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Speech by MOS Alvin Tan for "Market Access: Southeast Asia" at SWITCH

Speech by MOS Alvin Tan for "Market Access: Southeast Asia" at SWITCH

Distinguished Guests, 
Ladies and Gentlemen, 

1. Good morning. I am pleased to join you at SWITCH 2020. 

2. This is the first time we are holding the event in a hybrid format, breaking down the barriers of geography and time zones to bring together some of the world’s brightest minds to share thought leadership, forge new connections, and build better ideas that will benefit our communities. This SWITCH Global Channel is dedicated to insights and opportunities from across our global innovation network.

3. It is apt that we are starting this channel with today’s programme dedicated to our immediate region – Southeast Asia. 

a. Home to 600 million people, including a burgeoning middle class, Southeast Asia is a vibrant region that is projected to be the world’s fourth largest economy by 2030. 

b. The rapid growth and transformation present many opportunities for businesses large and small, established or new, to bring their new ideas and innovations to the market. 

Southeast Asian startups and large corporates are creating an innovative and digital future 

4. Despite the pandemic, we are seeing an increase in innovation related activities by both startups and large corporates. Many startups and entrepreneurs in the region are taking strides to tackle various challenges, in diverse areas such as sustainable development, logistics, or the digital economy. 

a. For example, we saw active participation from Southeast Asian startups in our SLINGSHOT startup competition, and over a third of the Top 100 finalists are from the region. 

b. Unicorns like Grab, Razer and Sea Group are continuing to grow, and demonstrate the potential of startups in the region. 

5. But innovation is not only for startups. Conglomerates are traditional heavyweights of the Southeast Asian economy, with the top 40 contributing over 20% to the combined GDP of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam. Leveraging on the resources across their portfolio including networks, products, and data, many conglomerates have invested in innovation to adapt their business models in order to grow. You will be hearing more about such corporate innovation in this upcoming session. 

Singapore’s networks help to strengthen our role as a regional innovation hub

6. At the heart of this dynamic region, Singapore is committed to our role as a regional innovation hub. Despite uncertainties and disruptions from the pandemic and global geopolitical tensions, Singapore is committed to remain open to top talent and businesses. Not just to serve the local market, but also the regional and global markets. 

a. We will continue to invest in our strengths such as our talent, infrastructure, regulations, and networks, to ensure businesses here are well placed to innovate and seize new opportunities. 

b. We are heartened by the confidence that many startups and corporates alike have continued to show in us, choosing to site key corporate and R&D functions here in Singapore. 

7. A tangible example of Singapore’s commitment is the Global Innovation Alliance, or GIA. A joint initiative between Enterprise Singapore (ESG) and the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB), the GIA is a global network that connects Singapore to leading innovation ecosystems and key markets around the world. 

8. In today’s world where multilateralism and open trade is under stress, it is even more important that we continue to build bridges. The addition of Manila emphasises the importance of the region to our strategy, and it brings the number of GIA cities in Southeast Asia to four, alongside Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, and Jakarta.

9. GIA Manila will assist tech startups and SMEs based in Singapore with their internationalisation and innovation efforts in Manila. Our partner, Plug and Play, will run programmes together with Launchgarage, one of the leading tech startup accelerators in the Philippines. Through these programmes, participating startups and SMEs will be able to plug themselves into the Philippines ecosystem and gain business connections and collaboration opportunities which can help them in their growth overseas.  

Fostering win-win partnerships

10. Besides building links across geography, Singapore is also working to accelerate innovation through linkages between startups and larger corporates. Partnership between the two groups is a way to fully utilise their potential, by bringing together their relative strengths to achieve win-win outcomes. 

a. Corporates can tap on the agility and cutting-edge innovation capabilities of startups, while startups gain the opportunity to solve real-world problems, and secure a reference customer as a platform for future growth. 

b. Singapore has seen some promising examples of such partnerships. For example, Sompo, a Japanese multi-national insurance company, worked with IMDA to open five challenge statements to look for digital solutions, such as using AI to manage customer queries. Local companies such as Zumata have since had their solutions deployed in Sompo’s regional offices in the Philippines, Thailand, and more.

11. We continue to invest in developing a community of problem owners and solvers, so that all companies can embark on and scale innovation to address real-world issues. 

a. At SWITCH last year, Singapore launched the Open Innovation Network (OIN) which is a national platform that aggregates all innovation challenges run out of Singapore, open to global solvers to participate in. We have enhanced and made OIN more interactive, allowing users to search for relevant innovation challenges to apply to. 

b. One of the first OIN challenges launched at SWITCH 2019 was Cultiv@te, a challenge by the UNDP Global Centre for Technology, Innovation and Sustainable Development. It aims to improve sustainable agriculture practices globally, and 11 countries contributed challenge statements, including Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines. 31 finalist teams, including four from the region, were selected and are being provided with mentorship, training and workshops. 

12. Building on that momentum, I am proud to announce the launch of the inaugural Southeast Asia Open Innovation Challenge organised by Enterprise Singapore, in partnership with Ravel Innovation. The Southeast Asia Open Innovation Challenge will see regional solution providers partner our participating conglomerate partners to solve regional problems. 

a. This is the first-of-its-kind challenge that involves only Southeast Asian conglomerates, such as Central Group from Thailand, Hong Leong Holdings from Singapore, Sunway Group from Malaysia, Emtek Group from Indonesia, as well as VNG Cloud from Vietnam. 

b. We are excited to have business leaders from each of these companies join us to share more about their innovation journey and problem statements in today’s session.

13. The involvement of Southeast Asian Conglomerates shows that Singapore is recognised as an innovation hub that can serve their needs. I encourage our regional startups to come forward with their solutions to the problem statements. We hope that the new partnerships fostered through this platform will be a springboard to greater growth for the startups and conglomerates alike. 


14. The world has changed immeasurably this year. In such times, a collective commitment to openness, collaboration, and innovation is especially critical to a strong recovery for the region. I hope that over the course of this week, SWITCH can be a platform for a healthy exchange of ideas, forging new partnerships and deepening existing ones. Together, I have every confidence that we will emerge stronger as a region and build towards a more inclusive and resilient recovery. 

15. I wish you all a fruitful time at the events this week. Thank you. 

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