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Speech by 2M Tan See Leng at Action Community for Entrepreneurship (ACE) Community Day

Speech by 2M Tan See Leng at Action Community for Entrepreneurship (ACE) Community Day

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

1. A very good morning to all of you.  

Singapore’s start-up landscape remains resilient amid the COVID-19 crisis, through the efforts of ecosystem enablers such as ACE

2. I would first like to begin by commending the progress that ACE has made in supporting our local start-up ecosystem. 

3. We spent last year fighting COVID-19 and we faced the worst recession since our independence. 

4. ACE has done a great job in helping start-ups to tide over this difficult period by creating impactful programmes, and facilitating talent development and opportunities for all our start-ups. 

5. With the combined efforts of other industry players and the Government, Singapore’s start-up ecosystem continues to remain vibrant and resilient, even amid this unprecedented crisis.

a. The number of tech start-ups has continued to increase over the years to 3,600 in 2019;

b. We have a total of 190 incubators and accelerators and over 200 venture capitalists based in Singapore; and 

c. 10 of the 14 unicorns in Southeast Asia are based in Singapore today. This is an impressive achievement in just a short span of about 20 years. 

6. We have also invested significant resources and infrastructure dedicated to driving ideation and partnerships within the entrepreneurship community.  

7. LaunchPad @ one-north is an excellent example of this. This is an initiative that was started by JTC and supported by ESG, A*STAR, IMDA and NRF. LaunchPad has supported about 1,300 start-ups spanning very diverse sectors such as infocomm media, biomedical sciences, advanced manufacturing and urban solutions. These start-ups can easily access the 40 supporting stakeholders housed here, which include both public and privately-funded incubators and accelerators.

8. Ladies and gentlemen, the global battle against the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over. The recovery in the global economic activities is expected to be long-drawn, highly uncertain and uneven across the different sectors and geographies. 

9. However, our investment landscape in Singapore continues to remain resilient. This gives us confidence that in spite of the pandemic, we can and will continue to do well. In fact, we continue to be the leading investment destination in Southeast Asia. 

10. Just last year, we welcomed about S$5.5 billion worth of investments into our start-ups. This is almost three times the amount of investments that we received five years ago.

Challenges to the growth of Singapore’s start-up ecosystem and response by the Singapore Government 

11. The cumulative efforts of ACE and other ecosystem enablers have catalysed a very robust start-up ecosystem here, and it is my sincere and honest belief that we can do more. 

12. On this note, the recommendations put forth by the World Bank in its recent case study on Singapore’s start-up ecosystem are very timely. My heartfelt thanks to our ecosystem partners, such as ACE, Esco Ventures and German Accelerator, just to mention a few, who have contributed to this case study.

a)  Funding gaps

13. As highlighted by the report, private venture capital remains critical for start-ups, especially for those in deep tech sectors. These start-ups require longer runways, longer gestational periods, and riskier financing, much riskier than those considered by many investors. 

14. In order to catalyse more of these private sector financing, the Government has been working with and will continue to work closely with financial institutions and investors to provide the financing that is needed to fuel the growth of these start-ups.  

15. One of the schemes that we have in place is the Start-up SG Equity Programme. Administered by ESG, this is a co-investment scheme that requires private sector investors to match the Government’s investments into start-ups. This will not only catalyse private sector investment into Singapore-based tech start-ups, but also provide other kinds of support, such as access to networks and mentorships for start-ups to develop their innovative capabilities.

16. PatSnap, a newly minted unicorn, was a beneficiary of the Singapore ecosystem. In its initial growth stage, PatSnap was incubated by NUS Enterprise, and supported by various agencies, including ESG, as well as early investment partners who provided the resources for PatSnap’s commercialisation and growth needs.

b)  Increased regional competition

17. Second, the case study highlights the increased regional competition for our start-ups. On the flip side, the rapid growth of the region presents great opportunities for our start-ups to access regional market demand through tapping Singapore as a gateway. This is notwithstanding the difficulties in travel because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

18. For many start-ups that face challenges in accessing neighbouring markets, we have developed initiatives like the Global Innovation Alliance (GIA) network. This GIA network helps our companies better internationalise, better access and better seize opportunities globally through our local partners.

19. We will expand the GIA network from 15 cities currently to 25 cities over the next five years to support our start-ups’ aspirations and ambitions. 

20. Through our acceleration programmes and market connections, we hope to help them expand their global market presence as well as seek innovation partnerships.

The Government is committed to working with ecosystem partners to support our start-ups

21. The Government remains committed to working with our partners, such as ACE, to support our start-ups. ACE started as a working group supported by the Ministry of Trade and Industry in 2011. ACE was privatised in 2014, led by key leaders in the start-up ecosystem. Since then, ACE has grown alongside the ecosystem, providing an entire myriad of activities to engage youth entrepreneurs and groom innovative start-ups. 

22. Like a start-up itself, ACE was agile and pivoted quickly to respond to the needs of the ecosystem when COVID-19 struck. It stepped up efforts in facilitating talent development and rolled out various initiatives such as virtual job matching for displaced PMETs, provided seminars to ensure that there is advisory support for start-ups, launched a COVID-19 resource page with ESG, and organised roundtable sessions with ecosystems to gather feedback on the challenges facing these start-ups. 

23. We will continue to evaluate our strategies to address the evolving challenges. We will continue to help and support ACE to build an ecosystem of resilient start-ups that are highly capable, that are open to collaboration, and equip them to compete globally. 

24. To quote Helen Keller, “Alone, we can do little, but together, we can do so much more.” The Government will continue to walk alongside our start-ups and our ecosystems in this journey.

25. I wish you a very fruitful panel discussion and a pleasant day ahead.

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