US increasingly drawn to Asia's tech start-ups: Enterprise Singapore

Enterprise Singapore assistant chief executive Edwin Chow speaking about Singapore’s startup landscape. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - Venture capital investors in the United States are increasingly interested in Asia because of the region's promising and strong growth, according to Enterprise Singapore assistant chief executive Edwin Chow.

Mr Chow was part of an industry panel that included Antler CEO and founder Magnus Grimeland, National University of Singapore (NUS) deputy president of Innovation and Enterprise Freddy Boey and SGInnovate head of venture building Pang Heng Soon.

Mr Chow was comparing his experience during a work trip to Silicon Valley last week to investors' sentiments about five years ago.

He said that previously an idea only needed to work in Silicon Valley and the US to be "good enough" for investors. "That kind of mindset, at least during (the last trip), was completely absent," he said at the event on Friday (April 26).

The interest in Asia was a lot more marked this trip, he said, judging by his experience at the conferences there.

Growth in the region, especially emerging countries such as China and India and the Asean bloc, had caught the eye of investors there.

The existence of unicorns or start-ups that are worth at least US$1 billion in the region and outside of the US such as technology companies Grab and Gojek have also propelled their interest.

"It's no longer a case of there has to be only one hub, and everyone else is a feeder," he said.

The velocity of ideas, money and opportunities matter in the world of start-ups, he added.

"It's about which node is densely connected with the rest, which node do (the start-ups) find it easiest to do business, to raise capital," he pointed out.

Professor Boey agreed, pointing out that "at the end of the day, cash is king, market also king".

Singapore has two giants in its backyard, namely China and Asean, he added. Asean's 635-million population outnumbers the US' 327 million, Prof Boey noted.

"You cannot find a better country than Singapore to do a start-up. If you can't hack it here, you probably can't hack it anywhere," he said, adding that a strong support system is in place to ensure that entrepreneurs have the best chance of success.

"For NUS, for example, our focus is no longer faraway Europe or faraway US, we are putting a lot of effort in both Asean and China. I'm building up networks that will pull the best talent from Asean to Singapore."

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