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Singapore and the startup world according to Dr. Alex Lin

Zafar Anjum | March 26, 2014
Singapore, as a startup hotspot, has strengths and weaknesses, says Dr. Alex Lin, head of Singapore’s Infocomm Investments Pte Ltd (IIPL) in this exclusive interview. We are, in a sense, losing our edge, he says. But despair not as Dr. Lin has some magic number in his mind that will help create a very vibrant tech ecosystem in Singapore. What is that magic number and how Dr. Lin and his team are going to achieve success?

Eventually, I started my own company, which is a wireless Internet service provider (WISP). It was doing all right, but a business model has to morph. That is where my years of experience as an entrepreneur comes in. Being an entrepreneur means I create new business units.

Entrepreneurs have an advantage because you have a corporate support behind it. As an entrepreneur, you look at bottomline everyday, and that business originally was not viable. Eventually, we went over to China and Indonesia, and we became a system integrator for people. It was comfortable, but I eventually exited and went on to build a few more companies. We built set-up boxes - and that was during the Internet times. It was okay. Imagine you are doing a 56K modem dial up using a television as your monitor, those were the days. After that we exited comfortably, and started doing other business. When I say we, I am referring to my family members and business partners. The rest of the time, I largely spend it on investing and coaching startups.

For a certain period of time, I also went back to the logistics industry - SembCorp Logistics - where we rebuilt the company. Those are the things that I have done. And these few years, as I was building quite a bit on the ecosystem, I worked with NUS, SUTD and NTU (their incubation centres) to build their startups.

Users vs. creators of technology

I came to know that our tech ecosystem is kind of weak. Over the years, 10 to 15 years ago, we were pretty hot on technology. Now, we are more into applications. This means that now we are users of technology versus creators of technology. Majority of students that progress through the education system prefer to go into banking and finance, or accountancy. There is nothing wrong with that, because that's where the jobs are. But eventually, we are losing the edge. And I believe that globally, everyone feels this way; this has become an issue.

In places like NTU (Nanyang Technological University) or even running a hackathon, you had 100 over people attending the hackathon but only about 60 plus projects got proposed - and only two projects came up with a minimum viable demo, (while) the rest were just on paper. Why is that so? It's because only these two teams were able to find a coder, or programmer to do it. It is the same issue we see happening in the incubation space. A lot of people are talking that they want to do something, but nobody can. So the project dies because of that. That has become an issue - our tech advantage is getting eroded.


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