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A good starter platform

Startups from Singapore and Germany seek each other's markets as regional launchpads.

Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean meeting the staff of accelerator Startup Autobahn during his tour of Techventure X Slush Singapore event in September 2016.

SINGAPORE'S startup scene has drawn significant German interest in the past couple of years, opening doors for German and Singaporean startups alike.

Startup Autobahn Singapore, the Mercedes-Benz corporate accelerator that was launched here in 2016, has supported 14 startups so far and begun recruitment of a third cohort to be unveiled this month.

In March this year, the German Accelerator - a German government-backed programme to help German tech startups go global - kicked off the inaugural round of its Singapore programme.

By July, German Accelerator Southeast Asia (GASEA) had already brought in eight startups in a range of businesses: agritech, publishing, high performance sensor technology, logistics intelligence and fintech.

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July was also when the GASEA, which is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, officially opened its Singapore office at JTC Launchpad Block 75 - its second global office after the United States.

Its five-month programme aims to help German tech startups break into South-east Asian markets.

GASEA founder and CEO Claus J Karthe, said at its launch: "South-east Asia is the best place to be for foreign startups to understand the heterogeneous Asian market and to begin an Asian expansion strategy. This is because South-east Asia presents a tremendous opportunity with its large, youthful and digitally savvy middle class.

"Governments are also encouraging innovation, mobile capabilities, and digitisation. The ecosystems comprising research institutes, government agencies and industries are relatively open to learning and supporting foreign startups."

And Singapore, he believes, is a good starter platform for German entrepreneurs wishing to navigate their way across Southeast Asia.

"Singapore is the trading centre par excellence in South-east Asia due to its fantastic infrastructure, excellent investment climate and growth-promoting programmes of a very open-minded government. Combined with legal certainty, it is easy for German companies to gain a foothold here in Singapore to set up their Asian expansion," Mr Karthe said.

For German automotive manufacturing giant Daimler, choosing Singapore to be the location of its first Mercedes-Benz startup accelerator programme outside of Germany was easy. It already had regional headquarters here and was familiar with the government's Smart Nation and infrastructure plans, as well as support for startups.

The 14 startups that Startup Autobahn Singapore has incubated here so far apply a range of technologies, such as the Internet of Things and augmented reality, to areas relevant to Mercedes-Benz and the future of mobility, including driving technologies, customers, automotive retail and infrastructure management.

Speaking to the Economic Development Board, Marc Krueger, its CIO for the region Overseas, said: "We are constantly looking to take the mobility industry to the next level and Singapore is the perfect test bed for our global solutions."

Its experience with Singapore has since led Startup Autobahn to replicate this model of an overseas accelerator in China.


Startups founded here in Singapore are looking to Germany for opportunities too.

At its official opening in July, GASEA announced a two-way partnership with Enterprise Singapore (ESG), not just to aid German entrepreneurs seeking new markets across Southeast Asia, but also to support startup growth in the opposite direction: by supporting Singapore startups' entry into Germany.

Specifically, GASEA and ESG will set up "landing pads" for Singapore startups in Munich and Berlin, and a two-phase programme.

Phase one will put Singapore startups through a series of assessments, pitching and mentorship session. Startups that are deemed ready will then move on to phase two in Germany, where they will be housed in co-working spaces in Munich or Berlin and introduced to mentors, investors and Mittelstand companies there.

The programme is expected to benefit up to 60 Singapore startups over the next two years.

Other parties, such as the Singapore German Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SGC), have also been facilitating such two-way interactions between Singapore and Germany's startup communities.

Last October, Singapore startups participated in a week-long tour across Germany supported by SGC. And in April this year, the SGC hosted a startup delegation from North Rhine Westphalia. It is now preparing for another four-day startup trade mission this November, which will be focused on infocomms technology and business matching.

"It is unsurprising that Singapore is widely recognised by German and international startups alike to be one of the best places to establish a business and expand to the Asean market," says SGC president Claus Trenner.

"International entrepreneurs, in particular, feel at home here: more than one in three startups in Singapore has a foreign founder. The numerous state subsidies, investments, tax concessions, coupled with the availability of top talents and solid legal infrastructure are key reasons why Singapore offers entrepreneurs perfect conditions for long-term success with their startups," Dr Trenner adds.