Transcript of Opening Remarks by Minister Chan Chun Sing at a Visit to 'The Greenhouse' at Singapore Management University

Transcript of Opening Remarks by Minister Chan Chun Sing at a Visit to 'The Greenhouse' at Singapore Management University

             A very good morning to all of you. Perhaps just a bit of a recap of why we are here today. Last week, both Minister Josephine Teo and myself said that we will give you regular updates on how we intend to make sure that our economy is ready for the next lap of growth. And at the same time, how we will continue to provide good opportunities for our people, especially amidst this difficult period.

2.           If you recall, I mentioned three buckets of targeted help for three different segments of companies. The first are those companies with good potential and their markets are growing - we will strengthen support to help them grow faster and create better jobs. The second category we talked about are those companies whose market is likely to recover and we are going to help them to preserve their capabilities, while consolidating their capacities. The third category of companies are those that require them to pivot to new markets, and new product ranges.

3.           So today, we are focusing on the first set of companies. And within that first set of companies there are two subsets of companies that we are trying to attract and grow in Singapore. The first set has to do with the established companies who we want to encourage to plant their investments in Singapore. This includes both the local and the foreign enterprises.

4.           Two nights ago, Minister Teo and myself were on the EDB International Advisory Panel and the International Advisory Panel gave us very good feedback on how we can position Singapore as a critical node in the new economy, during COVID and post COVID. In fact, one of the feedback they gave us - almost every one of them gave us this feedback - was that we should play to our strengths, as a place where we are trusted, with consistent and coherent rules, where we are connected with the world. If anything, they were very confident of our position as a global hub. In fact, many of them think that our status as a global hub or a global node will be enhanced through this COVID-19 situation. So we were encouraged to hear that.

5.           We will talk more about that on another day. But today we want to focus on the startup scene in Singapore, and how we are going to encourage and support more, and better quality startups in Singapore.

6.           We are determined to grow a new generation of companies from Singapore to serve not just the Singapore market, but also the regional and global markets. In every crisis, there are always opportunities for us to grow a new generation of companies. And this crisis is no different. We have embarked on this journey even before COVID-19, but with COVID-19 we have accelerated many of these efforts to help our startups to grow and to penetrate new markets. So today we are very happy to come to SMU. It's not just SMU working with ESG[1] to help the startups. In fact today, present with us, we have the other autonomous universities, including NUS, NTU[2], SMU, SUTD[3], SUSS[4]; all in this ecosystem to help our startups to do better.

7.           Now, let me share with you some of the things that we are going to do. And then let me also share with you some of the observations I have of the local startup scene and how we want to do better.

8.           If you look at the startup scene today, from the projects that have been introduced to us and shared with us, you will see the following. Today, it is a very vibrant startup scene. Quite a few things have changed in Singapore. Number one, the range of startups has definitely widened. It is no longer just about internet platforms for example. Today, you have startups with deep technologies in diverse fields.Just now, we were shown startups in water technology, identification technologies and a bioproduct, milk. You see a diverse range of startups compared to just internet technologies and platformsy. And we are very encouraged by that. It shows the kind of challenges and problems that our people are prepared to go forth and solve, and grapple with. And that will give us a much more robust and resilient ecosystem.

9.           So that's the first thing. The second thing I think both Minister Teo and myself observed,was that in the past, it may be quite conventional for people to say that when I finish university, I want to look for a job in an established company. But that culture has actually changed quite a bit. In fact, I think from the feedback that Lily[5] and many startup founders tell us, today the young people have very diverse aspirations. They want to solve real-world problems. They are not satisfied just with trying to get a job in someone else's company. In fact, they are not fearful to go and do some of these things themselves. And I think later you will hear from some of the startup entrepreneurs, the venture capitalists and of course the universities, of this very subtle, yet significant change in the mindset of our people.

10.         The third observation, which I am very cheered by today, is that the startup scene is not just about having young people from universities doing new things. In fact, some of the universities are actively looking at some of the mature PMETs, middle-aged people with the skills, the network and the technology to see how they too can join the startup scene. And I think in many of the startups, you see a combination of both young and mature workers, sharing different experiences, to build the new company and create new opportunities. So that is very encouraging.

11.         The fourth thing that I think has changed, and we are continuing to evolve is that we are not doing this alone in Singapore. In fact, the startups that we have seen are serving not just the Singapore market. In fact, they are actively looking for opportunities in the regional and global markets. So even just on the example of rice showcased by the startup present, they are working in Myanmar, the electric motorbike startupis serving the markets in Vietnam and Indonesia. So, this is really very encouraging because we are never constrained by the size of our domestic market. Instead, we can only be constrained by our imagination of where we can serve. So these are all very encouraging signs of the local startup scene.

12.         This is not just about earning money but solving real world problems. Very importantly in this very critical period, they are also helping to create jobs. And that is why we wanted to enhance the Startup SG Founder grant to help them along. And this is why earlier this week, DPM Heng announced the enhanced startup grant to give our startup entrepreneurs more financial support to encourage them along. But I must emphasise this, the financial help that is given, the details of which we will give you separately – it is just but one part of the help that we are giving to grow this ecosystem. The other support that we are providing them include, for example, building the network and connections through the universities, and a certain community of venture capitalists, and also people who have walked the journey before. Now this system is very important. So this is the second part.

13.         The third part of how we are going to help is to make sure that we press on with the efforts to grow an international network for our entrepreneurs. This includes the Global Innovation Alliance. This includes working with our chambers overseas and our overseas partners, which Lily can talk about later. So it's not just about Singapore alone. It is about a whole ASEAN and beyond ASEAN network, that all these must come together for us to have a vibrant startup scene.

14.         Right now, we're very encouraged because at this point in time, if we take stock of where we are, many of Singapore’s most promising and innovative startups were given early stage support previously. This includes, of course, examples like Carousell, which now has a market valuation of $850 million and employing many people. It includes Wateroam, a startup providing clean water access to more than 100,000 people in 38 countries. Today, Singapore consistently ranks amongst the top 20 startup hubs in the Global Startup Ecosystem report. Out of the 13 Southeast Asian unicorns, seven of them are based out of Singapore. This shows that we have the ingredients not just to help the startups get started, but more importantly, we have the ingredients and enabling factors to help the startups grow and to mature. And that's very important.

15.         So if you look at it, we are not just concentrating on the startups as one part of the ecosystem. It is really an entire chain of how we bring the ideas and the people and the network together, help them to scale up into sizable companies with networks around the world and to service the rest of the market. We will keep growing this. So just to give you some statistics on this, from a recent survey by GTI Media Singapore – of 14,000 fresh graduates 30% of them are interested in launching startups. It is quite different from the time Minister Teo and myself were in the universities. Today, almost one in three – it is a significant number. And I think this will continue to grow.

16.         Let me give a bit of details on the Startup SG Founder scheme and how we will enhance it. There will be a three-month venture building training programme appointed by the mentor partners, a startup grant of $50,000 for entrepreneurs who have completed the venture building training and proceeds to start up a new venture with at least three Singaporeans or PRs in their payroll. And we will increase the grant from $30,000 to $50,000. The co-matching by founders of investors will be kept at $10,000.

17.         Before I round up, I just wanted to say this. If you look at the situation that we are in today, we have indeed come a long way from where we started. But of course, we are never resting on our laurels, especially in a very difficult moment like this, when we want to give Singaporeans the best opportunities and create the jobs for the future. We are not satisfied just to attract investments into Singapore, or to have the established companies invest more in Singapore. We will do all that, but very importantly, we also want to make sure that we have a new generation of companies, with a new generation of technologies to solve tomorrow's problems and today’s challenges, so that we put ourselves on a stronger foundation as an entire economy, diversifying our reliance on matured companies, local companies, foreign companies into a new area of work. And that will give us a stronger footing to grow the economy for the next lap, providing our people with better opportunities, creating more jobs for our people, as needed in this phase of our economic development.


*The session continued with remarks by Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo. Other participants on the panel included Professor Lily Kong of the Singapore Management University; Mr James Tan of Quest Ventures; and Mr Lee Junxian of Moovaz.

[1] Enterprise Singapore

[2] Nanyang Technological University

[3] Singapore University of Technology and Design

[4] Singapore University of Social Sciences

[5] Professor Lily Kong, President of Singapore Management University

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