The Straits Times says

Why innovation is everyone's business

As disruption is the only constant in an uncertain global economy, it is well worth supporting the spirit behind local start-ups.

Picking winners is not an easy thing to do, of course. The risk of failure shadows all efforts. Even so, the start-up process must be nurtured as it creates the vital link between inventiveness and entrepreneurship.

Roping in the private sector, as Spring Singapore has done with the unveiling of 17 accredited mentor partners earlier this month, is a move in the right direction. Investment firms, venture capital funds and corporate incubators must come to the fore to help identify budding technopreneurs. Such private-sector participation will help to raise the quality of up-and-coming ventures, particularly those in promising sectors such as artificial intelligence, cyber security and digital health.

The number of start-ups here more than doubled from 22,000 in 2003 to 48,000 in 2015. Local start-ups have also become more valuable - in 2015, 220 venture capital deals worth more than US$1 billion (S$1.4 billion) were completed, compared with 26 deals worth US$80 million in 2012.

In reviewing the start-up ecosystem here, US-based Startup Genome ranked it No. 12 in the world. Encouragingly, tech start-ups here have a better survival rate, compared with those in the United States and Britain.

But what is missing are the game-changing innovations that turn start-ups into unicorns valued at over US$1 billion. Few local firms boast unique world-first inventions or a significant presence outside of Singapore. Start-ups here are often accused of being too conservative, preferring a "lower risk, lower growth" strategy. The result is a chronic lack of deep-tech start-ups and firms with a global orientation. On their part, entrepreneurs complain of the obstacles posed by Singapore's high business costs, tight labour market and the need for greater access to funding.

Boosting the dynamism of the start-up community can help drive the transformation being sought for the future economy. The Government has made bold strides in this direction, stepping up the availability of and ease of access to capital, including a $200 million Startup SG Equity fund announced in March. It has also offered more physical office space and grants for first-time entrepreneurs. The intellectual property regime for inventive ideas has been strengthened and more collaboration between local and foreign innovators is being encouraged. The long-term aim is to nearly double the number of high-potential start-ups with operations in Singapore over the next 10 years. Collectively, start-ups too have an important role to play in boosting the nation's growth, as envisaged by the Committee for the Future Economy, by positioning home-grown businesses in the industries of the future.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 23, 2017, with the headline 'Why innovation is everyone's business'. Print Edition | Subscribe