There are various reasons why entrepreneurship has not traditionally thrived in Asia. Relatively speaking, US culture regards failure in business as a positive part of the learning process, and therefore Americans are more inclined to take risks. Asian culture, however, is less forgiving of failure. In addition, Hugh Mason (Chief Executive of Joyful Frog Digital Incubator (JFDI)) explains that the traditional method in Asian schools is “all about getting the right answer”, and that “being smart sometimes weighs against entrepreneurship”.
Traditionally Singapore has been considered by many in the business world as a gateway to South East Asia, as it represents a relatively small market of five million people. Investors often choose to temporarily place their money in Singapore before investing in larger markets in the region such as Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. However Angel investors and venture capital funds are increasingly seeking investment opportunities in Singapore itself.
A growing number of educational institutions are running entrepreneurship programmes and providing mentoring opportunities; and the Singaporean government are actively removing regulatory barriers in a bid to encourage entrepreneurship. Ron Mahabir (found of Asia Cleantech Capital) states that “While the government has done a great job of loans and grant programmes, culturally it’s very difficult to push entrepreneurship very quickly.” Change, however, is undoubtedly underway in Singapore. In fact, according to the WorldBank, Singapore ranks at Number One in the world “for ease of doing business, and Number Four “for starting a business”.
Singapore-based JFDI is working in partnership with SingTel [a subsidiary of a major telecommunications company] to run an accelerator programme for start-ups from around Asia. This program allocates start-up teams from around the South East Asia with mentorship from experienced entrepreneurs and specialists for 100 days, after which the start-ups can pitch to investors. Wong Meng Weng (who helped start JFDI) says, “I see Singapore as the technology and start-up capital of South East Asia, not unlike the US where you recruit from around the world and get them to come into Silicon Valley”.