Singapore top draw for startup professionals? Not so simple


A STUDY has ranked Singapore as the world's top city for professionals looking to work in a startup - a finding which has drawn mixed reviews from those in the local startup sector.

The Startup Cities Index, the findings of which were obtained by The Business Times on Monday, found the Republic to have outperformed 84 of the 85 ranked cities in five areas - startup ecosystem, salary, social security and benefits, cost of living and quality of life.

The index was created by Berlin-based accommodation company Nestpick, which helps professionals source fully-furnished accommodation when they move to a new city.

James Tan, managing partner of venture capital firm Quest Ventures, didn't buy all the findings. For starters, he said, the number of vacation days - one of three indicators of social security and benefits - are "irrelevant" to startups.

He said: "To founders, there is often no concept of weekends or public holidays. In comparison to their multinational corporation competitors, startups neither have the luxury of time nor money. So they need to move fast. If they work one Saturday more than the large companies, these startups would have done 20 per cent more work."

Singapore's "vacation days" score was the 15th-lowest among the 85 cities; Vienna had the highest minimum number of annual vacation days.

Mr Tan also questioned Singapore's ranking in cost of living. With a score of 3.49, it emerged a more affordable city than New York (2.03) and London (2.16), but not Berlin (3.78) and Tel Aviv (3.64).

He said: "We need to look into our high cost of living, which I suspect housing forms a bulk of. It is surprising to see that Berlin has lower costs of living than Singapore."

In response, a spokesman for the Startup Cities Index said Berlin is the cheapest capital in Europe, in part because 25 years ago, half the city was part of East Germany, which has kept prices "a lot lower than the rest of Germany".

The Index's affordability score is calculated by comparing local prices of items such as groceries, rent and public transportation.

Eugene Wong, managing director of Sirius Venture Capital, noted that Singapore ranked high in terms of startup salaries, but was still ranked lower than Silicon Valley. He said: "I believe this gap will narrow."

Singapore lags behind several cities in the US in startup salaries. For instance, the yearly gross salary of a project management professional in Singapore is between US$33,968 and US$65,937; in San Francisco, it is between US$56,826 and US$122,577.

A tech professional in Singapore makes US$38,245 to US$59,145, compared to New York's US$75,636 to US$122,844.

Mr Wong added that it is "comforting" that Singapore did well for safety - one of two indicators of quality of living - as global professionals are increasingly concerned about the safety of their work and living environments.

The Republic emerged No. 1 in the world for safety, followed by Munich and Zurich. The Index's safety score reflects the reported perception of safety by the city's residents and public data on crime rates.

Quest Ventures' Mr Tan said that safety, often overlooked for the sake of opportunity, ought to be a key driver for people. "Our multi-cultural, multilingual and multi-religion environment creates a comfortable base from which everyone from around the world should feel welcome to start the next big thing."

But while Singapore fared well in safety, it took 41st spot for the other indicator of quality of living: gender equality, a reflection of a city's commitment to equal pay for all employees. Helsinki was tops in this.

Mr Wong said: "It looks like we need to have more rest and more gender equality in the future!"

Race Wong, co-founder of HDB-search portal Ohmyhome, noted that Singapore was among the Index's top 10 cities for income tax and healthcare, and that its cost of living was at mid-range.

"This allows individuals working for a startup to be well covered in terms of salary and work-life balance. We agree with this ranking and are very proud to be based in Singapore."

Asked how can a city become a preferred destination for startup professionals, the spokesman for the Index pointed to legislation to control rapid increases in the cost of housing, as seen in Berlin and Zurich.

"Cities should also continue to improve public education. Startup employees can hardly pay for private education."