Terraforming Singapore into Startup-land

I haven’t been writing much these days, thanks to the endless stream of work that awaits me in my inbox every day; meetings, follow-ups, legal agreements, investment memos, fund-raising logistics and operations, yadda yadda yadda.  But hey, I’ve never been more motivated about my work than ever!  I feel like I’m part of a terraforming squad that has been tasked to turn Singapore into a Class M planet for startups and entrepreneurs.  It is a task that I approach with much gusto, while keeping my head and feet firmly on the ground for what would most likely be a 5- to 10-year journey.  The road ahead will most certainly be bumpy, but you can count on it that I’d do my best to enjoy the ride in the meantime.

To that end, I’d like to extend my heartfelt thanks to the team at the National Research Foundation (NRF), namely Mr. Teo Ming Kian (Permanent Secretary, National Research and Development), Mr. Francis Yeoh (CEO, NRF) and Mr. Tan Yinglan (Head of Special Projects, NRF).  Despite an initial bumpy draft of the NRF TIS Co-investment Framework and the accompanying Investment Agreement, the team has demonstrated willingness in accepting inputs from the 7 TIS incubators, and exhibited flexibility in accommodating our requests as they push the envelope of public-private partnership, so as to create a scheme that can have long-lasting benefits for us all.  I’ve spent enough time in our government, and I can’t tell you enough how the team just “gets it”, provided of course, you had the patience to explain it to them ;-).  Ok, whoops I didn’t write the previous sentence heh.

Still, the infusion of up to S$58.8 million (TIS budget of S$50m divided by 85% x 100%) won’t be the solution to the question that has eluded many of Singapore’s technocrats for the better part of the past decade.  A thriving startup ecosystem (whatever your definition of success may be) will require the collective effort of everyone.  Reputations, pride, egos and past successes might help, but are more likely to be the speed-bumps that our nascent ecosystem can well do without.  What matters most is for us to create and maintain an open environment, one rooted in the notion of paying it forward – after all, a rising tide lifts all boats.

I‘m sure every cog in the wheel will be busy iterating in the months ahead.  I’ll be playing my part too, with a slant towards the following:

  • Investments/Incubation – I am keeping an eye out for entrepreneurs that I enjoy working with, who have a keen sense of the market and their users, and are in the Consumer Internet space;
  • HackathonSG – together with AJ and Jason Ong, we’ll be organizing regular sessions for hardcore developers and engineers to get together, where they will let their fingers (rather than their mouths) to the talking, and engage in hands-on hackathon sessions.  Minimum discussion, maximum coding sprints.  I think this is one event that is sorely lacking in this part of the world.  Join us, as we hold our first session tonight at 7.30pm at HackerspaceSG;
  • “Grand Central Station” of Startup-land – it might be the Arab Street area, or it might be a loose network of spaces (in-town, and in the city fringes, but definitely near food + MRT) for startup-land folks to gather.  Think co-working spaces, events, and mentorship/incubation;
  • Enhancing Human Flow – Sean Bonner and I will be spending some time to connect our extended networks and bringing them to Singapore, most obviously to speak and participate at local events, and to interact with our entrepreneurs and startups;
  • Universities – I’m very happy to have found great partners in NTU Ventures (with Rosa and her team) and in SMU IIE (with Desai and his team.  One area I’d like to look into, is to facilitate greater interaction between the students of all 3 universities, be it at events like the Hackathon, or at physical incubator spaces that are university-neutral.

Let me know if you have any cool ideas of our own – I’d love to see how I can help move the scene forward.

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+.