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Country Guide

Singapore

Singapore
Jianggan Li

Guest Editor

Jianggan Li

Founder & CEO at Momentum Works

Jianggan Li is the Founder & CEO of Momentum Works, a venture builder based in Singapore. Prior to founding Momentum Works, he co-founded and was regional managing director of Easy Taxi in Asia, and served as Managing Director of Foodpanda (both Rocket Internet companies). He holds an MBA from INSEAD and a degree in Computer Engineering from Nanyang Technological University.

Guest editors are local ecosystem leaders: successful founders, investors, or thought leaders. Have someone in mind? Nominate a country guest editor.

Disclaimer: all content within the Startup Ecosystem Summary and Editor’s Guide sections is written by and reflects the personal perspective of the guest editor. The guest editor is not responsible for content within the Country Snapshot and Community sections, as much of this content is compiled from external sources and does not necessarily reflect the guest editor’s view.

Startup ecosystem summary

Key Startup Cities

Singapore

Connected Country Ecosystems

China, Israel, Indonesia, India, Malaysia

Differentiators

  • Ranked 2nd in ease of doing business according to the World Bank
  • An educated workforce
  • Trading hub due to geographic location (connectivity)
  • Developed infrastructure
  • Multicultural population

Challenges

  • High labour and land cost
  • Competition for talent from established industries/institutions such as banks & multinational corporations
  • Lack of natural resources; people are their resource 
  • Smaller population (5.8 million people), but densely populated with high consumption power

Editor's Guide

Introduction

Singapore is Southeast Asia’s startup hub, in large part because of a set of government regulations promoting entrepreneurship and investment. The country’s powerful intellectual property protection laws allow companies to commercialize the products they invent, encouraging innovation. There is also a large network of over 50 comprehensive double taxation avoidance agreements, free trade agreements and investment guarantee agreements. This combination of factors creates a highly globalized and favorable industrial environment, enabling Singapore to attract excellent talent and capital from all over the world. Between 2013-2018, Singapore attracted US$8.4 billion of capital across 888 deals, and the number of Singaporean startups doubled. It is also home to five unicorns (Grab, Sea Group, Lazada, Razer, Trax), which account for almost half of Southeast Asia’s unicorns.

Outlook

The focus industry for Singaporean startups may not be AI

Artificial Intelligence startups have grown significantly in Singapore over the last few years. Many startups have received initial rounds of investments, but have been unable to convert it into productive tangible outcomes, and the market outlook cannot support further growth. Access to talent may be limited due to the smaller talent pool. Many companies now start to see data as a strategic asset and are less willing to give it up. In addition, Singapore’s Personal Data Protection Act also makes it difficult for businesses to experiment with many datasets so the amount of data operators can collect and derive intelligence from is limited. It is expected that Singapore will find a more suitable niche for local startups, but this may not be AI. 

Singapore will lead the charge on Initial Coin Offerings (ICO)

Cryptocurrency will continue to grow in Southeast Asia, with Singapore taking the lead on ICOs. The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) issued favorable guidelines for virtual currency in late 2017, and venture capital firms in Singapore are also starting to look at cryptocurrency as a space to focus on.

Focus Industries

Editor’s choice of the industries with the most potential for technology disruption and growth.

Deep TechSingapore could benefit from building on its strengths, including cybersecurity and maritime-related technology, so that it can establish itself as a global leader. Singapore’s emphasis on STEM education has produced quality technical talent, and a government firm dedicated to deep tech called SGInnovate has already invested in over 45 deep tech startups. That said, there is still a general lack of investors with domain knowledge of deep tech.
E-commerceE-commerce accounts for 6% of total retail sales in Singapore, hence there is strong potential for growth in this industry. The E-commerce market is predicted to account for 10.3% of total retail sales in Singapore by 2022. In addition to high mobile adoption, Singapore has the quickest export and import times, and the highest percentage of the population making digital payments relative to other Southeast Asian countries.
FintechWith more than 490 Fintech startups, Singapore is known as “Asia’s Fintech hotspot.” The country acts as a gateway for Fintech companies looking to explore Asia’s emerging economies, given the availability of capital and mentorship. That said, recent Fintech funding has focused on late-stage startups rather than early-stage, and industry competition from China and India has increased.

Featured Tech Startups

Editor’s choice of the country’s top 10 emerging tech startups.

Startup Showcase

Editor’s pick of which ‘Featured Startup’ is especially worth following and why.

CashShield originated based on a project founder Justin Lie worked on with a European client. The major problem it solves is false rejection of legitimate payment requests. While there are many players trying to address many parts of the payment ecosystem--even in fraud--I find CashShield’s proposition particularly interesting and unique. Of course, the challenge is that niche solutions tend to be either acquired, or have to find their way to broaden their scope to stay relevant. I think the founding team is handling the latter quite well.

Talent

Editor’s perspective of the maturity level of talent in the ecosystem.

  • Technical TalentAdvanced
  • Marketing TalentAdvanced
  • Experienced TalentModerate
  • International TalentModerate

Culture and History

Editor’s commentary on how the country’s culture and history have impacted the ecosystem.

Singapore prides itself on two things: political and macroeconomic stability. This is the reason why entrepreneurs and investors are attracted to Singapore. Parliamentary democracy and a strong judicial system, matched with robust regulatory institutions, ensure a corruption-free bureaucracy. Through the country’s trade and economic policies generated by the government, businesses could operate from predictable scenarios. 

69% of startups participated in government schemes, a 50% increase since 2010 as revealed in a study by the National University of Singapore. The government launched Startup SG to support startups in various areas such as branding, funding, and talent attraction during their different stages of growth, this serves as evidence to ensure their effort in fostering entrepreneurship. 

Singapore makes up for its limited local market size with its strategic geographical location. Ranking third in the top markets in the world, Singapore acts as a gateway for more than 600 million Southeast Asians. Singapore’s excellent education system and institutional framework creates talented individuals that assimilates smoothly into the business realm. Along with the local manpower, favorable immigration policies allows for international businesses to enter. This adds to the expansions of multinationals in the country.

Interested in becoming more involved in this ecosystem and connecting with local ecosystem leaders? Let us know.

Country Snapshot

Economy

Startup funding
Startup funding
US$7.5 billion (2018)
Standard of living
Standard of living
Global rank: 4
Innovation
Innovation
Global rank: 8
Entrepreneurship
Entrepreneurship
Global rank: 27
Annual GDP growth
Annual GDP growth
3.1% (Global avg. 3.0%)
Ease of doing business
Ease of doing business
Global rank: 2
Ease of starting a business
Ease of starting a business
Global rank: 4
Research and development
Research and development
2.2% of GDP (Global avg. 2.3%)
Contract enforcement
Contract enforcement
Global rank: 1

Sources

Startup Funding: e27
STANDARD OF LIVING: International Monetary Fund - GDP per capita (PPP)
INNOVATION: Global Innovation Index
ENTREPRENEURSHIP: Global Entrepreneurship Index
ANNUAL GDP GROWTH: World Bank
EASE OF DOING BUSINESS: World Bank
EASE OF STARTING A BUSINESS: World Bank
RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT: World Bank
CONTRACT ENFORCEMENT: World Bank

Society

Population
Population
5.9 million
Government
Government
Parliamentary Republic
Stability
Stability
Global rank: 1
Internet usage
Internet usage
88.2%
Smartphone usage
Smartphone usage
N/A
Literacy
Literacy
96%
Population under 15
Population under 15
12%
Median age
Median age
34.6

Sources

POPULATION: Worldometers
GOVERNMENT: The World Factbook
STABILITY: Global Innovation Index
INTERNET USAGE: International Telecommunications Union
SMARTPHONE USAGE: Newzoo
LITERACY: World Atlas
POPULATION UNDER 15: World Bank
MEDIAN AGE: The World Factbook

Community

Active Investors

500 Durians (Singapore)

B Capital Group (Singapore): Focuses on Series B stage companies.

Cocoon Capital (Singapore): A seed venture capital fund.

Dymon Asia (Singapore)

East Ventures (Singapore): A Jakarta-based fund investing across Southeast Asia. It focuses on companies from Pre-Seed through Series A. (Source: East Ventures)

EDBI (Singapore)

Genesis Ventures (Singapore): Offers debt financing for Southeast Asia’s venture backed companies. (Source: Genesis Ventures)

GGV Capital (Singapore)

InnoVen Capital (Singapore): A venture debt and lending platform investing starting in the Series A/Series B stage. (Source: InnoVen Capital)

KK Fund (Singapore)

Qualgro VC (Singapore)

SeedPlus (Singapore)

Sequoia Surge (Singapore): Surge is a rapid scale-up program for startups in India and Southeast Asia. It combines US$1 million to US$2 million of seed capital with company-building workshops, global immersion trips and support from a community of exceptional founders. (Source: Sequoia Surge)

SGInnovate (Singapore)

SPH Ventures (Singapore)

STRIVE (Singapore)

TNB Aura (Singapore)

TRIVE (Singapore)

incubators

BLOCK71 (Singapore): An initiative by NUS Enterprise that aims to help start-ups form collaborative and strategic partnerships with established corporates and government agencies. It is a technology-focused ecosystem builder and global connector which catalyses and aggregates the start-up community. In Singapore, we spearhead new initiatives and provide mentorship and growth opportunities in key local, regional and global markets. (Source: NUS Enterprise)

Expara (Singapore): Incubates local and international start-ups. Expara develops and teaches entrepreneurship, innovation and venture finance through an experiential training programme. It posts innovation challenges for entrepreneurs, corporations and public institutions in Southeast Asia. (Source: NUS Enterprise)

Get2Volume Incubator (Singapore): Get2Volume has incubation managers and venture partners in Silicon Valley and Singapore. They provide mentorship, operational, and execution capabilities to enable success for their portfolio companies. (Source: NUS Enterprise)

NTUitive Collaborative Space (Singapore): With over 5,000 square feet of incubation space, NTUitive adopts an open-concept to facilitate bonding and creative synergies amongst the startups. For solo founders, one can attain their own designated multi-functional cubicle, with access to the internet, business services, meeting rooms and a fully stocked pantry. (Source: NUS Enterprise)

NUS Enterprise @ Singapore Science Park (Singapore): NUS Enterprise @ Singapore Science Park is a partnership between NUS Enterprise and Ascendas-Singbridge to spearhead Singapore’s first Deep Technology Hub. By fostering a community of deep technology startups, corporate partners and accelerators, and university researchers and academics, it aims to enable innovation in the nascent deep technology space. Some of the current incubatees include SpaceAge Labs, Roceso Technologies, and Prospace. (Source: NUS Enterprise)

PayPal Incubator Singapore (Singapore): PayPal Incubator endeavors to nurture and support the creation of a new generation of technology companies. It provides an initial infrastructure, structured curriculum with access to FinTech domain experts, mentoring and guidance by business leaders, and access to a network of investors. (Source: PayPal Incubator)

Pollinate (Singapore): Pollinate is a joint initiative across three polytechnics — Ngee Ann Poly, Singapore Poly & Temasek Poly that aims to support the entrepreneurship efforts of current polytechnic students and alumni entrepreneurs. As a home to diverse industries, all in one space, startups can look forward to a community of like-minded individuals as well as a nurturing ecosystem to grow their startups. (Source: NUS Enterprise)

SMU Business Innovations Generator (Singapore): SMU Business Innovations Generator (BIG) is a world-class university incubator where SMU students, alumni, and staff passionate about entrepreneurship come together and grow startups from ground zero. Working out of BIG’s central co-working space, founders have immediate access to corporates and industry titans who could be their first clients, mentors or investors. (Source: NUS Enterprise)

The Bridge Fashion Incubator (Singapore): Takes forward-thinking fashion brands and related technology startups, and gets them market ready in 30 weeks. (Source: The Bridge Fashion Incubator)

Timbre+ (Singapore): An incubator focused on food & beverage startups. At Timbre+, two units (an Airstream travel trailer and a hawker stall) have been set aside for first time food entrepreneurs to test out their culinary business idea. It is part of Timbre+ ‘s social mission to develop Singapore culinary talents. Therefore, rental fees and service charge for these units are at nominal rates. (Source: NUS Enterprise)

accelerators

Accelerating Asia (Singapore): The program is split into two parts: a three month program period with weekly activities followed by a 1 month final period inclusive of the international trip and demo day. Accelerating Asia invests S$100,000 in each startup, however startups are charged a S$25,000 cash fee and S$25,000 via SAFE note to cover the program value. The Accelerating Asia SAFE also has a 20% discount to the startup’s valuation at the next qualifying funding round. The program does not take a board seat, does not require reserve matters and does not require its approval for business decisions. (Source: Accelerating Asia)

Antler Singapore (Singapore): Antler is a global startup generator and early-stage VC that is building the next big wave of tech. It offers a 6-month acceleration programme including S$5,000 per month per founder for 2 months. Antler selects the most passionate aspiring entrepreneurs to help them find the right co-founders and connect them to a network of fitting business and academic domain experts worldwide. Antler provides funding from day one to support these founders, who are building businesses that can positively impact local, national and global economies. (Source: NUS Enterprise)

Eastern Pacific Accelerator (Singapore): Eastern Pacific Accelerator Powered by Techstars is a 3 months program. It is the world’s first global MaritimeTech accelerator. Techstars and EPS have established a partnership to drive innovation in the maritime industry to cultivate and mentor the next generation of entrepreneurs . The accelerator is focused on technologies related to regulations, fuel efficiency, vessel operations, digitalization, and navigation. (Source: NUS Enterprise)

Entrepreneur First Singapore (Singapore): A 6 month accelerator focused on Deep Tech companies offering S$5,000 per month per founder for 3 months and S$75,000 if your company is offered a place on Entrepreneur First Launch. It aids passionate computer scientists and engineers to build deep-technology companies from scratch. One does not need a team or an idea to apply for their accelerator programme. Over a duration of 3 months, EF helps founders to find a co-founder, develop their ideas, get customers, and raise funding from top investors. (Source: NUS Enterprise)

GROW Accelerator (Singapore): An Agtech and Foodtech focused program (12 weeks intensive programme and 3 months of mentorship) offering up to US$120,000. Launched by AgFunder, the online venture capital investor and Rocket Seeder, an Australian agrifood accelerator, GROW is Singapore’s first global agtech and food tech accelerator. Located at the iconic BLOCK 71, GROW supports both early-stage startups and later stage scale-ups working in all areas of agtech and foodtech and covering the whole value chain. (Source: NUS Enterprise)

HyperX Hackathon-to-Accelerator Programme (Singapore): The HyperX hackathon-to-accelerator programme, the first of its kind centered on innovating for a better and more sustainable future, is co-developed with Singapore-headquartered investment company Temasek and StartupX. Spanning across 12 months, the programme brings together innovators and entrepreneurs from across the globe to drive sustainable solutions from ideation to realisation. HyperHack is the first stage of the HyperX programme where global participants come together to ideate, hack, design and build products and services that can put the world on a path to sustainability. It is followed by HyperSpark, a 10 weeks pre-accelerator programme to develop teams emerging from HyperHack with the strongest ideas into full-fledged startups. The final leg of the HyperX programme, HyperScale, is a high-growth 3 months programme which will help early-stage startups with a minimum viable product scale their sustainable innovations globally. (Source: NUS Enterprise)

ICE71 Accelerate Programme (Singapore): A 10 week program for cybersecurity startups. ICE71 is the region’s first cybersecurity entrepreneurial hub. Founded by Singtel Innov8, the corporate venture capital unit of Singtel, and the National University of Singapore (NUS), through its entrepreneurial arm NUS Enterprise, it aims to strengthen Singapore’s growing cybersecurity ecosystem by attracting and developing competencies and deep technologies to help mitigate the rapidly increasing cybersecurity risks in the region. (Source: NUS Enterprise)

ImpacTech Startup Programme (Singapore): ImpacTech’s 3-4 month private acceleration programme starts by scouting for relevant startups and then defining each team’s goals and milestones. Selected startups will have access to workshops that not only help to build the foundation of their enterprise, but also inspire unique ideas as well as push the limits of their imagination. These sessions are designed to prepare them for Demo Day. The startups will also enjoy mentoring sessions with mentors which will be closely assigned to them according to their progress, needs and technical domain. (Source: NUS Enterprise)

PIER71 Accelerate Programme (Singapore): Focusing on maritime startups, PIER71 Accelerate is a 5 to 8 weeks mentor-led programme. It provides access to a large network of industry mentors, domain experts, investors, and corporate partners. Each team is paired with an experienced mentor in building, nurturing and supporting start-ups. Teams are exposed to weekly masterclasses adapted from the lean start-up methodology, networking events, domain-knowledge sharing sessions, pitching classes and more. The programme also includes sponsored incubation space at PIER71. (Source: NUS Enterprise)

Plug and Play Singapore (Singapore): Plug and Play Singapore was launched in 2010 and has accelerated 100+ startups and invested in 30+. Its office provides partners with horizontal access to industry-specific accelerator programs in our APAC markets. (Source: Plug and Play Singapore)

Rainmaking (Singapore): Provides corporate partners with exposure to a global ecosystem and access to qualified and strategically aligned early and growth stage startups. Its accelerators focus on finding synergies between emerging and established companies. Rainmaking fine tunes each innovation program to enable corporate/startup collaboration, allowing its partners to find new lines of revenue, provide solutions for their customers, gain innovation insights, and leapfrog competition by innovating faster. (Source: Rainmaking)

Rakuten Accelerator (Singapore): The Rakuten Accelerator Powered by Techstars focuses on the future of Communication, Data Marketing and Digital Commerce. The program will open up the Rakuten network across the world to these founders, in addition to giving them access to the Techstars network (founders and investors across 1600 companies from around the world, 10,000+ industry specialists and mentors). (Source: Rakuten Accelerator)

TNB Accelerator (Singapore): TNB Ventures is a Singapore Government supported Accelerator and fund, led by an entrepreneurial team which has founded, operated and successfully exited their own startups. TNB invests in early-stage startups focusing on Internet of Things (IoT), Augmented and Virtual Reality, Machine Learning, and Robotics. (Source: NUS Enterprise)

Startups Raising Capital

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Startups Hiring

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Government Programs

a*ccelerate: The commercialization arm of A*Star.

Enterprise Singapore: Focuses on enterprise development.

Global Innovation Alliance: Launched in 2017 to strengthen Singapore’s connections to major innovation hubs worldwide. It helps entrepreneurs, students, and businesses to connect and collaborate with their overseas counterparts. (Source: Global Innovation Alliance)

MAS: The central bank of Singapore offers investment focused on the Fintech industry. (Source: MAS)

Startup SG: Established in 2017 to showcase Singapore’s startup ecosystem. It provides startups and ecosystem partners with support through programmes, mentorships, grants, and talent attraction. (Source: Startup SG)

Non-Government Organizations

Empact: Bridges skills gap by funneling from commercial to social enterprises. (Source: Empact)

raiSE: Sustainable social enterprises for a caring and inclusive society in Singapore. (Source: raiSE)

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