1. Good evening. I am very happy to join you at the National Youth Entrepreneurship Awards this evening.
2. ACE is 20 years old this year. Similarly, 20 years ago, we started the Economic Review Committee (ERC). When Singapore faces any economic downturns or uncertainty, we would take a whole-of-government approach.
3. Subsequently, in 2009, due to the Lehman Brothers’ crash, we set up the Economic Strategies Committee and more recently, the Committee on the Future Economy. I was in the Economic Development Board 20 years ago, during which I had a chance to be involved in the ERC work. Back then, the ERC had 7 sub committees.
4. One of the sub committees was EISC – the Entrepreneurship and Internationalisation Sub Committee, led by the then-Minister of State Raymond Lim. It was the first time that we were able to aggregate our very own Singaporean entrepreneurs – Ong Peng Tsin and Kwek Leng Beng and Wong Ngit Liong. They joined hands to see how we could develop an entrepreneurial ecosystem here in Singapore.
5. This took us one and a half years and culminated in a report. One segment of the report highlighted how we could translate the recommendations into fruition. Peng Sin and team said that we must start an action community for entrepreneurship. He also said that the private sector must be deeply involved, and that we must equip them with resources. He added that we needed a Minister for entrepreneurship to signal support. The first Minister that supported ACE was Minister Raymond Lim. Subsequently, it was Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and so on.
6. In my 10 years of my service in EDB, I spent most of it working with ACE and entrepreneurs. Back then, EDB had a division called Technopreneurship and Venture Capital. Presently, Singapore has Launchpad but years ago, it was called ‘Phase Zero’. The startups were operating out of containers. We know that startups don’t just need space to incubate ideas, but access to 3 ‘M’s – money, market and management talent.
7. Every week, we organised networking events, including elevator pitches so startups could pitch to venture capitalists (VCs) and angels for funding. I remember back then when Straits Times had a headline called ‘Zero to hero’ – in view of phase zero. Those who clinched funding were considered heroes. We also had “speed dating” programmes to provide startups with access to market. We then aggregated the MNCs as business partners and allowed startups to quickly explain their business proposition within 3 to 5 minutes.
8. I am very happy to see ACE and the various ecosystem business partners come so far. Tonight, the fact that we are here to celebrate our youth entrepreneurs, it shows that we have come very far.
9. The National Youth Entrepreneurship Awards are a ground-up initiative led by the Action Community for Entrepreneurship (ACE), to celebrate the achievements of outstanding students and recent graduates who have demonstrated remarkable entrepreneurial qualities. We want to recognise their contributions in building Singapore’s start-up ecosystem.
10. The theme of this 4th edition of the Awards – “For the People” – is especially apt and meaningful in this time of a public health crisis, as I know that our startups have the agility and the gumption to adjust and to thrive.
Inspiring Youth Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow
11. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about unprecedented disruptions to our economy and society. Many Singapore startups and entrepreneurs have been severely impacted. However, there are also fresh possibilities and potential that have emerged from this crisis.
· Innovation is critical in harnessing new opportunities in the post-COVID-19 world. This will fuel Singapore's economic recovery and enable us to pivot to a new normal successfully.
· Businesses that leverage technology and innovative solutions are better placed to compete globally and able to capture growth opportunities for the future. The enablers that we are putting together will allow our innovators and entrepreneurs from day one, to dream big and to not only think local, but to think global.
· Entrepreneurs who want to succeed in today’s business world must have key qualities like:
o Agility - the ability to adapt to various challenges nimbly;
o Creativity – the flair to create novel solutions; and
o Grit to persevere in adversity
12. All these traits will go a long way in enabling young entrepreneurs to stay ahead in an increasingly VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) environment.
13. I commend the organisers for platforms such as the National Youth Entrepreneurship Awards that celebrate and recognise youths who demonstrate these entrepreneurial qualities. We hope that your experiences and stories will inspire many of your friends to embark on their own journey of entrepreneurship.
14. This year’s theme – “For the People” – is an important reminder that entrepreneurship is not just about the top or bottom line. Beyond entrepreneurial achievements, entrepreneurs can contribute to our Singapore story by helping build a robust and inclusive community. Allow me to share two examples:
· Mr Gavriel Tan and Mr Winston Ng, the Award winners of the “Post-Secondary Education Institute” category, are good examples.
· Gavriel is the co-Founder of Altimate Nutrition, a food-tech startup that creates sustainable food products using alternative proteins derived from insects.
o Through extensive R&D and innovative food technologies, Altimate Nutrition aims to harness the benefits of cricket farming, and address larger social issues like food insecurity, supply chain resilience, climate change and hunger.
· Winston is the CEO of Finute Pte Ltd.
o By merging education and play using technology, Finute strives to empower the next generation of learners. Our digital natives learn through mobile apps and we need to make it engaging for them.
o Finute put together a Virtual National Day Parade last year which attracted thousands of users who were able to use the platform to express their heartfelt appreciation and thanks to frontline heroes and essential workers for their dedication and service in the pandemic.
15. Besides contributing to Singapore’s innovative landscape, Gavriel and Winston created ingenious and inspiring solutions despite their very young age. These solutions have helped members of our society cope with the disruptions and stress caused by the pandemic.
16. Their efforts are a timely reminder that beyond economic prosperity, what is fundamental to Singapore is our sense of purpose and togetherness in building a robust, caring and inclusive Singapore.
Supporting Youth Entrepreneurship in Singapore
17. I encourage our young and aspiring entrepreneurs to unleash their creativity and energy for Singapore. We have available a range of schemes to support you at different stages of your journey.
18. I assure you that the Government is deeply committed to working closely with our Startup SG partners in creating an enabling and conducive environment for entrepreneurship to thrive. Let me share two key initiatives that will support your drive for innovation:
· For example, the Startup SG Founder scheme provides support for first-time entrepreneurs with startup capital grant and mentorship from Venture Builders and Accredited Mentor Partners. This is because beyond funding, many entrepreneurs have shared that it was their first mentor that believed in them that really mattered.
· Since February 2021, close to 300 participants have participated in and graduated from the venture building programmes run by the five universities in Singapore.
· In addition, the Global Innovation Alliance (GIA) is an exciting initiative to support Singapore startups and SMEs in venturing abroad. Earlier on, we said that we have to dream big because our market here is not that big. But having said that, our size can also be our advantage. In our little city state which is densely populated, we can reach Venture Capitalists (VCs), angels and MNCs easily if we have a compelling business proposition. But from day one, we will have to think of how to gain global traction. This is what the GIA is for.
· We have ramped up efforts to extend the network of overseas partners for Singapore-based enterprises to access more opportunities abroad in areas like talent, partners and customers.
19. While the government seeks to create an ambient ecosystem for entrepreneurship, the role of the private sector is equally important in supporting innovation and startups.
· ACE has been doing so for the past 20 years. Since 2017, ACE has worked closely with private sector partners to catalyse the growth of the startup ecosystem through mentorship for entrepreneurs. ACE has also created many opportunities for investments and co-innovations, as well as championed initiatives to help startups to scale and internationalise.
· ACE has to-date supported more than 800 internship placements in startups and SMEs, whereby every internship experience is curated. These internships provide our students with valuable exposure and experiences that nurtures their entrepreneurial aspirations.
20. The strong and vibrant cooperation between the Government and startups, as well as partners like ACE, Singapore Discovery Centre and *SCAPE will continue to play a vital role in strengthening our startup community.
21. I would like to congratulate all finalists and award winners. Your creativity and entrepreneurial spirit are highly commendable, and I wish you the very best in your journey to being a successful entrepreneur.
22. I would also like to share a quote from Frederick Buechner – “Your vocation in life is where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need”. This applies to every one of us, whether we are educators, entrepreneurs or civil servants. It means that our jobs are not just jobs, but our calling. For every one of you here, your vocation is in innovation and entrepreneurship. You are driven by how you can develop a business model, prototype, product or service that caters to an unmet demand. In time to come, it may address a specific need – not just in Singapore, but in the region and the world.
23. On this note, congratulations, and I want to leave you with six words – dare to dream, dare to do. Thank you very much.