It pays to focus on building an innovative workforce

The Asian innovation forum at Unbound London was part of the Infocomm Development Authority's effort to create "some noise" on Singapore's start-up landscape at key overseas events. Among the panel members was DBS Bank's Neal Cross (second from left)
The Asian innovation forum at Unbound London was part of the Infocomm Development Authority's effort to create "some noise" on Singapore's start-up landscape at key overseas events. Among the panel members was DBS Bank's Neal Cross (second from left).ST PHOTO: GRACE CHNG

DBS Bank notes positive results from its efforts in this area, says staff are motivated to come up with new ideas

DBS Bank's focus on building a more innovative workforce is starting to pay dividends.

Its chief innovation officer Neal Cross said it ran 15 hackathons which resulted in 1,000 experiments this year involving start-up founders and bank staff including 250 of its senior leadership. 

"The feedback has been that the employees are thinking of doing things differently, of creating new products and services in different and quicker ways. The human resource department is also re-thinking its hiring requirements; maybe the bank should be hiring people with innovation or start-up experience," he said. 

Corporate innovation is needed because start-ups with disruptive technologies can challenge the bank, he added. 

"China, for example, has more than 10,000 financial technology start-ups. It's a terrifying scale. They are out to disrupt the market."

But corporate innovation, he emphasised, is not to produce new products and services, but rather to change mindsets so that when employees return to their desks they are thinking of new ways of doing their jobs. 

Mr Cross shared his experience and thoughts at Unbound London, an international conference on start-up trends and developments earlier this week. He was a panellist on East Meets West; Where Innovation Meets, and at a forum on Asian innovation which was part of the conference.

The Asian innovation forum was part of the Infocomm Development Authority's (IDA's) effort to create "some noise" on Singapore's start-up landscape at key overseas events. 

At this forum, results from a survey of 193 early start-ups in Britain showed Singapore was well positioned to attract British start-ups which want to expand globally. 

About 15 per cent have expanded their business abroad, 17 per cent have plans to grow at least part of their business overseas and a further 19 per cent are considering international expansion.

They also cite ease of doing business, a strong public infrastructure as well as policies and regulations that support innovation as important factors when considering a potential city for expansion. 

The IDA, through its venture arm Infocomm Investments, has been helping more globally-minded entrepreneurs including those from Britain with their expansion plans by offering them the access to business opportunities in South-east Asia. 

Just as Singapore can provide the connections to regional markets, it also needs a global network of investor, entrepreneur and corporate connections which can help start-ups expand and grow globally. 

The IDA, which sponsored this survey of early stage start-ups in Britain, says this bodes well for Singapore. 

IDA executive deputy chairman Steve Leonard said Singapore is a good location for British start-ups to expand into Asia and South-east Asia. South-east Asia is one of the world's fastest-growing markets, he said,  and Singapore is a good gateway to this market. 

Speaking to The Straits Times on the sidelines of the forum, he said the overseas connections and relationships allow Singapore to learn about innovation and entrepreneurship as well as improve its start-up credibility. It is also a way of proving that "Singapore is plugged into the global start-up ecosystem and that we know the Who's Who of the start-up world", he added. 

"We're big believers in the power of network which is more valuable as you add more points in this network." 

Start-ups will benefit because the IDA can help them connect to this global network of investors and entrepreneurs who can help them expand globally. 

The IDA has opened offices in San Francisco and London not only as "listening" posts but also to identify key Singaporeans and start-ups who may want to relocate to Singapore. 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 03, 2015, with the headline 'It pays to focus on building an innovative workforce'. Print Edition | Subscribe