S'pore rides the tech innovation wave

Government's efforts to nurture tech companies pay off, according to the latest score card from the country's Economic Development Board.

SINGAPORE--The number of high-tech companies in the island-state rose steadily in the last five years, thanks to the government's efforts in nurturing the sector.

According to Singapore's Economic Development Board (EDB), the number of technology companies in Singapore increased from 3,502 in 2001 to 3,908 last year. Nineteen percent of which were foreign ones, the EDB said.

Speaking at a briefing on enterprise and innovation in Singapore, Low Yen Ling, EDB's head of enterprise ecosystem development, noted that the number of Chinese companies in Singapore doubled from 859 in 2001 to 1,671 last year.

Singling out Tsinghua Tongfang, the technology arm of China's Tsinghua University, Low said the Chinese high-tech company has established a subsidiary in Singapore to expand its eCity digital information business.

Another Chinese company that has set up its Asia-Pacific headquarters in Singapore is telco network equipment maker ZTE. The networking player is using the island-state to spearhead its regional expansion plans, she noted.

Homegrown technology companies have made their mark, too, according to Low. Singapore-based start-up IDLink Systems, funded by the government's Start-up Enterprise Development Scheme (SEEDS), has developed the world's fist integrated finger scan, closed-circuit camera and intercom access control system.

ICo-op.net, another Singapore company, has also filed patents and trademarks for its risk and fraud management systems for telecoms, financial and government sectors, she said.

The SEEDS program has also attracted more private investors over the years. In 2001, when the program was launched, there were only 17 investors with investments of S$2.5 million (US$1.5 million). The number of SEEDS investors has since swelled to 226 and total investment in start-ups topped S$45.3 million (US$27.9 million) last year.

Roping in the expertise of multinational companies has been an important ingredient in nurturing young start-ups, according to Low. Singapore's Locally-based Enterprise Advancement Program (LEAP), which counts Microsoft and Philips Electronics as partners, has contributed expertise to Singaporean companies in areas such as business software development and digital home systems through collaboration projects. LEAP is expected to benefit 540 companies over the next two years, Low said.

The number of patents filed in the island-state has also risen in the last five years. Singapore residents filed 641 patents in 2004, up from 523 in 2001. This indicates that innovation activity is on the rise, Low noted.

To further encourage innovation and boost Singapore as an intellectual property (IP) hub, the Patent Application Fund Scheme was set up to commercialize IP by offsetting patent application costs. Since 2002, Low said, 348 patent applications have been supported, of which 209 were by Singapore SMBs.