Singaporeans in Silicon Valley urged to consider growing opportunities at home

Minister of Finance Heng Swee Keat at a reception with Singaporeans living in the San Francisco Bay Area on April 19, 2019.
Minister of Finance Heng Swee Keat at a reception with Singaporeans living in the San Francisco Bay Area on April 19, 2019.PHOTO: MINISTRY OF FINANCE

SAN FRANCISCO - Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat and Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan have urged Singaporean professionals in the San Francisco Bay Area - which includes Silicon Valley - to keep in mind opportunities in Singapore as the Republic develops and restructures its economy.

Close to 300 Bay Area residents, almost all Singaporeans, gathered at a reception on Friday evening (April 19) in San Francisco to meet the ministers. They included students and technology professionals,.

The Bay Area has the largest community of Singaporeans of any region in the United States.

Singapore Connect, a social organisation for Singaporeans in the Bay Area, has around 1,000 members, its president Mark Sin told The Straits Times.

The reception was hosted by the Overseas Singaporean Unit and the Singapore consulate in San Francisco.

Dr Balakrishnan is visiting California in his capacity as Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative.

Mr Heng is in the closing stages of a trip to the US that started in Washington, DC, with meetings with finance chiefs of G-20 countries, and with International Monetary Fund and World Bank officials, as well as US Treasury officials, senators and members of Congress.


In San Francisco he addressed the Bridge Forum CEO Summit on Wednesday.

Both he and Dr Balakrishnan are due to address more than 800 tech professionals at a Tech Forum on Saturday.

Dr Balakrishnan told the gathering, which included families with children, that he and Mr Heng held a series of meetings including with professors at Stanford University and with venture capitalists, business people, and active and former politicians.

He said he felt "incredibly humbled by the fact that a country so small, just 700 square kilometres, a population of only five and a half million of which we have about 3.4 million citizens, a city state that is 8000 miles away from here, is so over represented in Silicon Valley".

"We have at least 1,200 Singaporeans working in Silicon Valley. And that is amazing when you consider that this place, Silicon Valley, is the capital of the digital revolution," he said.

He added: "Each one of you is here because of this revolution and the fact that you are valuable.

"You are here because people want your brains, your creativity, your ability to work very hard and work very long hours.

"And the fact that you are absolutely reliable and trustworthy as Singaporeans.

"Whatever choices you make, however long and unusual your personal journey is going to be, you will always be Singaporeans, we will always be proud of you. If you succeed we all take pride."

At the Tech Forum, themed 'Singapore: The Digital Capital of South-east Asia', the ministers will talk about "opportunities back home in the digital space which I hope at appropriate junctures in your life journey some of you will see opportunities to play a major part", Dr Balakrishnan said.

"Keep options open, consider as we open up opportunities back home, how you can play your own part in this special tiny place called Singapore."

Mr Heng highlighted the advantages Singaporeans have in growing up in a multiracial, multicultural, multi-religious and multilingual society, which gave them cross-cultural understanding, confidence and the ability to adapt.

The all-day Tech Forum is being organised by the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB), Infocomm Media Development Authority, Overseas Singaporean Unit, SGInnovate and the Smart Nation and Digital Government Group.

"This year's Forum will provide more than 800 tech professionals with insights on how Singapore's dynamic tech ecosystem can support the global ambition of individuals and companies," the EDB said on its website.

"Participants, mostly comprising Singaporeans based in San Francisco, will also learn more about opportunities in South-east Asia, a huge growth market of over 600 million people."

Speaking to The Straits Times after the reception, Mr Sin, 42, engineering manager at Mac System Engineering at Apple, said the call to come back to Singapore had been heard before, and generally the urge to return was not very strong - especially among the older generation of Singaporeans, unless there was a pull being felt from parents and older relatives.

Other issues were remuneration, as well as the fact that Silicon Valley is more focused on tech design whereas Singapore is seen more as a financial and services-oriented consumer of tech.

But in the younger, more entrepreneurial generation of Singaporeans in the Valley, Singapore did provide opportunities in terms of start-ups, he said.

"I think there is a difference in the sub-30 and older past 35 generation, in their willingness to go back and the reasons to go back," he told The Straits Times.