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Asian story still intact despite financial market woes: Tharman

Setting up of Entrepreneur First's new international office in Singapore will boost technical startup talent here

"This partnership with EF is a win-win. EF's new presence in Singapore will help catalyse technology innovation . . . and help individuals with deep technical capabilities and new ideas to translate them into commercial solutions." - DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam


THE current turbulence in financial markets does not displace the longer- term picture in Asia: that its markets are expanding faster than the rest of the world, and consumers will increasingly demand quality, innovative products, says Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

He was speaking in London at the Entrepreneur First (EF) Singapore launch event on Tuesday. A UK-based platform that works exclusively with technical individuals to help them build deep-tech startups from scratch, EF - together with Singapore's Infocomm Investments Pte Ltd (IIPL) - will set up its first international office here.

"This partnership with EF is a win-win. EF's new presence in Singapore will help catalyse technology innovation . . . and help individuals with deep technical capabilities and new ideas to translate them into commercial solutions," said Mr Tharman, who is also Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies.

The possibilities are endless, he added, with application areas ranging from healthcare to the digital economy to urban sustainability - at a time when Singapore is recalibrating its economy to focus on value creation and to become the world's first Smart Nation.

Over the next four years, EF Singapore seeks to support 400 Stem-inclined (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) individuals, starting with up to 50 of them for its pioneer cohort this September.

Asked if EF is confident of recruitment here, what with sentiment that enterprising and technical talent is scarce in Singapore, EF chief executive Matt Clifford said: "EF's mission is to make starting up the career of choice for the most ambitious and talented individuals. There's never any shortage of competition to hire these people, wherever they are."

He added: "What we've learned from success in London, though, is the world is changing quickly. People who would have been bankers or civil servants just a few years ago now see entrepreneurship as a way to have a huge impact and work in areas they're passionate about. We believe Singapore is changing too, and we can create an environment where the Singaporean founders of the future want to start their entrepreneurial journey."

Like in London, the EF Singapore programme will comprise two three-month phases. In the first three months, each participant will receive a monthly stipend of S$3,500. Should a company be successfully formed after the first phase, EF Singapore will invest a further S$25,000 for an 8 per cent equity stake.

Said Mr Clifford: "We believe the stipend should be enough to make the decision to start a company viable for ambitious and determined individuals - but not so large that it's the primary motivation."

IIPL, as anchor investor of EF Singapore, will co-create the Singapore programme with "a local flavour", and build a founding team with deep local know-how and expertise in company building and investment, said Zach Tan, director of IIPL's London office. "We want to make Singapore a conducive place for entrepreneurs to thrive. When a group of talented individuals come together in the right environment, we believe magic happens."

Meanwhile, business sentiment in Asia appears mixed as business leaders foresee a more challenging - but still highly promising - year ahead, according to a survey of global corporations by The Economist Corporate Network (ECN).

Most of the 200 Asia-based business executives polled in the Asia Business Outlook Survey expect "growth of some kind" throughout Asia's major economies in 2016, despite the slowdown in China, the region's dominant economy. South- east Asia ranks second (after India) for growth expectations, with 77.8 per cent of respondents expecting revenue increases and only 3.7 per cent expecting revenue declines.

With the exception of the hard-hit commodities sector, the majority of industries look forward to sales growth in Asia this year, such as in financial services (where 39.5 per cent of respondents expect double-digit revenue growth), IT and software (35.7 per cent), and pharmaceutical and healthcare (33.8 per cent).