Singapore eager to host venture capitalists: Vivian

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan (left), Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Mr Kirk Wagar, US Ambassador to Singapore, at the South-east Asia Venture Capital Summit yesterday. The summit is being attended by more than 200 venture capitalists, more than half of w
Dr Vivian Balakrishnan (left), Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Mr Kirk Wagar, US Ambassador to Singapore, at the South-east Asia Venture Capital Summit yesterday. The summit is being attended by more than 200 venture capitalists, more than half of whom are from overseas.ST PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN

Singapore's smart nation initiative was born out of paranoia, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan recalled yesterday.

The Government did not want Singapore to be left out of the digital age, he added. He highlighted the confluence of global talent, money and technology, especially in the American high-tech start-up hub of Silicon Valley.

Dr Balakrishnan oversees the smart nation programme here, which was rolled out about two years ago.

He was speaking at a welcome fireside chat to open the South-east Asia Venture Capital Summit held at the Capitol Theatre yesterday.

The two-day summit is organised by the Kauffman Fellows, a non-profit organisation that teaches leadership to venture capitalists.

WHAT SINGAPORE CAN OFFER

Singapore is a smart switch, we can regulate and keep things safe... We can ensure that every home and office has fibre connection.We can ensure that there is a level playing field, so you need legislators who understand what's happening to ensure fair competition.

DR VIVIAN BALAKRISHNAN, on how venture capitalists can leverage Singapore's strengths.

Dr Balakrishnan pointed out that globally there was no shortage of funds from well-connected investors to bankroll entrepreneurs with good ideas. Technologies, including data analytics, real-time monitoring and artificial intelligence, were emerging and leading to breakthroughs in healthcare and autonomous vehicles, he said.

"There's now the potential to do things that were hitherto unimaginable," he told the more than 200 venture capitalists, half from overseas, who are attending the summit.

Silicon Valley is special because of the availability of talent, money and technologies.

Between 1995 and 2005, 52 per cent of entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley were foreign born, he said. Silicon Valley "harvested from the best in the world".

The potent interaction between academia from elite universities in Silicon Valley and "smart" money led to the formation of start-ups that had great impact on the world.

Smart money refers to investors with the knowledge to understand which technology has legs, which problems are worth addressing and what solutions can be generated.

The Republic is not a venture capital firm but it can put together all the pieces to make the nation successful in this field.

"Singapore is a smart switch, we can regulate and keep things safe."

It can also do what venture capital firms cannot do, he added.

"We can ensure that every home and office has fibre connection. We can ensure that there is a level playing field, so you need legislators who understand what's happening to ensure fair competition."

The Government can also provide funds for research and development to promote the nurturing and empowerment of bright young knights who have new ideas.

He invited investors with "interesting and novel ideas that could change the world" to try them out in Singapore.

"For American venture capitalists, you can plug and play into our system. Because of the US-Singapore free trade agreement, you understand our regulatory regime, your lawyers understand us."

This makes the cost of doing business much easier in Singapore. "The lowering of transaction costs has value," he added.

Dr Balakrishnan also said the Singapore education system will be re-tooled to focus on the period after a person is employed so that learning becomes a lifelong process. Future employees will go through two to three jobs in their professional lives and learn from each one of them.

Future skills they need include aesthetics to create better design; the know-how to build things for personalisation is the future trend; and the ability to communicate their ideas so that they can be translated into products and services.

The United States Ambassador to Singapore Kirk Wagar, who was also in the fireside chat with Dr Balakrishnan, said that the good governance here will attract investors.

They can then invest in the region from the comfort of Singapore, he added.

Mr Phil Wickham, chairman and chief executive of Kauffman Fellows, said he hopes the networking between foreign and local investors will lead to more businesses here.

This is the seventh summit of the Kauffman Fellows, which was founded in 1995.

Kauffman Fellows is a Silicon Valley-based leadership programme for venture capitalists and innovators of all kinds.

The organisation was inspired by philanthropist and entrepreneur Ewing Marion Kauffman.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 26, 2016, with the headline 'Singapore eager to host venture capitalists: Vivian'. Print Edition | Subscribe