Singapore, despite its size, is currently making waves as one of the leading start-up capitals of the world. The city-state has only officially turned 50 as a nation on 2015 and yet it was able to turn its major predicaments including lack of natural resources, struggling birth rate, and challenged manpower into forward-looking business models and a global perspective.
Coming ahead of the global race isn’t exactly new to the nation. More than turning its fate around, Singapore was able to place the top on the list of places that are best for both budding and tested entrepreneurs according to the World Bank’s index. Singapore was also named as the top and fastest-evolving digital economy by Tufts University, further cementing its position in the global business arena.
With all the laurels Singapore has rightfully earned, it is only natural to aim for bigger things that it can add to its list of accolades. Taking into account Singapore’s current status in technology, innovation, and digital trends, its next project does not come as a surprise: Its rise as a ‘Smart Nation.’
Singapore’s approach to becoming a Smart Nation involves a nationwide vision strongly centred on using technology as one of its pillars. According to SPRING Singapore, the plan involves ‘pulling together its world-ranked universities and medical facilities, multi-billion annual research and development investments… and large pools of investment capital.’ The vision also involves the participation of both the government and private sectors to formulate better business opportunities that nurture the nation’s community of tech start-ups.
The city-state’s vision of being the world’s first Smart Nation is driven by the premise of the importance of a forward-looking approach when it comes to keeping up with megatrends that are changing the world. Taking the first step now gives the Republic a leg up to ensure that it is well-positioned and ready to the ever-changing global scene.
The former head of Symantec and EMC and current point person of Singapore’s Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) Steve Leonard explained that the initiative was formulated by the IDA and the local government after careful consideration of Singapore’s resources. He elaborated, “We have some great startups and universities, and lots of investment capital and big companies, but we weren’t necessarily harnessing those or getting as much from them as we would have wished.”
The lightbulb moment came, ironically, when they started to consider the nation’s biggest challenges (e.g. ageing population, urban density). The assets that can answer these problems are already evident in the city-state. It is just a matter of working well together to utilise them better.
The Role of Startups in the Smart Nation Initiative
Singapore is currently considered as the financial technology capital of Asia with growth focused on the sector. The city-state’s potential success lies in its willingness to explore other key growth industries, though, like the transport, healthcare, and wearables arenas. According to Leonard, these sectors seem to be geared in the right direction, considering their progress in the startup scene.
Some of the promising startups the country has churned are GrabTaxi, the transport service system that is now nearing the billion dollar mark. Leonard also mentioned a water desalination company that was only originally trying to solve a local problem but is now a very important player to the Middle East and Africa technology.
Supporting startups is one of the cores of the Smart Nation initiative. More than just creating new technologies, the plan is to create a community that celebrates the business collaboration, knowledge sharing, and partnerships.
One good example of this effort is the Build Amazing Startups Here (BASH) initiative created by the IDA subsidiary Infocomm Investments Pte. Ltd. (IIPL). The initiative offers hard and soft infrastructure to tech businesses, guiding them from idea conceptualization to expansion. The project also encourages startups to explore promising business opportunities by providing support and a wide network of entrepreneurs who have plans of starting a business in Singapore.
The Government as an Important Player
Singapore’s government has a very entrepreneurial and progressive mindset that believes startups to be a good source of opportunities. These businesses present the face of the scene, and the government is willing to invest in the infrastructure and other support systems to make their pro-business environment thrive.
The collaborative ecosystem that the government and its partners were able to foster supports to the country’s transition into a Smart Nation. The IDA, for example, is working with specific government departments to make sure that startups are adequately supported. Perspective ideas, brainstorming, and other autonomous sources are also provided just to ensure that startups can contribute to the best of their abilities to the Smart Nation initiative.
Furthermore, the government also invests in building new talent sources by tapping the academe. The National University of Singapore and the Nanyang Technological University, the top 2 ranking universities of the city-state have received more than US$22 B investment in R&D from the government to fund and support an average of 400 startups.
Leaving Room for Growth
With the success that Singapore has achieved over the years, it is almost doubtless that it can transform itself into a Smart Nation. However, since the initiative is still in its infancy stage, the need for specific standards is vital to properly define, specify, and implement best practices.
Having a set list of standards is necessary to defining what a Smart Nation is. It will also set the tone for government agencies, developers, and manufacturers when it comes to developing technologies and solutions in line with its core initiative.
These standards will serve as the vocabulary that clearly defines a set of working terms to ensure smooth and proper collaboration between sectors and the interoperability of systems. Without these, an ambitious initiative like this can result in a fragmented market.
A Smart Nation is founded on the goal of creating new solutions through new and disruptive technologies. However, achieving this involves the diligent task of creating a participatory attitude among the stakeholders as a premise to work together. Indeed, the initiative is a timely move to answer the challenges of tomorrow. For some, it may be ambitious, but then again, Singapore is already a ‘smart’ nation in all sense of the word.
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