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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?

Korea, Japan and the curse of the 'Salaryman'

The other two up-and-coming places are Korea and Japan. Korea has a very huge market. Korea, because of Internet access, has begun to change. They have a lot more start ups and the market is big enough.

Japan is now beginning to have a culture shift where starting up is no longer a stigma. Japan culture is very interesting. For the older generation, anyone who uses a computer is a 'salaryman' (anyone whose income is salary based, particularly those working for corporations). The boss will not want to touch the computer. So, imagine the foreigner who goes down there, sits down, switches on the computer, discussing and typing at the same time. The Japanese boss will think that you are a salaryman, and they won't discuss with you. It happened to me also when I was a GM at Hewlett-Packard. I began to realize that I should just use paper and pen. That's the culture, which also means that most of the computer technology, applications, etc., are not fantastic.

It changes when it goes on to the mobile phone, because mobile phones don't have that stigma. So, all of a sudden, because you can do a lot of things on the mobile phone, everybody is okay and everybody has the same rank. So now their mobile technology is one of the best; because it no longer has this social stigma tied to the computer.

The culture therefore is now changing and the young people there are now more open about it. They think about start-ups. So there are quite a number of people who are doing it.

India...what happens when outsourcing fades away?

On the west side of Singapore, there is India. India has been an outsourcing powerhouse. But that poses a very huge danger right now because when you look at the developing trends, you see dangerous signs. The reason why India can do outsourcing is because of enterprise software, the people operating it, everything on the system - you need all these things. But as we look at the trends, the trends are changing.

Now everything goes to the cloud. And everything goes into the small little apps. So all this enterprise things are going to go and India is currently not prepared for it. So there's a lot of things they have to do. Everybody all of a sudden there says, "Hey, I can do cloud and somebody can do the app". Everything is down here and you DIY (do it yourself).

Singapore losing her edge?

Just look at the mainframe, client servers, ASP etc, the trend is constantly flipping this way. So looking at everybody's ecosystem, it's all different. How will Singapore go into this space? I mean we are kind of losing our edge already. But what we have is a very good, in-depth understanding of technology.  We don't have that good capability of developing business-ready technology. We are actually developing a lot of technology. In fact, our R&D is one of the best. But that's all input-we have a lot of technology, a lot of (research) papers written, a lot of patents being filed, but we are not commercializing them.


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