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Speech by Mr Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Finance, at Startup Weekend Singapore, at NUS University Town

29 Sep 2017


Distinguished guests and judges

Participants of Startup Weekend Singapore

Ladies and Gentlemen


  1. Good evening. Thank you for inviting me to join you to open another Startup Weekend Singapore. Congratulations to the organisers for bringing all of us together, and for promoting entrepreneurship and innovation in Singapore.


  1. Look around you – amongst you are the founders of the next major startup.    


  1. Online marketplace Carousell, cashback reward company ShopBack, and online tour operator Flocations are just some of the startups that got their start, in one form or another, at Startup Weekend Singapore. 


  1. There are also individuals who got bitten by the entrepreneurship bug here and went on to found or join other startups.


  1. While their stories vary, they are connected by their passion for finding a new, better way of doing things, and by their boldness and persistence in creating new value for their customers. 


  1. This is at the very heart of innovation.


What is Innovation – Outcome, Process, or Mindset?


  1. But what does “innovation” mean? Probably every person, depending on where you stand in the innovation value chain, has a different view.


  1. Some think of it as an action, others as a product, and yet others as just a way of being or thinking. Each is right in some way. 


  1. If we are to engage in innovation successfully and meaningfully, we should not only converge at intensive ideating platforms like this, but we should also understand what innovation is. 


  1. At one level, innovation is an outcome.


  1. If you ask for examples of innovations, the answers you will most often get are products and services that people can experience.


  1. But, of course, innovation is not that particular object or experience, but how that particular object or experience offers a better way to close existing gaps, meet unmet needs, and solve present-day problems.


  1. Fundamentally, the outcome of innovation is new value – by raising the productivity of both capital and labour, and by creating breakthrough products, services, and business models, that change markets, societies, and the world.


  1. At another level, innovation is a process.


  1. This process is non-linear and unpredictable. It is not a 5- or 10-year plan that you just execute.
  1. Rather, it is approaching an issue not just head-on, but from all angles.
  2. It is gaining closer access to those you hope to serve, to understand their needs and the current and future gaps you are trying to close.
  3. And it is about experimentation – doing, seeing what works, what doesn’t, and then constantly changing, tweaking, learning from mistakes, and then doing again, and again, and again.


  1. Third, innovation is a mindset and an attitude.


  1. It is having the drive to create value, economic or social, that brings benefits to others, and allows us to use our resources better and more sustainably.
  1. It is about not being satisfied with the here-and-now, and the present-day reality.
  2. Instead, it is believing that there are better ways of doing something, and the willingness to act on that belief.


  1. This drive to create value requires the readiness to embrace risk, and the resilience to try and try again when we fail.


  1. On mindset, I am increasingly of the view that the spirit of collaboration and partnership – how all the parts in the ecosystem learn from, support, and partner one another – is a critical factor for innovation. I will touch more on this.


Startups and Innovation


  1. Where do startups fit in? Just as there are multiple levels of meaning to the word “innovation”, innovation can ignite and fire up in multiple settings – and startups are among the common sources of innovation.


  1. Some startups are able to play on their small and nimble nature to quickly catalyse and test new technologies and solutions.


  1. In the course of pursuing a new product, service, or business model, some startups can inject new corporate capabilities, individual skillsets, processes, even an innovative culture into their sectors.


  1. They also contribute to the business transformation of larger firms in the economy, through mutually-beneficial relationships, for example, when acquired.


  1. Others, too, generate innovation in their own ways, playing off on their particular strengths. For example, larger companies can bring resources to bear to conduct deeper research and develop new technology. When different types of organisations work together – for example when startups and larger companies partner up – fruitful new possibilities are opened up, moving the whole sector forward, and effecting transformations across our economy and society.


Collaboration in the Startup Ecosystem


  1. This brings us to the point that innovation does not take place in isolation, in any one startup or company alone, but as a product of a lively ecosystem of entrepreneurs, funders, mentors, corporates, educational institutions, and other supporting actors and organisations.


  1. This ties back to what I said earlier – that a spirit of collaboration and partnership is critical to innovation. Collaboration and partnership can help to lift startups to the next level, in several ways.


  1. First, mentors help startups overcome the steep learning curve in the growth stage, by providing invaluable advice and guidance, and connecting young startups to networks of distributors, other like-minded entrepreneurs, and funding sources. Accelerators and incubators play this critical role. But so do informal mentors, such as the many entrepreneurs and industry players here today.


  1. Second, collaboration between established corporations and young startups can be mutually-beneficial. For the young startup, it provides credibility, access to resources and distribution networks, and PR and branding. For the established corporation, startups help to develop and offer new products and processes. GIC’s support for Startup Weekend Singapore is a good example of the role that corporates can play in strengthening the startup ecosystem.


  1. Third, educational institutions help to foster and cultivate a spirit of entrepreneurship among young people, and, hopefully, lifelong learners of all ages. Many have their own startup programmes that reap the synergies between entrepreneurial education, industry partnerships, and startup support. NUS School of Computing and NUS Enterprise, in particular, have been key ecosystem partners for Startup Weekend Singapore.


  1. There are also startup venture capitalists and investors, who provide critical funding necessary to kick-start startups’ operations, as well as many other private and non-profit sector players that contribute in a multitude of ways to the startup ecosystem.


  1. And the Government is also a stakeholder in this ecosystem.
  1. Through Startup SG, the Government provides funding and support to entrepreneurs at different stages of their journey and on different fronts, including mentorship, grant support, co-investment to catalyse private equity, and support to incubators and accelerators.
  2. Just last week, I launched Pollinate, an incubator programme to foster innovation and enterprise across our Polytechnics, and the National Lean LaunchPad Singapore, a 10-week programme that equips research scientists and engineers with enterprise skills.
  3. There is also JTC’s LaunchPad @ one-north, a hub to connect entrepreneurs with stakeholders in the startup ecosystem. A second LaunchPad @ Jurong Innovation District, next to the Nanyang Technological University, was completed this June.
  4. These give you a flavour of a much wider array of support and programmes by the Government.


  1. Collaboration between stakeholders is central to the startup ecosystem, and to innovation.


  1. The innovation journey will require us to play to our distinct strengths, as well as to work with those around us – recognising that each party brings unique strengths and insights that enhance those of all partners, such that the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.


  1. And a good example of this is Startup Weekend Singapore. This weekend would not have been possible without the organisers, GIC, NUS School of Computing, and NUS Enterprise. I would like to thank them all for supporting innovation and entrepreneurship in Singapore.


The Journey Ahead


  1. To all of you here – the journey ahead will bring trials, but also triumphs.


  1. On this journey, be prepared to:
  1. Commit yourself to the outcome of creating new value;
  2. Dedicate yourself to the process of experimenting, failing, learning, and doing; and,
  3. Pursue your ideas with a mindset of partnership and collaboration with others.


  1. These are the outcome, the process, and the mindset of innovation – get to know them, grow comfortable with them, and I trust your innovation journey will be a fruitful one.


  1. Over the course of this weekend, you will meet like-minded individuals who share your passions and interests. You will work with them as a team, exchanging ideas, learning from one another, and leveraging on one another’s strengths.


  1. I hope some of you will turn out to be wildly successful – that I will be able to look back on this day in the future, and say, “I was there when this company was founded!”


  1. I hope that you will learn, deeply, and will carry with you this mindset of innovation, experimentation, collaboration, in whatever you do.


  1. Thank you.