Singapore's Thriving Technology Start-up Scene

We have all seen the headlines that Good Class Bungalows are being snapped up by local technology CEOs. In this post, we explore the fundamental changes in Singapore's tech start-up scene over the last decade.




Access to funding has made Singapore a magnet for tech start-ups

Singapore has over $19 billion in PE and VC assets under management, more than twice that of neighboring Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Thailand combined. This access to funding has created a home to an estimated 3,600 tech startups and nearly 200 different intermediary and supporting organizations.


Collectively, Singapore has been home to ten unicorns, three of which have offered an IPO (Nanofilm, Razer and Sea) and two of which have been acquired – one by giant Alibaba (Lazada) and one by Chinese streaming powerhouse YY (Bigo Live). The remaining five are Trax, Acronis, JustCo, PatSnap, and Grab – the ASEAN region’s largest unicorn to date.


This trend is also accelerating. According to The Straits Times, tech start-ups in Singapore raised $5.3 billion in the first half of this 2021, up from $3.4 billion in the same period last year .


Singapore is faced with a huge tech talent shortage

Zoom's head of Asia Pacific Raagulan Pathy: "There are a lot of tech companies coming in and it's a small island, the simple math of it means that at a certain point you are going to run out of talent". With up to 500 new tech vacancies are posted each week on job sites, according to NodeFlair, which is helping hire for Bytedance and Sea's e-commerce business Shopee, it is clear that the demand for tech talent here is robost.

The information communications sector would need another 60,000 professionals over the next three years, said Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative, said in June 2020. The government has been re-training thousands of people with tech skills while the intake for IT courses at Singapore colleges has risen 17% over the past three years to about 7,600 for the 2020 academic year.


Building Singapore's silicon valley was a 2 decade endeavor

Back in 1999, in the midst of the dot-com boom, Singapore started a US$1 billion fund to attract venture capital (VC) fund. This initiative to bring capital onto Singapore's shores while successful with more than US$40bn raised by 2013, only a meager 2% was invested locally in Singapore. Not quiet the "Silicon Valley". The underlying issue was that no one wanted to be an entrepreneur. In 2000, a Global Entrepreneurship Monitor study suggested that only 2.1% of Singapore's adult population were recently involved in starting up or running their own new businesses.


Singapore then embarked on a bold plan to encourage entrepreneurship. The National University of Singapore started a program to send students to the entrepreneurial hubs of the world through an experimental program known as the NUS Overseas Colleges (NOC) program. That experiment has now produced over 800 startups founded by NOC students and alumni. This experiment has birthed some of the most recognizable consumer apps in Singapore today, such as Carousell and ShopBack.


The big break came in 2015 onwards as South-east Asian tech entered a phase of rapid growth led by mobile-first Internet usage. A Google and Temasek research in 2016 showed that the region's Internet economy was expected to grow to about US$200 billion by 2025, driven by e-commerce, online media and online travel.


Keen to find out more? Enterprise Singapore has a great article linked here.

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