High time for the Smart Nation to dive into Startup Nation

EARLIER this year, the Global Startup Ecosystem Report and Ranking 2017 by Startup Genome, a US-based organisation, revealed that Singapore has overtaken tech mecca Silicon Valley as the world's No 1 for startup talent. The report credited Singapore's innovative policies for its success as a great startup ecosystem, and added that Singapore's performance numbers are sound and will probably continue to rise.

Despite the thriving startup landscape in this economically and geographically advantageous nation, word on the street is that there is a pronounced lack of local technical talent in the Singapore startup segment.

Although Singapore produces approximately 58 per cent of its graduates in Engineering Sciences, Business and Administration and Information Technology every year, many end up pursuing careers in the multinational corporations and the public sector for the stability and security that they provide.

While completely fair and true that not every Singaporean needs to be an entrepreneur, what we do need is to build a local entrepreneurial spirit, which involves initiative, risk-taking, innovativeness and agility. But where do we go to build risk-takers who are ready to drive the startup success in Singapore?

START FROM SCHOOLS

In a position paper released by the Singapore Business Federation, the committee urged for a more proactive approach in encouraging entrepreneurship and cited that a broader mindset change of creativity and risk and reward of entrepreneurship must start in schools.

It is indeed true that universities and polytechnics make up a big part of the startup ecosystem, and is an excellent starting point for nurturing entrepreneurial spirit through providing students with the tools and resources for turning their business ideas into reality.

In order to learn entrepreneurship, one must do entrepreneurship. While this in no way excludes theory and the knowledge of it, true entrepreneurship occurs when the acquisition of skills and mindsets is achieved through deliberate hands-on activities. For schools, this means ramping up on internships and strategic partnerships, to build a link for students to network, learn and benefit from real-world experiences.

The exposure to peers from different countries helps them learn how to build trust, and respect cultural differences - crucial to entering one of the most diverse business communities in the region.

Schools should also be attuned to the evolving needs of an increasingly disrupted marketplace, and be flexible in assessing not just the rigour of the curriculum in equipping students with skills of the future, but in examining the relevance of programmes being offered.

To fuel our Smart Nation ambitions, schools must prepare graduates with the courage and tenacity to plug into gaps in the market segment, such as IT and security. This also means that modules must be founded on their capability to not just transfer knowledge, but prime a new generation for agile work environments built on experimentation.

ADOPT A COLLABORATIVE MENTALITY

Central to the power of startups is its ability to contribute to economic dynamism by spurring innovation and injecting competition. But for this to take effect, collaboration with various institutions, communities and talents is key. Startups need to recognise that strong relationships are critical to helping them upsell their products, and they need to know with whom to build such bonds.

For a start, where capital is concerned, startups should partner with government bodies and tap on the ever-increasing regulatory and funding support implemented to simplify the process of starting and growing a business on local shores.

And while it is encouraging to see the government complementing the transformational efforts of the startup economy, it is also crucial for startups to understand what these different funds and policies mean for their operations and analyse the long-term impact and profitability before jumping on the entrepreneurial bandwagon.

To reap the full benefits of the government's support, startups must first identify competitive advantages and opportunities before subsuming these resources.

Next, to build a successful startup, it is extremely beneficial to identify like-minded individuals. Startups are exciting for the very reason that they have the opportunity to create new markets that did not exist before, but to sustain that, there needs to be a constant stream of creative and innovative exchanges. A prime example of how entrepreneurial spirit thrives through collaboration is personified in Singapore's very own Blk71, the brainchild of NUS Enterprise, SingTel Innov8 and the then Media Development Authority of Singapore.

Originally nothing more than an idea to consolidate the previously dispersed local entrepreneurial community into a common location, Blk71 is now home to hundreds of tech-related startups, venture capitalists and incubators. Through collaboration, there can be a seamless synergy between innovation, adaptability and stability, thus amounting to a win-win result for all parties at play.

CHARTING A PATH TO MORE STARTUPS IN SINGAPORE

Traditionally, our policies, frameworks and pathways have been structured to encourage the employment and protection of workers in established corporations.

However, with the rise of the gig economy, and the flurry of startups that have been making their mark on our shores, we need to seize the opportunity to reinvent our business environment to build a smarter nation and drive greater economic growth.

With an evolving education system, rampant opportunities for innovative collaborations, and bold individuals who dare to challenge the status quo, there is much potential for Singapore to thrive as a startup hub.

  • The writer is dean and head, School of Business & Management, PSB Academy.