners. This initiative has supported startups such as Speedoc, which works like ‘Grab for doctors’ to provide quick and convenient home medical care through its network of on-demand house-call doctors. A year after Speedoc was founded, it was selected as one of four service providers to join the Ministry of Health’s telemedicine regulatory sandbox in 2018.
6. As part of Startup SG, JTC’s LaunchPad puts startups together with supporting stakeholders such as research institutions, venture capitalists, incubators and accelerators. Today, we have around 800 startups in Launchpad. One of them is WateROAM, which was founded in 2014 by three NUS students, Mr David Pong, Mr Vincent Loka and Mr Lim Chong Tee. It develops water filtration solutions to provide access to clean drinking water in rural areas and disaster-hit locations. WateRoam was incubated by NUS Enterprise and had “graduated” to take up their own space within the Launchpad last year. It now has a team of 12 and sells its products in 14 countries.
7. Last September, Enterprise Singapore also launched the Startup SG Network. This is a national database of startups, accelerators and investors in Singapore’s tech startup community. The purpose is to facilitate networking and match-making. There are currently around 3,000 listings in the directory, and this number will continue to grow over time.
8. The Government also supports innovative business ideas by reviewing our rules to provide a pro-enterprise regulatory environment. The Pro-Enterprise Panel (PEP) chaired by the Head of the Civil Service, works with businesses and public sector agencies to review Government rules. I am involved in the PEP process to provide backing at the political leadership level, and where necessary, getting support from Cabinet colleagues on the proposed rule changes.
9. So this is not an administrative exercise that we delegate to junior colleagues, the political office holders and Public Service Leadership are actively involved in the PEP rules review. We do it this way because we know that policy and rule changes cannot be done at the operational level alone, they need approval from senior management. And importantly, if we want to develop a culture in our public sector agencies that supports innovation, risk-taking and entrepreneurship, the tone must be set by the top.
10. Early last year, I came across the story of 3 Engineering students from NTU – Mr Rahul Immandira, Mr Abilash Subbaraman and Mr Heetesh Alwani. They had experimented with different beer brewing techniques in their hostel and shared their beer, which they call “Binjai Brew”, with their friends. Unfortunately, they were stopped by NTU as they did not have a licence to brew beer on campus. I met the 3 students for dinner as I wanted to find out more about their plans and see how the PEP can support them. As some of you may know, they have since partnered a micro-brewery to produce their beer and Binjai Brew is now available in Singapore with 3 different flavours. I have tried their beer, it is very good.
11. During our conversations over dinner, Rahul, Abilash and Heetesh shared one feedback with me. They asked if the regulatory entry barrier for micro-breweries could be lowered to allow more entrepreneurs like themselves to test out new products without incurring high entry costs. It also helps to reduce the cost of failure, if the new idea does not work well and the entrepreneur needs to exit quickly.
12. My colleagues and I thought this was a good suggestion. We followed up with Singapore Customs to do a review. Previously, micro-breweries paid the same annual fee as large-scale breweries which was around $43,000. With the rise in micro-brewery activities in Singapore, Singapore Customs introduced a micro-brewery licence with a lower annual fee of $8,400 in 2012. This licence also allows new or smaller businesses to work with existing breweries to produce beer, and market-test flavours before deciding to expand commercially.
13. We will make a further move to reduce the entry barriers in this sector. I am pleased to announce that Singapore Customs will amend their licensing framework from 1 May 2019 to allow a new entrant to pay pro-rated fees based on the length of the licence. For example, a business can now apply for a 3-month licence for $2,100, instead of the annual licence for $8,400. If a business exits before 3 months, Customs will refund any ‘unused’ licence fee on a pro-rated basis. In other words, a start-up only needs to pay for the duration when they are in operation instead of forking out a lump sum for the annual licence, when it is not certain at the beginning how long they will remain in business. This lowers the entry barrier and reduces the cost of early exit.
14. I would like to thank Singapore Customs for being very open-minded to new ideas and taking a pro-business approach in their licensing. This idea of lowering entry barriers to encourage entrepreneurship can also be applied to other regulatory licences. I encourage the business community and our government agencies to work together with PEP to explore these possibilities.
15. Let me conclude with a quote from Mr Peter Drucker. He said, “the best way to predict the future is to create it”. Entrepreneurship is about creating the future. By working together and supporting our entrepreneurs, we are collectively investing in our future.
16. Thank you.