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Will Singapore drive tech innovation in Asia?

Zafar Anjum | May 18, 2009
Singapore seems to be emerging as the next hotspot of tech innovation in the region.

Alongside Silicon Valley, Bangalore, Shanghai and Tel Aviv, Singapore seems to be emerging as the next hotspot of tech innovation in Asia.

I have been carrying this impression for some time as I have been meeting with people behind a few startups in the island state. But the impression got strengthened over the weekend.

The reason behind this was the Unconference 2009 which was held at Matrix @Biopolis on Saturday (16 May). In this conference, more than a dozen startups participated. Most of them were homegrown such as Orsiso, 2359 media, ITwinn, Human Network Labs and Socialwok. Some were works of passion. Others were incubated with local agencies and helped with government funds. Some cool startups from Japan, Hong Kong and Thailand also participated in the conference.

Innovation hub

Asia will drive innovation, said Mohan Belani in his opening remarks. Mohan is associated with e27, which organised the conference. He specially mentioned innovation in social networking which was very much on display among the startups.

The feeling about the opportunity for Asia in tech innovation was further buttressed by the remarks of the keynote speaker, Scott Rafer. An innovator, Scott is CEO at and is co-founder and board member at

Silicon Valley is losing its status in the world, he said in his keynote address. It was befittingly titled as Market size, not magic!

His proposition was that startups here need not get bogged down by the geographical limitation. So what if you dont have a Facebook-like global idea. Southeast Asia itself is a right-sized market that can sustain a startup, said Scott. He gave the example of many European startups that have succeeded with only a regional target audience.

Copy it

Did you think that it takes a genius to come out with a startup idea?

Practically speaking, startups are more about being good copycats than genuine innovators.

So, the other cool advice that came from Scott was about copying good ideas from other parts of the world. If you see something working somewhere else, copy it, he said. But one must make a 20 to 30 per cent change to the idea and adapt it for the region, he added.

There are two more mantras for successful startups: be late and be boring. According to Scott, being late means introducing the idea into the target market when it has reached a certain level of maturity. And one need not always start with sexy ideas. Thats what he means by be boring. For example, he said, directories, customer lists and analytics can also be wonderful startup ideas.


Capital will follow the market size, he said. So, if you have an idea, there are many sources of fundingfrom venture capitalists (VC) to government grantsto make your idea a reality.


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