I recently had a discussion with Neal Cross the chief innovation officer at DBS Bank in Singapore.
It started with a statement from me, noting that based on a recent visit to Singapore it seemed that the innovation startup scene is stronger was Australia.
Neal said that he has had a meeting with the Singapore minister for education, as he had commented that there were not enough startups and entrepreneurs in the country.That being said, Neal thought that Singapore will win ‘hands down’.
The case for Australia
I argued that we had the smartest prime minister for many decades, who also had built and owned a technology startup.We have an innovation minister who is engaged with the community and ecosystem — things were looking positive, with many new startups (particularly fintech startups in both Sydney and Melbourne).
Further, I added, we have a great premier in NSW who ‘gets it’, and the ongoing competition between Sydney and Melbourne will serve us well.
Innovation is high on the on the national agenda.
The case for Singapore
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Neal noted shared that unlike Australia, Singapore is flush with funds — and VCs in Singapore can get funds from the government with only an expectation of a 5 per cent return.
A big believer in getting the model right, Neal explained that the Singapore government has a framework to support startups at every stage of the journey — from pure R&D activity all the way through to series B and even C.
It can also provide space, mentorship, incubation and acceleration.
In Singapore there is the EDB (Singapore Economic Development Board), NRF (National Research Foundation), Spring (for seed funding) and IDA (Infocomm Development Authority).
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Support from the government also extends into corporate, and DBS has active partnerships with EDB, IDA, NRF and the regulator MAS (Monetary Authority Singapore), to drive a cohesive strategy to help turn Singapore into a smart nation.
The jury is out
Australia has a larger population and a naturally innovative mindset. We need, however, to make shifts to how we encourage the ecosystems to operate. It is the interaction between business and government that appears to be where we need to do the most homework.
We should be aiming higher, but the reality is that we are not yet set up for success.