SINGAPORE--To help cultivate an innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem, the government has a role to play as facilitator such as seed funding or R&D initiatives which, in turn, allows private investors to fulfil their role to greater effect by multiplying their reach with more startups and the chances of success for these startups.
This was the view shared by government officials, private equity investors and venture capitalists at Techventure 2011, held here Thursday. The two-day networking event brings together tech innovators and investors in Asia.
At a media roundtable, Tim Draper, founder and managing director of Draper Fisher Jurvetson in California, said private investors differed from public ones because, historically, the latter had been obsessed with data reports and "sucking the life out of entrepreneurs".
Private investors, on the other hand, would invest and leave entrepreneurs to operate independently. If problems or hurdles emerged along the way, Draper said these investors would not ask for data but instead, sought to find ways to help change the business.
Francis Yeoh, CEO of National Research Foundation (NRF), said to better promote entrepreneurship and innovation in Singapore, the government should be the facilitator "to make things happen" and not assume the role of a venture capitalist (VC) or investor.
In other words, the government should observe "the private sector's way of doing things…and not meddle with investors' decisions", Yeoh said. The NRF is a department within the Prime Minister's Office that develops policies, plans and strategies for research, innovation and enterprise.
Singapore's funding schemes target and benefit startups, but also allow private investors to "leverage the money" so they can invest in 12 startups instead of 4, for instance, he said. "It's multiplying [the investors'] reach and chances of success.
"The private guys [are the ones] who will take startups to the next place," Yeoh pointed out.
Another speaker at Techventure, Chemi Peres, managing partner and co-founder of Israel-based Pitango Veture Capital, added that the right mechanism was necessary so that governments, investors and entrepreneurs were harmonized, and the startup would be able to "work freely like a private company".
"Both sides [public and private] must properly and clearly communicate the needs of the entrepreneur," Draper concurred.
He also highlighted that governments were needed to help facilitate the entrepreneurial ecosystem by building an optimistic environment and confidence in entrepreneurs. This would happen in countries that had "great leadership", something which Singapore currently has, he noted.
Referring to the United States, Draper said: "You need a Regan or a Clinton, they drive the whole thinking of the population. You need that aspirational [mindset]. But if somebody up there is whining, people will focus on the worst of the worst."
He reasoned that identifying innovation hubs in Asia-Pacific was not something that could be addressed by geography. "Innovation comes from confidence, confidence in your leaders, your abilities and your economic situation. Then you can and will take risks," he said.
Pointing to Chinese cities Beijing and Shanghai as examples, he said people there were "really confident, feeling great and experimenting".