And as regional startup ecosystems develop, some of the advantages that the Singapore ecosystem and its startups have may be lost.
Citing countries such as Vietnam and Indonesia, a World Bank report last year noted that Singapore’s neighbors “have created their own startup ecosystems,” thereby increasing regional competition.
“A startup trying to scale from Singapore to a neighboring market will now encounter more difficulties than it may have faced in previous years,” the report adds.
Dr. Wong reiterated that as neighboring startup ecosystems mature, more funds may begin to flow there instead of Singapore.
“So why do I as a founder need to come to Singapore to tap into venture capital funds? I can go directly to the target market,” he said.
“MATTER OF TIME” BEFORE MORE SINGAPORE STARTUPS MAKE AN INTERNATIONAL FOOTPRINT
Despite the relative success of the Singapore startup scene, questions have been raised about the small number of local startups that can compete head-to-head with international brands.
Some experts said it may only be a matter of time.
“The growth phenomenon within the local start-up scene has only happened in the last few years and it may take more time for those with global ambitions to start venturing further, especially in lesser-known markets,” said Mr. Chiu of KPMG.
Mr. Lim from XS APAC added: “A company like (a local startup) Razer has been around for almost 20 years, and maybe now we could call it a global brand.”
Lim believes that, given more time, many more Singaporean startups can go global.
People also need time to gain the experience needed to scale their businesses, experts said.
“We haven’t had (many) seasoned executives building and scaling global teams, global programs, global services,” said Ms. Sai of Unravel Carbon, who attributed this to the relative nascent of the Singapore startup ecosystem.
“So there is that lack of depth of experience to help these new generations of companies do the same thing: scale globally and serve tens of millions of users.”
That said, some companies go global from the get-go.
“We started venturing into the European, US and Chinese markets in the early days,” said PatSnap founder and CEO Jeffrey Tiong.
“We serve customers who invest heavily in R&D (research and development), and the US, Europe and China are the few countries that spend heavily on R&D.”
Mr. Tiong added that to go global, startups must offer innovative solutions that stand out from the rest. “If the solution we offer isn’t particularly differentiated, then it’s hard to compete with other players … in the US, Europe, Japan and China,” he said.
However, Ku said, sometimes going global might not require a company to offer cutting-edge solutions. Citing the examples of Razer and Secretlab, which are gaming peripheral companies, he pointed out that startups can use good marketing to penetrate a niche market around the world. “For Singapore, it is difficult for us to create a widespread global success, for example, mobile. We just don’t have a big local market,” she said.