Singapore is an impressive country with only 5 million people, yet ranks 15th in terms of highest GDP per capita. With little natural resources to exploit, Singapore has had to rely on its only true resource – its people. With a strong emphasis on education and innovation, Singapore is quickly becoming a hotbed for start-ups. Even Facebook co-founder, Eduardo Saverin is living and investing in start-ups in Singapore.

In April, the Media Development Authority (MDA), SingTel Innov8 and National University of Singapore Enterprise (NUS) joined forces to establish a strategic incubation programme called Blk71. The programme is designed to allow start-ups to gain one-stop access to the resources they need to effectively develop and market their solutions to customers. Startups will receive up to S$50,000 of initial seed funding and opportunities for follow-on funding of S$200,000 or more.

To get more insight into MDA’s role, I talked with Michael Yap, Executive Director of IDM Programme Office hosted by MDA.

“Under the name of i.Jam which stands for Jumpstart And Mentor, the government has decided to ignite the interactive digital media industry by fuelling grassroots innovation by setting up a system to incubate ideas quickly with support from the public and private sector.

MDA is responsible for creating the ecosystem that brings together ideas and resources to grow and nurture start-ups. We need to make sure good start-ups have access to funding, so we have a network of angel and series A VC’s.

Our start-ups are mainly fresh entrepreneurs with most being in their 20’s. The youngest is only 16 but the oldest is 60.”

Under the focus area of i.ROCK (Research Oriented Centres of Knowledge), MDA has created strong research centre partnerships with leading universities around the world and has special names to go with them. With Tsinghua in China, they call it NExT (NUS-Tsinghua Centre for Extreme Search) and aims to achieve world leadership position on research in extreme search. Extreme search refers to search for data and information beyond what is indexed by the current Web. With Keio University in Japan, they call it CUTE (Connective Ubiquitous Technology for Embodiments) which aims to explore new frontiers for feeling through experiments in everyday social situations such as pyjamas that react to a hug.

For those who have never been to Singapore, it may be surprising to hear how advanced they are in the creative and innovative industries. Michael believes that as “Singapore has become more developed and sophisticated, since it has naturally evolved and moved up the value chain to be more creative.” The government is leading the charge by giving the sector SGD$500 million

Additionally Michael believes that Singapore has many key advantages that make it great place to innovate. “We have strong intellectual property management, a skilled workforce, a sophisticated user base, free wireless fibre to the node internet and great living conditions that attract talent. For example, Lucas Arts (creators of Star Wars) was able to build a team of people from all over the world. Our workforce is technically sophisticated and is able to mesh creativity and technical skills. We are early adopters of technology as well as a good launch pad into China and neighbouring countries like Indonesia and Malaysia.”

Some of the graduating start-ups from Singapore have proven themselves as breakout global players. Garena is an online game platform provider has registered more than 80 million users from 210 countries. Mozat is a mobile application that allows users to access all social networks (like Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin) on one single platform now serves more than 15 million users worldwide.

It is clear that Singapore is not just a place for good food. The buzzing start-up community is alive and thriving.

Jason is an Australian born Chinese living in Beijing, specializing in entrepreneurship, start-ups and the investment eco-system in China, especially in the tech and social area.

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