Speech by SMS Koh Poh Koon at SLINGSHOT Awards Ceremony 2019

Speech by SMS Koh Poh Koon at SLINGSHOT Awards Ceremony 2019

Mr Peter Ong, Chairman, Enterprise Singapore, 


Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. It gives me great pleasure to join you this afternoon for SLINGSHOT 2019. I would first like to congratulate all the SLINGSHOT Top 100 Global Startups across the six sector tracks. You have emerged as the best among more than 2,400 applicants from over 20 countries, and have just gone through three intense days of pitching. Whatever the results, I hope that you will be inspired to forge ahead in your entrepreneurship journeys after this year’s competition. 

2. Startups are a key engine of innovation. By creating new products and services to address unmet market needs, startups are able to transform existing industries, create new industries, and catalyse the shift towards an innovation-driven economy. 

3. This is particularly important for Singapore given our small domestic market and limited natural resources. Our competitiveness in the next bound of our economic growth will depend on our ability to produce sophisticated offerings, through harnessing cutting-edge technology and advanced skills. Startups are the key drivers for this. We introduced Startup SG in 2017 to bring together our startup support initiatives and make it easier for startups to gain access to the resources they need to commercialise their ideas and scale their businesses. These include the Startup SG Network to connect startups within the ecosystem, Startup SG Grants, Loans and Equity for startups’ financing needs, and Startup SG Accelerator to support incubators and accelerators that catalyse growth opportunities for high-potential startups. 

4. Today, we have a vibrant startup ecosystem in Singapore. We are consistently ranked among the top 15 global startup ecosystems by Startup Genome, which assesses factors such as the market reach, talent and funding for startups. We are also ranked top in Asia in both the International Property Rights Index 2019 and the Global Innovation Index 2019, which affirm our efforts in fostering a pro-innovation and business-friendly environment. 

5. Singapore will continuously innovate and challenge ourselves to do better to become a global startup hub. In particular, I would like to elaborate on three focus areas: (i) growing the deep tech startup ecosystem, (ii) ensuring access to talent, and (iii) connecting to the region and the world. 

Growing the Deep Tech Startup Ecosystem

6. Deep tech startups have innovative proprietary technologies, research or hardware, which require significant developmental efforts such as product design and prototyping, product testing and clinical trials before they can be commercialised. As their value proposition cannot be easily replicated, deep tech startups are better able to retain a strong competitive advantage. 

7. The Singapore Government has committed S$19 billion through the Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2020 Plan for research and translation in four strategic domains over 2016 to 2020 in Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering, Health and Biomedical Sciences, Urban Solutions and Sustainability, and Services and Digital Economy. A key thrust under the plan is to collaborate with the private sector, including startups, to commercialise and unlock the value of our research. 

8. In particular, for deep tech startups, the ecosystem in Singapore is becoming more mature:

a) Our universities are doing more to support scientists and engineers to translate their ideas into products that can be commercialised. For example, the National University of Singapore (NUS) introduced the Graduate Research Innovation Programme (GRIP) to seed, incubate and launch deep tech startups by their PhD students. Venture builder Antler partnered NUS GRIP to launch an executive programme last week to enable more entrepreneurs to build successful deep tech startups. 

b) Other partners such as TrendLines Medical Singapore, Esco Ventures, and JCS Ventures, also support existing deep tech startups in their growth journey, with their networks and expertise in areas such as medtech and agri-food tech.

c) Enterprise Singapore works closely with these partners. Under a pilot collaboration with NUS GRIP and TrendLines Medical Singapore, deep tech startups under their respective accelerator and venture building programmes can tap on the Startup SG Tech grant more expediently for Proof-of-Concept and Proof-of-Value trials. If this is successful, Enterprise Singapore will expand this initiative so that more deep tech startups can benefit. 

9. I am happy to note that deep tech startups in Singapore have attracted growing interest from investors. In the first 9 months of 2019, over S$400 million was invested in startups in Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering, Health and Biomedical Sciences, and Urban Solutions and Sustainability. This is a 25% increase from the same period last year. While this is still a small amount compared to the total investment of S$13.4 billion into startups in Singapore in the first 9 months of 2019, it is an encouraging sign that deep tech funding is increasing. 

10. We will also develop more platforms to showcase our deep tech startups and connect them to corporations for co-innovation and investors for financing. In this year’s SLINGSHOT, five of the six sector tracks are in deep tech sectors. The number of applications received from deep tech startups more than doubled, from around 600 out of 1,000 in 2018 to 1,500 out of 2,400 this year. 

11. We will build on this momentum to further develop the deep tech startup ecosystem in Singapore.

Ensuring Access to Talent

12. Next, I will touch on talent, which is critical for translating good ideas into viable businesses. 

13. According to the Global Talent Competitiveness Index 2019, Singapore is ranked top in Asia and second in the world, behind Switzerland. Our Institutes of Higher Learning produce high-quality entrepreneurial and tech talent equipped with industry-relevant skills, which startups can tap on to grow their teams in Singapore. 

14. In addition, deep tech startups in Singapore can leverage the strong technical expertise in our ecosystem: 

a) Under the T-Up programme, researchers and engineers from A*STAR research institutes can be seconded to startups to support deep tech projects.

b) The IP Intermediary (IPI), an ESG affiliate, has a team of tech specialists with expertise across a wide range of industries and tech domains to help companies refine their tech roadmap and access new innovation and technologies. 

c) In the area of artificial intelligence (AI), AI Singapore has a strong team of AI engineers to help companies accelerate the adoption of AI. 

15. We also recognise that innovation flourishes best with people of diverse skillsets and experiences. We welcome founders with innovative ideas. Promising global startup founders can tap on the EntrePass work scheme to base their startups and scale up in Singapore. 

Connecting to the Region and the World

16. It is an exciting time for startups in Singapore. By coming to Singapore, you can access growth opportunities not just in Singapore, but in the region as well. 

17. Southeast Asia is expected to become the fourth largest economy in the world by 2030. The region has a population of over 600 million, with an average age around 30 years old, who will be more open to trying out the innovative products and services offered by startups. In particular, the value of the digital economy in the region is expected to grow three-fold, from around S$135 billion last year to S$400 billion in 2025. The state of innovation in the region is at an inflexion point. We welcome companies to partner us in capturing this immense potential – through co-developing new products and services, or jointly venturing into these dynamic markets.

18. For instance, three of the cities in our Global Innovation Alliance (GIA) are located in Southeast Asia – Bangkok, Jakarta and Ho Chi Minh City. The GIA aims to strengthen our connectivity with innovation hubs around the world. Besides Southeast Asia, the GIA also provides links to the rest of Asia, such as Tokyo, Beijing, and Bangalore, and to Europe and the US, such as Berlin and San Francisco. Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat has just announced London as the newest addition to our GIA networks this morning. The GIA network also helps global high-growth startups to locate and co-innovate in Singapore. Through the GIA network, startups based in Singapore can deploy their solutions to the region or the rest of the world, and identify opportunities to collaborate with partners in addressing global problem statements.

Closing remarks

19. I hope that all of you have forged meaningful connections at SLINGSHOT and SFFxSWITCH, and will continue to be plugged into Singapore’s vibrant startup ecosystem. I would like to once again congratulate all the Top 100 Global Startups on your achievements, and I wish you continued success.

20. Thank you.  

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