S'pore, US launch networking programme for women in tech

Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo (centre) and US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo (second from left) at the SelectUSA Investment Summit in National Harbour, Maryland. PHOTO: MCI

WASHINGTON - Singapore and the United States on Monday (June 27) launched a programme to help women in the tech industries of both countries learn from each other, build international contacts and expand their businesses overseas.

The programme will include networking and mentoring sessions, as well as workshops, the US Commerce Department and Singapore's Ministry of Communications and Information said in a statement.

It was launched by Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo, who is on a working visit to the US this week, and US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, during an investment conference near Washington.

The two ministers also helmed a panel discussion with Singaporean women business leaders, on how their governments could support women tech entrepreneurs and attract and develop more women professionals in the tech industry.

Citing her experience of being a woman in the tech industry, Ms Raimondo, a former venture capitalist, said during the discussion: "Sometimes you just need to know what questions to ask. You need to know who to call. You need to know the right way to pitch your company.

"Often, women are left out of those informal discussions in networks. So that is exactly why we started this mentorship network," she added.

Ms Raimondo said that US mentors can support Singaporean women entrepreneurs who want to succeed in the US, and Singaporean mentors can likewise support US entrepreneurs looking to get exposed to the Singapore tech ecosystem.

Mrs Teo, who also met tech industry leaders in San Francisco over the weekend, said that Singapore was a useful gateway to South-east Asia, which has a digital economy projected to be worth US$360 billion (S$499 billion) by 2025.

Just under half of the region's 35 unicorns – start-ups valued at US$1 billion or more – are based in Singapore, she noted.

"Our women in tech can be a bridge for international businesses to expand their footprint in South-east Asia," said Mrs Teo.

Women make up 41 per cent of the tech workforce in Singapore, above the global average of 28 per cent, according to a Boston Consulting Group study in 2020.

In the US, women made up about 26 per cent of its computing workforce in 2021, according to official labour statistics compiled by the National Centre for Women and Information Technology non-profit.

The mentorship and networking programme is part of the US-Singapore Partnership for Growth and Innovation, which focuses on inclusive growth in the digital economy and smart cities, among other up-and-coming sectors.

The launch took place at this year's SelectUSA Investment Summit, a US government-supported business conference to attract foreign investment.

Singapore sent its largest delegation yet to the conference this year, with 41 delegates from 30 companies, according to the US Department of Commerce.

Among them was Ms Lin Fengru, the co-founder and chief executive of biotech start-up TurtleTree, which uses cell-based methods to make milk in labs.

TurtleTree has offices and research facilities in Singapore and the US, including operations in Boston and California, and is open to further states as it looks to scale up and manufacture its new products, Ms Lin told The Straits Times.

"Understanding where each of these talent and infrastructure hot spots are within the US allows me to make better decisions for TurtleTree's next steps," she said, adding that some locations had lower-cost utilities and energy, while others were more focused on talent.

"When we look at novel food production across the board, not just for TurtleTree but for cultivated meat, plant-based meat and so on, some of the highest contributing factors to the cost of goods sold are things such as utilities, water and talent. So we are looking for spots where these industry factors are beneficial," she added.

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