Hitchhiker’s Guide to Starting your Venture in SG (with Govt as your guardian angel)

Having written about Singapore’s generous yet uncoordinated initiatives for entrepreneurs, I decide to be helpful and shed some light on the otherwise dark and confusing path.  The following are my personal views on the path that entrepreneurs in Singapore could take to gain leverage, stretch their dollars and extend their runway as they innovate amidst tough times.  Kids, please don’t try these at home.

Before you continue the rest of this post, if you have not, I’d advise you to first check out my advice on taking money from the government with as little pain (and hassle) as possible.

Assumptions

You are a budding entrepreneur with a solid idea and nothing much else.  You worked at an MNC for a year and decided being a cog in the massive corporate wheel was just not your cup of tea.  You wrote your resignation letter and made preparations to hand it to your boss.  Here’s how I think you can go about starting your venture in Singapore, with a ‘lil help of our Government.

Taking Baby Steps

  • Don’t quit immediately – stay on at your job for as long as you can take it, so that your day job can cross-subsidize your night passion.  Look for like-minded people to build your dream team by hanging out at the government-funded local entrepreneurial entities (NUS Enterprise, NTU Technopreneurship Centre and SMU Business Innovation Generator) and participating in events organised by them and others such as SGentrepreneurs, E27, TDM etc.  Spend some time to find advisers/team members with relevant start-up/fund-raising experience – street cred always helps with investors down the road.
  • Write your business plan and put it through the test (and iterate through multiple revisions) by participating in the annual Start-up@Singapore competition.  If you win, go to step 3.  If you don’t, continue on to the next step only if you decide you’re still going ahead with that great idea of yours.
  • Incorporate and register as a start-up at any of the three university entrepreneurship centres to benefit from the low-cost office space (amongst a suite of other goodies).  Try and ensure that at least 30% of the venture is held by Singapore residents (citizens or permanent residents) – most local grants require that.
  • Spend the next 3 – 9 months huddling with the team to understand market needs, gather user feedback and build a prototype product/solution with a sufficiently low common denominator to enable your venture to address larger markets beyond (measly) Singapore.  To pay the bills, half the team could stay on their day jobs and pool their salaries together to help the rest of the team out with their bills.  The deeper your innovation and technology basis, the more time you can afford for this step.
  • Go for SPRING Singapore’s Young Entrepreneur Scheme for Start-ups (YES! Start-ups) if you need to pay for servers and other early development costs.  Raise S$12.5k by pooling a month’s worth of salaries from the team in exchange for S$50k ($4 from govt for every $1 raised by start-up).
  • Secure your marquee customer(s) or initial user base by hook or by crook – this is absolutely critical.  Throw out a tonne of PR and drum up publicity and make an awful lot of noise.  This is in preparation for the next phase of your venture’s development.

Run Forrest Run!

  • Try and get funded. If you can’t tempt any of the 6 early-stage venture funds seeded by NRF, another way would be to pitch to the business angels under SPRING’s Business Angels Scheme.  Alternatively (I like this for the way it games the system), take out whatever savings your team’s got left, and beg, borrow or steal from friends, families and fools.  Give that money away to person A.  Look for person B to invest in your start-up by approaching SPRING Seeds Capital and apply for matching equity funding under the Start-up Enterprise Development Scheme for up to an additional S$300k to start with (the scheme can scale up to S$1m subsequently, not sure how that happens).  I don’t want to know what happens between person A and B, and you really shouldn’t break any laws in the process.
  • Post-financing, apply for SPRING’s Technology Innovation Programme (TIP) for between S$200k to S$500k (based on anecdotal sources of successful applicants) of grant support to fund your ongoing product development.  Use your freshly-raised funds from the previous step to match the paid-up capital required by the TIP grant while seeking reimbursement of the project expenses as approved under your venture’s TIP grant offer letter.  This should easily extend your runway by 20 – 40%.
  • (where relevant) Build your overseas markets by participating in the government-subsidised overseas exhibitions and conferences (e.g. by IE Singapore and IDA, amongst others).
  • Once you are close to break-even, and have a decent pipeline of sales leads and a fast-growing revenue run-rate, approach the more established VC funds to fish for term sheets.  Any earlier and valuations/terms are bound to be crappy/unbalanced.  Once you’ve successfully closed your first institutional round of venture capital, the sky’s your limit!

How has your start-up leveraged on our Government’s initiatives?  What did you wish you’d done better in the past?  Do share them with me.

About James Chan

James Chan is an entrepreneur, investor, geek, photographer and husband/father based out of Singapore. Apart from frequent travels to Vietnam, Myanmar and Indonesia for work, James can also be found online via his trusty 15" Retina MacBook Pro or iPhone 6+.