Singapore needs to brand itself — and attract talent — as a place that is more inter-connected than other places. Which it is not.
Technology is re-shaping the business landscape faster than ever. Moving from connected cars and homes to self-driving cars and smart environments, intelligent technologies are pushing us to innovate beyond traditional boundaries.
But is Singapore’s technology and innovation ecosystem—involving startups, incubators, accelerators, corporates, and venture capital investors—ready to harness the enormous potential of the future smart economy?
A closer look at our ecosystem reveals a fragmented and inefficient landscape, where key players are operating in silos, severely limiting the capacity to innovate. A change is urgently needed to unify the ecosystem, to stimulate deeper collaboration and innovation, and ultimately to help Singapore stay competitive in the fast-evolving world in which we live.
Breaking out of Silos
The rapid evolution of technology as a key engine of growth has given rise to an ecosystem of investors, innovators, and integrators who are connected, but often in circuitous ways.
Startups, who inherently face an uphill battle to enter a market dominated by incumbents, are pressured to attract clients and scale quickly. Focused on their immediate customer acquisition priorities, startups have little opportunity to engage with the wider ecosystem.
Meanwhile, innovation companies at various stages of growth face an array of incubators and accelerators, with each providing specific kinds of support. Through competitions and bootcamps, companies may win access to a few months of office space, technical expertise, or business guidance.
When the programme ends, the cycle begins again to search for the next stage of support. This patchwork system — short-term, selective, and uneven — leaves companies without consistent exposure to the support networks needed throughout their lifecycle.
Those startups who come under the wing of corporate or VC players may receive longer-term support, funding, business networks, market exposure, and exit opportunities. But, corporate initiatives remain focused on solutions immediately relevant to them, and are driven by a handful of leaders across a few industries.
Startups must then weigh the access to long-term support against other shortfalls — the risk of being limited to one corporate parent and tying their growth to another business with its own decision makers and strategic plans.
Meanwhile, VCs are often tied to select verticals, geographies, and fund structures.
In recent years, the rise of co-working spaces has signalled an interest in a more community-oriented environment. Riding on the wave of demand for flexible work spaces, such business models attract a range of students, freelancers, creative professionals and startups.
While providing a viable alternative to traditional work offices, such spaces don’t directly address the business needs of a tech and innovation-driven community. This includes supporting services for startups, access to deal opportunities for investors, and most importantly, the opportunity to bring new innovations to the market.
As pressure increases for Singapore to be a regional and global hub for innovation, we need to move beyond the challenges of the current ecosystem, towards a more intelligent, deeply synergistic community.
Building Smart Ecosystems
What is the alternative?
To start with, a smart ecosystem would provide innovators, integrators, and investors with direct access to what they need to do business, rather than having to jump through hoops.
Startups need ongoing professional support to grow; investors need greater exposure to deal flows; businesses need to tap on a network of high potential partners, regardless of where they are or when the next conference comes around. This will allow players to focus on the end goal—bringing innovation to the market and to society.
Having cut through the noise, the next step would be to deepen connections, to allow a new level of learning, brainstorming, ideation and innovation processing.
Through deep information sharing and mutual learning opportunities integrated into daily business spaces, Singapore can make it easier to encounter other players within the innovation value chain.
Hopefully, the result would be increased engagement with an ever-expanding network of like-minded projects beyond one space or city. A deeply connected community will bring the kind of proactive self-learning capacities of a smart ecosystem that can capitalise on opportunities across multiple levels, verticals, and locations.
Furthermore, all players will gain from a solution which distinguishes Singapore as a uniquely connected and interconnected hub, where tightly woven players work hand-in-hand to drive innovation at the national level and beyond.
In the same way that intelligent technologies are connecting to wider information ecosystems and environments to develop new insights, we must also re-imagine a technology and innovation ecosystem where the various players expand beyond their default silos, to engage in more sustained, holistic cross-pollination and collaboration.
Those who can help Singapore accomplish this change will bring unique value to the current ecosystem.
Copyright: TEA / 123RF Stock Photo
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