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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?

We are good tech users. We know what that is, and we can buy if not build it. And the future is still the tech.

How did I eventually get here? I was happily doing my own business which is private, non-governmental. As I was speaking to Mr. Steve Leonard of IDA, he basically asked me to join here and do things here (at IIPL). The major difference is this: with the political will and the resources down here, we can really change it.

You briefly touched upon some points about the tech ecosystem in Singapore. How do you characterize the tech ecosystem here, and how do you find it? How does it differ from the tech ecosystems in other countries? 

Dr. Alex Lin: Maybe we should start with a few hotspots that are not available around here. The very first one when we talk about tech ecosystem, we are looking at Silicon Valley.

Silicon Valley is actually a very entrepreneurial environment. It morphs, and it adapts (to new situations and) and it has done so already a few times (in the past). In fact, it is actually slowly moving. The centre of gravity (of tech innovation) is actually not in the Silicon Valley. It is now closer to San Francisco. Things are moving up.

When we start looking at this (trend), it developed on its own out of necessity. Everybody wants to do something fast and make big bucks fast. That kind of mentality is what drives them. But, of course, a long time ago it was the gold rush (in San Francisco). The same culture permeates through the whole place and you start seeing people with "go, do it" mentality.

You can't replace the Silicon Valley 

When such things happen, a community will form. And when that happens, the government doesn't have to do anything because the market automatically works. That is where I would say Silicon Valley is a model. It is very difficult to replace them. You can almost say it is almost impossible to replace them because culturally, it is so deeply ingrained in people's lives. And it is a very good model for meritocracy, if you are able to make it. Everything is expensive down there. If you are not able to make it, you are supposed to stay outside anyway. People recognize that. That is the very first ecosystem. I don't think anyone can replace it. People can try to replicate or imitate it, but it's not easy because you don't have the deep culture of it.

New York-a place for business-savvy startups

Now moving on to the eastern side, for example, take New York. It is slowly replicating it (the Silicon Valley model). New York has a certain advantage because it is a varied business place. West Coast is tax savvy, East Coast is business savvy. It is closer to the streets, and people are also closer to the marketing and promotion companies (the advertising people). So they begin to build on that - more business savvy kind of start-ups, and they slowly gain strength.


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