Singapore, the lungs of Southeast Asia

This year, I’m taking everything I learned from helping the ecosystem in Vietnam, humbling myself, unlearning, relearning, and applying it all to helping Singapore’s startup ecosystem.

In my 8 months in Singapore, I’ve learned a lot about how this ecosystem works. The financial strength and government backing of the country is almost like an endless fuel that keeps the startups and investors charging. At the same time, the small size of the market and the lack of a large pool of technical talent limit the country and force it to go outwards across the region and world for potential business and partnerships. And yet, the population is highly educated, rich, and strategic. It just sometimes lacks that edge that the States has (more on this another time).

I think that’s why Vertex is such a unique place to be. The venture capital fund, although not well known, has been around for over 20 years. But we’ve invested in everything from Facebook to Quora to Waze to Grab to Reebonz. That’s across many years and many funds. Vertex has seen Singapore evolve from a fledgling industry-heavy city-state to an aspiring innovator and by far the most developed country in the region. Vertex is a lesson in Singapore as an international hub.

But why don’t I think Singapore the heart of Southeast Asia? Well, first of all, I don’t think Southeast Asia has a heart, in that sense. The region is simply too diverse. Each country has its own culture, religion, government, and stage of growth that it’s hard to argue that Singapore is really representative of the region. And yet, Singapore’s fate is so intertwined with the region that I’d have to give it lung status. The lungs breath air into the region with its money and connections to the outside world. If you want to get investment, it’s easiest to set up an entity in Singapore. If you want to bring your large tech corporation (Facebook, Google, Airbnb, Uber, etc.) than you better headquarter up in Singapore. Sounds like a lung to me.

That means the challenges and opportunities in building up these lungs are at a different stage than Vietnam (which is more of a liver, hehe). Singapore must optimize and self-reflect on what it has while stretching its arms across a sub-continent that is changing faster than it is.

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