Why the UK is setting its sights on the Lion City—Singapore

Singapore provides a land of opportunities to access the dynamic Asian market.
3 February 2020

Singapore is a global hub for innovation. Source: Unsplash

As Asia’s top innovation hub, Singapore can act as a springboard for UK companies looking to access the dynamic Asian market, notes an industry expert.

“We have shared ambitions in tech and innovation, from our partnerships in science and innovation through to the exciting opportunity to develop world-leading standards for digital trade,” UK Trade Commissioner for Asia Pacific (APAC) Natalie Black told Tech Wire Asia.

“With the UK leaving the EU and regaining our ability to independently negotiate trade agreements, we hope to do more with countries like Singapore to make it even easier for tech businesses to find success in our respective countries.”

The possibility of stronger ties between the two countries post-Brexit bodes well not just for the UK but also for Singapore.

The two countries have been working together for quite a while now, with collaboration in the technology and innovation space soaring as a result of the UK-Singapore Innovation and Research Partnership signed in 2014.

Although both countries are known to be leaders in research as well as incubating and commercializing technology, together, the UK and Singapore have scaled innovations across industries and geographies.

“The Partnership has an enhanced focus on applying the results of research to develop new ideas that will enable us to respond to global challenges, increase competitiveness and improve standards of living, including through the use of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and the internet of things (IoT).”

An example that Black highlighted was the partnership forged between Entrepreneur First and Cylon through government agencies such as SGInnovate, Singtel Innov8, and NUS Enterprise.

“Collaborations like these provide opportunities to accelerate innovation using technologies such as AI and IoT while encouraging the right guidelines and support mechanisms to be in place for responsible development and use.”

Singapore has a lot to offer to businesses in the UK

In the four quarters to the end of Q4 2018, UK’s exports of goods and services to Singapore were valued at GBP8.5 billion (US$11.10 billion). This represents 15.1 percent of all UK goods and services exported to the APAC region.

Clearly, Singapore has a strong interest in what the UK has to offer. However, the interest is mutual.

The UK is home to some of the biggest tech startups in the world, many of whom have chosen Singapore as headquarters for their Asian operations.

“Since 2014, we have produced more than twice the total number of US$1 billion tech companies than any other country in Europe.

“I think these tech businesses see a natural fit with Singapore given this focus on innovation, entrepreneurship, and technology, which – coupled with Singapore’s ‘ease of doing business’ – makes it a great choice when these businesses are looking to expand into Asia.”

Further, Black believes that the relationship that has been established between the two governments and the similarities in their legal systems make it easier for startups and unicorns in the UK to find success in Asia when using Singapore as the regional hub.

Truth be told, Singapore has put in considerable effort to establish itself as the partner of choice in Asia, for businesses in the UK and other parts of the world.

The country’s Smart Nation initiative, which includes support for a strong digital economy, the establishment of a digital government, and the development of a thriving digital society, ensure that roll-out and uptake of new-age technologies, such as e-payments and autonomous vehicles, is quick.

That momentum is exactly what thrills Singapore’s partners, including the UK.

“Singapore is quick to roll out testbeds in selected areas for autonomous vehicles, including drones, and have regulatory sandboxes that allow for innovation to be tested and tried in a proper setting,” highlighted Black.

The UK itself is making quick progress with these technologies, and having a partner in Asia to collaborate with for discussions and trials is an exciting proposition, for the government as well as its businesses.

UK looking to remove barriers to collaboration

“Many UK tech businesses are looking beyond the EU and see the amazing growth in Southeast Asia’s internet economy, reaching US$100 billion for the first time in 2019, and more than tripling in size over the last four years.

“Similarly, the UK is a great place for businesses and investors from Singapore and the wider region. Data released this month shows venture capital investment into UK tech has leaped by 44 percent year-on-year – growth that outstrips the US, China, Germany, and France – and we have a proven track record of producing tech ‘unicorns’.”

As a result, the UK is keen to remove any obstacles or barriers to collaboration (and trade) in the near future and to help technology and innovation flourish.

The UK Trade Commissioner to the APAC, along with her team, are constantly looking for opportunities to do just that.

It’s why Black expects to have UK and Asian tech businesses engage with policymakers at the upcoming London Tech Week conference — “to better understand the barriers they’re facing so we can work on increasing collaboration even further.”

In the coming months, businesses in the two countries are expected to engage in more dialogs and discussions among themselves and with regulators, to build a more sustainable, efficient, collaboration engine.

How the British High Commission in Singapore fosters innovation

The discussion with the UK Trade Commission for APAC makes it clear that fostering innovation is a priority for the UK Government.

“In Singapore, the British High Commission, through the Department for International Trade, helps UK tech businesses export to and build partnerships in Singapore. We also help Singaporean tech companies locate and grow in the UK.”

The British High Commission in Singapore also has a dedicated tech team that enables the agency to understand the tech ecosystem in the country, promote opportunities to UK companies, and facilitate business matching and partnerships.

Black and her team also help address key tech challenges, including those related to regulations, by coordinating thought leadership events attended by Singaporean and UK tech businesses.

Further, the Department for International Trade participates in major tech events in Singapore like the World Cities Summit, Singapore International Cyber Week, and TechInnovation/SWITCH.

“These platforms provide UK companies with opportunities to showcase their technologies and meet with Singapore and international delegates.”

Finally, given the access that the British High Commission in Singapore has, the body often works in partnership with other non-government bodies such as the British Chamber of Commerce, to support UK businesses to set up in Singapore, find local partners and collaborate.

In the coming months, economic and political decisions in the UK are bound to impact businesses across the world — but for Asia, especially Singapore, it seems like exciting opportunities are ahead.

This article originally appeared on our sister site Tech Wire Asia