Set up S'pore Village in global tech hubs

Skyline of Central Business District on March 24, 2016.
Skyline of Central Business District on March 24, 2016. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Singapore's experiment with tech entrepreneurship reached a peak during the dot.com days from 1995 to 2000.

Back then, fresh graduates were calling themselves chief executive officers, scholarship recipients were giving up their cushy civil service jobs to form start-ups, and seasoned professionals from multinational corporations were giving up their careers to become their own bosses.

At the same time, high-net-worth individuals were willing to part with their money to invest in these start-ups despite the risks. Some even offered the spare rooms in their mansions as offices for these start-ups.

Unfortunately, most of the tech start-ups then did not survive after the dot.com bust. No Alibaba emerged from the ashes.

Almost 20 years later, the fundamental issues that are choking tech start-ups in Singapore have not changed.

The largest procurement office, the Singapore Government, is still rather conservative, despite calls to give greater support to small and medium-sized enterprises.

High-net-worth individuals are putting their money in property and shares instead of high-risk start-ups.

And more importantly, the Singapore market is small and lacks sophisticated consumers who are willing to invest in gadgets that are innovative and trending.

It will take another generation before Singapore can have some semblance of San Francisco's tech-friendly culture, pool of engineering talent and extensive network of angel investors.

Block 71 San Francisco ("A home for Singapore start-ups in San Francisco"; Monday) is a great step in planting our start-ups in the spiritual home of tech entrepreneurship.

However, it is too small a step to have an impact. What we need is to plant a Singapore Village in San Francisco and other tech hubs such as London and Tel Aviv.

And the charter for these start-ups is to make their products successful for the American and European markets before they even consider selling to the market back home.

Liu Fook Thim

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 29, 2016, with the headline 'Set up S'pore Village in global tech hubs'. Print Edition | Subscribe