S’pore No.1 in “talent”, but last in “start-up experience”?


S’pore No. 1 in world for start-up talent

I refer to the article “S’pore No. 1 in world for start-up talent: Report” (Straits Times, Mar 22).

It states that “Perhaps the biggest surprise coming out of a 150-page research report covering 10,000 start-ups and 300 partner companies worldwide is that tiny Singapore has overthrown tech centre Silicon Valley as the world’s No. 1 for start-up talent.

The report by Startup Genome, a US-based organisation, credits Singapore’s innovative policies for its great start-up ecosystem.

While Singapore’s overall ranking this year fell two notches to 12th, this was due to two new Chinese entrants, it said. Singapore’s performance numbers are solid and will probably continue to rise, it added.

Along with a geographical location that offers easy access to up-and-coming tech markets in South-east Asia, Singapore’s 1,600 to 2,400 tech start-ups enjoy significant government subsidies.

Strategies here are working to establish local tech start-ups as globally relevant firms, said the report.

Mr Alex Lin, head of Infocomm Investments, the venture capital arm of the Infocomm Development Authority, said the Republic is evolving at a pace like no other ecosystem.

“Within three years, we are a sustainable ecosystem of accelerators and corporate co-innovation, resulting in a six-fold increase of start-ups raising series A (a type of funding); in a year, venture capital money doubled to US$1.7 billion.”

Singapore has the third-highest level of global connectedness of all top 20 ecosystems – outperforming Silicon Valley again.

“My co-founder and I are putting our money where our mouth is and investing heavily in both Asean start-ups and VCs. And Singapore is where we find all our deals as most start-ups value the talent pool, capital pool, clear corporate governance and intellectual property regime here.”

But ranked last for “start-up experience”?

In the accompanying table – Singapore is ranked 20th for “start-up experience”, 16th for “performance”, 16th for “funding” and 11th for “market reach”, among the 20 countries.

So, arguably, does dropping two notches to 12th overall ranking from 10th last year, and ranking so low for the other four of the five factors – with the number one in “talent” being arguably the only bright spot of improvement – do we arguably, deserve a “No. 1 in the world” headline?

Why No. 1 for “talent”?

Let’s try to examine why our “talent” became N0. 1.

Well, do the remarks “Singapore’s access to quality talent and its relative cost put it ahead of rivals.

The average software engineer salary here of US$35,000 (S$49,000) per year, for example, is below the US$49,000 global average. High pay is one reason Silicon Valley lost its top talent ranking”

Cheaper foreign talent? 

– have anything to do with Singapore having probably, the most liberal foreign labour policy among the 20 countries – which enables practically anyone in the world to come as a tourist and apply for a job and stay when one finds one?

Has this contributed to the relatively lower “average software engineer salary” which helped to push up Singapore’s “talent” ranking?

This is perhaps underscored by the remarks that “The Republic also has the sixth-highest percentage of immigrant founders at 35 per cent.

“Singapore is an open society and welcomes entrepreneurs from around the world to create the next big thing here,” said Mr James Tan, managing partner of Asian technology venture fund Quest Ventures”.

This is perhaps further underscored by “Also, while Singapore trailed behind below the average top 20 nation, in ranking 10th in terms of talent quality, it more than made up for it by being the fourth- and second-best ecosystem for start-ups to access experienced software engineers and growth employees, respectively”

“The experience levels of talent here were found to be comparatively strong, with 80 per cent of engineering and 74 per cent of growth teams boasting at least two years of prior start-up experience compared with global averages of 72 per cent and 60 per cent, respectively.”

Low “talent quality” because “”cheaper” foreign talent?

How can “talent quality” be relatively higher than other countries, when we arguably have relatively “cheaper” foreign talent, and employers have “easy” and “cheaper” access to “experienced software engineers and growth employees” (foreigners mainly – arguably at the expense of Singaporeans’ jobs?)?

Maybe that’s one of the reasons why our “talent quality” ranking is low.

“Exit options remain limited”?

In the final analysis, the remarks “Mr Tiang Lim Foo, operating partner of Singapore-based early stage venture firm SeedPlus, said challenges remain.

“For one thing, exit options remain limited, thus restricting capital/talent liquidity circulating back into the ecosystem,” he said, adding, “I remain confident that this will be solved in time.”” – may be the most illuminating in the entire news report.

One VC’s remarks on S’pore?

In this connection, I attended a seminar organised by Oxford University’s Said Business School Alumni in January, and one of the speakers – a seasoned and famous venture capitalist based in Singapore said something along the lines that almost all of their VC investments in Singapore start-ups over the years did not take off.

Now, after reading the subject news report – I think I may have a better understanding of perhaps why he made those remarks.

Leong Sze Hian




About the Author

Leong Sze Hian has served as the president of 4 professional bodies, honorary consul of 2 countries, an alumnus of Harvard University, authored 4 books, quoted over 1500 times in the media , has been a radio talkshow host, a newspaper daily columnist, Wharton Fellow, SEACeM Fellow, columnist for theonlinecitizen and Malaysiakini, executive producer of Ilo Ilo (40 international awards), Hotel Mumbai (associate producer), invited to speak more than 200 times in about 40 countries, CIFA advisory board member, founding advisor to the Financial Planning Associations of 2 countries. He has 3 Masters, 2 Bachelors degrees and 13 professional  qualifications.