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Growing Singapore’s Venture Capital Industry

What is the state of venture capital and entrepreneurship in Singapore? For six years in a row, the World Bank has named Singapore the friendliest country in which to conduct business.[1] Its business friendly laws, well educated population, and easy to absorb culture have combined to make Singapore one of Asia’s financial and commercial centers. [2] The amount of venture capital funding for small medium sized enterprises, however, lags behind that of other countries. Recently, Singapore has attempted to rectify the situation by encouraging technology startups and venture capital.

Is the problem the people, or a lack of financing? According to one survey, conducted by the Zoltan Acs of George Mason University and Erkko Autio of the Imperial College Business School, it is not necessarily the people; Singapore has a population with entrepreneurial spirit and aspirations, but lacks access to venture capital finance.[3] In 2011, there were less than twenty venture capital funds focused on investing in Singapore based businesses. [4]

Over the past year, the Singaporean government has attempted to bolster venture capital investment in Singapore. One way in which it is doing this is to increase the amount of funding available from the government itself. In 2011, the government had around $300 million of funding available to startups. Recently this year, Singapore’s National Research Foundation, a governmental department, announced that it would make approximately S$4 billion in additional funding available for startups.[5] It is, however, currently unclear exactly how, when and to whom the funds will be dispersed.

The Singapore government has also increased other resources available to startups. For example, the Singaporean government is providing startups with office facilities, training, and mentoring.[6] Additionally, the government has a tech incubator, and various incentive programs such as a three-year tax exemption and joint funding options. [7] Finally, the number of contracts between government research departments and entrepreneurs has tripled over the past year. [8]

There is one catch with these programs; in order to gain access to many of these government programs, a startup company must be at least partially owned by a Singaporean person or business entity.[9] Thus, foreigners looking to start companies in Singapore must either find a Singaporean cofounder, or give equity to Singaporean VCs or government funds. [10] Very new startups will also struggle to bring foreigners to Singapore, as the government’s visa program imposes minimum paid-in-capital and local hiring requirements. [11]

Investment activity is not entirely government driven, however. [12] Singapore is a large financial center and, in 2011, its private equity and venture capital sector has an estimated $26.5 billion in total assets under management. [13] Of that total, a 2011 PriceWaterhouseCoopers survey found that $500 million was invested in venture capital deals with startups inside Singapore. [14]

The private venture capital industry appears to be growing since that survey. The Singapore Venture Capital and Private Equity Association’s membership is increasing every year.[15] Recently, Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin gave up his American citizenship, and moved to Singapore to invest in startups. [16]

Singapore makes for an attractive destination for investors due to low corporate and personal tax rates, highly educated population, its business friendly government, and position as a regional hub for conducting business in other Southeast Asian countries. [17]

Despite these advantages, however, Singapore remains a small country of only five million people, limiting the growth opportunities for domestic companies, and making its domestic market unique in ways that may not translate easily to other places. [18] Overcoming the limitations of the domestic market for goods and services is one of the key challenges for startups seeking to attract capital; startups must be able to show how they will reach markets outside of Singapore.[19] [1] Anthony Kuhn, Singapore’s Rising Tech Industry Draws Expat Innovators and Investors National Public Radio, (Sept. 17, 2012), http://www.capradio.org/news/npr/story?storyid=161267393.

[2] http://www.ivcpost.com/articles/5939/20120928/economist-reviews-asias-tech-start-up-environments.htm; http://news.asiaone.com/print/A1Business/General%2BNews/Story/A1Story20120928-374378.html

[3] Jo-Ann Huang, Venture Capital Industry Needs More Support, Channel News Asia (Mar. 23, 2011), http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/singaporebusinessnews/view/1118413/1/.html

[4] Id.

[5] Singapore Offers $4bn Funding to Startups , PRWeb (Sept. 10, 2012), http://www.prweb.com/releases/SingaporeStartup/4bnFunding/prweb9884734.htm

[6] Eileen Elliott, Economist Reviews Asia’s Tech Start-Up Environments, International Venture Capital and Private Equity News (Sept. 28, 2012), http://www.ivcpost.com/articles/5939/20120928/economist-reviews-asias-tech-start-up-environments.htm.

[7] Jacky Yap, A Taiwanese Opinion on Singapore for Foreign Startups, E27 (Oct. 3, 2012), http://e27.sg/2012/10/03/a-taiwanese-opinion-on-singapore-for-foreign-startups/

[8] Singapore Offers $4bn Funding to Startups , PRWeb (Sept. 10, 2012), http://www.prweb.com/releases/SingaporeStartup/4bnFunding/prweb9884734.htm

[9] Jacky Yap, A Taiwanese Opinion on Singapore for Foreign Startups, E27 (Oct. 3, 2012), http://e27.sg/2012/10/03/a-taiwanese-opinion-on-singapore-for-foreign-startups/

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Bernard Leong, A Map on Venture Capital in Singapore, SGE (Mar. 5, 2009), http://sgentrepreneurs.com/2009/03/05/a-map-on-venture-capital-in-singapore/

[13] Nisha Ramchandani, S’Pore a Magnet for PE and VC Firms, AsiaOne (Oct. 1, 2012), http://news.asiaone.com/print/A1Business/General%2BNews/Story/A1Story20120928-374378.html

[14] Id.

[15] Singapore Offers $4bn Funding to Startups , PRWeb (Sept. 10, 2012), http://www.prweb.com/releases/SingaporeStartup/4bnFunding/prweb9884734.htm

[16] Anthony Kuhn, Singapore’s Rising Tech Industry Draws Expat Innovators and Investors National Public Radio, (Sept. 17, 2012), http://www.capradio.org/news/npr/story?storyid=161267393.

[17] Id .

[18] Id., Jo-Ann Huang, Venture Capital Industry Needs More Support, Channel News Asia (Mar. 23, 2011), http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/singaporebusinessnews/view/1118413/1/.html

[19] Id.

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Aaron Berman

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