Being chairperson of Singapore infocomm Technology Federation (SiTF) over the past few years has been a rewarding experience for me. I was able to work closely with the government and tech sector and saw the continuing evolution of Singapore’s ICT landscape.
Ms Shirley Wong, tech investor & former entrepreneur who has helped transformed startups
Within the ICT sector, manpower has always been a key concern and I’m glad that some of our feedback and recommendations were taken into account by the government during this year’s budget, with the announcement of more funding and support for ICT manpower development. The creation of the Techskill Accelerator (TeSA) programme is a positive step that will help empower and improve the employabilty of the tech workforce.
SiTF has also grown a lot closer to the startup community over the last three years. Some highlights for me include being an investment mentor for young companies in our 123 JumpStart initiative which has now grown to 260 members, providing space and support for the community; creatinga Startup Alley for the first time at Sitex to help Singapore startups become more visible in the industry; and SiTF being selected again as a Greenlane partner by SPRING.We also launched a new category for startups in our SiTF awards to encourage and recognise young and aspiring Singapore tech companies and their innovations.
I believe the ICT industry today is much more visible in Singapore than before. We have built one of the most vibrant tech startup ecosystems in the world. Singapore is now seen as a haven for startups, attracting both local and foreigners to start their own businesses. While many startups have jumped onto the bandwagon in the ICT sector, not all have been entirely successful.
The biggest obstacle for startups
In my role at SiTF, and as a venture capitalist, I get to connect with many young companies. I have noticed that although many have a lot of passion for what they are doing, the biggest obstacle they face remains their mind-set. Are they ready to be a startup? What is their end goal and how are they going to get there?
Many are not fully aware that a startup is always a risk. They may have a vision but have not thought of the resources they require, or the network on which they can tap or partners that can help them. Many have also not considered the problems they would face or planned for adversity, or tough decisions that are necessary for their business.
There are a number of young entreprenuers with a skewed perception that an ‘innovative idea’ will market itself. Unfortunately, this is seldom the case. More important than having an idea is knowing how to execute and turning that idea into a reality.
Many startups are also unprepared for the rigours of launching and sustaining their business. The hardest aspect lies in the realisation that 12 months or 18 months later, they find themselves stuck in rut; not having done enough strategic planning and unable to progress further.
Dispelling the myths
So how can startups in Singapore be more successful? Entrepreneurs firstly need to be realistic about their expectations. One notion that startups need to dispel are that they are going to make a lot of money in a very short time.
Doing a startup requires planning, creativity, patience and grit. It can be a long and difficult road and does not always lead to success. Startups should learn to accept and embrace failures without losing the spark and passion for why they started in the first place.Making money should not be the only motivation for an entrepreneur.
Singapore has had many successful companies who have gone regional but there have been few in the tech sector in recent years. There is a declining number of Singapore SMEs who are expanding overseas in recent years. This is a worrying trend. Many a times when I speak to SMEs about growing their company, they are apprehensive about expanding abroad due to high costs and uncertainty about the returns. This unwillingness or fear to take risks I feel will eventually hinder the growth of businesses.
Be courageous and think big
Singapore is a small market and limited in labour and resources. Because of the limitations of our local market size, I would encourage business owners to always think of how they can eventually bring what they do to the region.
Startups and SMEs need to ask: What is their mission and are they ready to work for it for the next 5 years? They need to be courageous. They need to think big but stay grounded.. Does the business or technology solution they provide have a definable market? How can they grow their distribution and revenues in the shortest time? Are they ready to scale and expand when the opportunity arises?
For instance, when we started Frontline Technologies back in 1993, we had a clear vision from the start that we want to grow our IT services beyond Singapore into the region. We focussed on what we wanted and did not deviate or be caught with other distractions. Once we moved beyond Singapore, the opportunities to grow the business continued to come. We started with just 8 people and eventually grew the company to 5,000 employees.
Today, with a slowing domestic economy and expensive land costs, SMEs should look to capitalise on foreign markets for continual growth beyond Singapore, which can help ensure their survival. In my view, going overseas is critical to long term growth and sustainability.
As the ICT industry continues to evolve, SiTF will continue to play a very important role in helping to anticipate ICT trends and develop initiatives that can strengthen the tech community as well as Singapore’s economy.
Having spent a large part of my career growing businesses, entrepreneurship will always remain an area close to my heart. I will still be championing the SiTF awards and continue to support local companies in their innovation and technology adoption.
Shirley was SiTF’s chairwoman from 2013 to 2016 and has more than 20 years of experience in the ICT industry. She is the Managing Partner of TNF Ventures, an investor and incubator under National Research Foundation’s Technology Incubator Scheme. Prior to her current role, she oversees the management and operations of the BT Frontline group in Asia Pacific. She was previously a co-founder of Frontline Technologies.
By Contributor Raymond Tan/30 September 2016 13:43pm GMT+8 Singapore
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