The Big Read: Defying doubters, Singapore built a flourishing start-up scene within a decade. Can it take the next step up?

And as regional startup ecosystems develop, they may erode some of the benefits of the Singapore ecosystem and its startups.

Citing countries such as Vietnam and Indonesia, a World Bank report last year noted that Singapore’s neighbors have “created their own fledgling ecosystems”, thereby increasing regional competition.

“A start-up trying to expand from Singapore to a neighboring market will now face more challenges than in years past,” the report added.

Dr. Wong reiterated that as neighboring fledgling ecosystems mature, more capital may flow there instead of Singapore.

“So why should I, as a founder, come to Singapore to use venture capital funds? I can go directly to the target market.”

“A matter of time” before Singapore launches further internationally

Despite the relative success of Singapore’s startup scene, questions have been raised about how few homegrown startups can go toe-to-toe with international brands.

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Some experts say it may just be a matter of time.

“The phenomenon of growth in the local startup scene has only occurred in recent years, and it may take more time for those with global ambitions to start investing beyond that, especially in lesser-known markets,” said KPMG’s Mr. Chiu.

XS APAC’s Mr Lim added: “A company like (homegrown start-up) Razer has been around for almost 20 years and maybe now we can call it a global brand.

Mr Lim believes that given more time, more Singaporean startups can go global.

People also need time to gain the necessary experience to develop their business, experts noted.

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“We haven’t had (so many) experienced executives who have built and developed global teams, global programs, global services,” said Unravel Carbon’s Ms Sy, who attributes this to the nascent nature of Singapore’s startup ecosystem.

So there’s a lack of experience to help these new generations of companies do the same thing – on a global scale and serving tens of millions of users.”

However, some companies go global from the start.

Jeffrey Tiong, founder and CEO of PatSnap, said: “We started entering the European, US and Chinese markets from the very early days.

We serve customers who invest heavily in research and development (R&D), with the United States, Europe and China being a few countries with large R&D expenditures.

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To go global, startups need to come up with innovative solutions that stand out from the pack, Mr Tiong added. “If the solution we provide is not particularly distinctive, it will be difficult to compete with other players in the US, Europe, Japan and China,” he said.

However, Mr Ko said that sometimes, globalization may not require the company to provide advanced solutions. Citing the examples of Razer and Secretlab, both gaming peripherals, he noted that startups can use good marketing to break into niche markets around the world. For example, mobile phones, we just don’t have a big domestic market.”


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