Image source: Mercatus Capital

As a fresh graduate in 1999, Rina Neoh had two choices – to stay on in the UK or to return to Asia to start a career.

Recalling how Singapore was “the obvious choice” when she decided on the latter, Penang-born Neoh said it was a decision she has never regretted, particularly when she decided to start her own venture capital firm Mercatus Capital in Singapore in 2006.

Back in the day when the phrase “start-up culture” was still unheard of, Neoh and her partners were already building up Mercatus Capital as a private investment firm that provides seed capital to emerging start-ups around Asia. They were confident that Singapore would serve as a good base and the ease of doing business here was a significant plus.

She explained: “Back then, the government was already very supportive in term of grants and innovations. The transparency and the efficiency of the financial structure made it easier for investors, both local and foreign.”

With the government recently introducing a slew of initiatives for foreign entrepreneurs in August 2017, these business-friendly principles have clearly endured. For example, the EntrePass scheme, a work visa for foreign entrepreneurs keen to locate their businesses in Singapore, has just been enhanced to make it even easier for them to do so.

Image source: Ayesha Khanna

That, together with an eagerness to embrace technology and capitalise on Singapore’s strategic location, is why Ayesha Khanna sees the Republic as well-positioned to ride the next wave of digital transformation today.

The CEO of artificial intelligence advisory and incubator ADDO AI, which is headquartered in Singapore, observed growing consumer appetite for digital solutions in products and services, offering significant opportunity for Singapore-based companies to emerge as regional leaders. For ADDO AI, this emerging demand has seen it help entities – from businesses to government agencies – build data-driven platforms that can radically improve their services.

She said: “This data-driven innovation is not going away in the next five to 10 years. There’s a big gap that we are well-positioned to fill because of our connectivity to businesses."

“Because we’re headquartered in Singapore, and Singapore itself symbolises this data-driven form of governance, we have a good reputation and that really helps us as entrepreneurs to go out and win over businesses all over Asia.”

Image Source: Spark Systems

Sharing Khanna’s entrepreneurial spirit is Wong Joo Seng, who founded Spark Systems in 2016 as Singapore’s solution to the high transaction costs attached to forex trading here. Despite accounting for one-eighth of the global trading volume, Singapore’s forex traders can only get their trades matched in forex marketplaces in London, New York and Tokyo.

By building a Singapore-based forex marketplace, Spark Systems aims to reduce rejection ratios, where orders to trade on a certain price may come in too late or when a price has expired.

Apart from the fact that Singapore is an established financial hub with clear demand for such a platform, strong governance was also a key factor that gave Wong the confidence to set up shop in Singapore. Less than a year since its inception, Spark Systems, which received grant support from the Monetary Authority of Singapore, has already raised the necessary funding from investors.

Another plus is the diversity of talent in Singapore, Wong said, adding: “From financial to tech personnel, legal, medical to accounting talents, Singapore is a great place to find a capable and well-trained workforce.

“For a start-up, for any company, talent is indispensable. To build great companies, you need great people.”

And it is these very talents who will ultimately drive Singapore to emerge as the next big hotspot for innovation and growth.

Having moved with her family to Singapore in 2012, before becoming a citizen in 2015, Khanna attests to the draw that Singapore holds for foreign talent. Foreign entrepreneurs, she said, are no longer just attracted to the business advantages of good infrastructure, safety and proximity to growing markets seen in Singapore.

She observed: “Now, they’re coming to find people like themselves. There is growing entrepreneurship, even among young and mid-career Singaporeans. There are also incubators, working spaces and support for entrepreneurs – and that has created a vibrant community.

“That community is incredibly invaluable – to be inspired, to be at the forefront of engaging with the best minds.”