The Spy's Guide to Singapore's Entrepreneurial Scene

20 Jan 2023

By Felix Hall

The plane landed, welcome to Singapore. The hotel room – your half of it at least, becomes cluttered with your belongings. After a day of settling in, fiddling with a sim card which didn’t work, it’s time to get to business.

You are an undercover detective, tasked with cracking the case on Singapore's social enterprise scene. Like a spy in a foreign land, you must blend in and gather information without drawing attention to yourself. You begin your investigation by attending events, visiting sights, and catching up with founders, CEOs, and operators.

The first major theme you gather is the strong government support for social entrepreneurship in Singapore. Organisations like raiSE SG, the equivalent of their social entrepreneurship gang's big boss, offer funding and capacity building programs that help to support the growth of social enterprises. However, as you dig deeper, you discover that this support may also be a barrier to growth in the social enterprise sector.

One puzzle piece you uncover is that many founders in Singapore start their businesses with a profit-first mindset. They focus on financial opportunities rather than social impact. This is partly due to a perception that the government will take care of social issues, leading to a lack of individual initiative.

Another challenge you come across is a lack of talent in the social enterprise sector. Profit-driven SMEs and social enterprises are competing for the same skilled workers. As you interview founders and employees, you realise that the idea of people choosing purpose-driven careers is not yet a reality in Singapore.

Each clue you gather brings you closer to solving the mystery of what makes Singapore's social enterprise cocktail so unique. But the stakes are high, as a wrong move could blow your cover and put an end to your mission.

Despite these challenges, you also discover some promising leads. You are impressed by Singapore's focus on market-driven social enterprises and their hub for social impact, the Temasek Shophouse. Additionally, you notice a bias towards environmental concerns in the social enterprise startups you meet.

As you delve deeper into the case, you find yourself navigating the city's hawker centers and networking events, gathering information and making connections like a seasoned undercover agent. You start to notice patterns and themes about the broader investing and startup scene that that could lead to a breakthrough in your investigation.

Tensions grow as you work to put together the pieces of the puzzle. But you are determined to crack the case and uncover the truth about Singapore's social enterprise and startup scene.

You learn that impact investing models in Singapore focus on getting systems in place and gaining validation from the right people, rather than striving for perfection. This mindset is crucial for building momentum, and to build the right support early. Making a big difference for the startups making a real impact.

You also learn that ASEAN connectivity is crucial in Singapore's startup scene. Startups in Singapore are looking to branch out to other Southeast Asian countries, finding opportunities to collaborate and grow together. This is not something you've seen in other markets and you think it is something to learn from.

As you wrap up your investigation, you realise that execution and traction are highly valued in Singapore's startup ecosystem. Investors fly around the room like eagles, passionate founders are seeping their way through like the air con blasting through, and startup operators are grounding everyone with their stories and lessons learnt.

As you pack up your belongings and prepare to leave Singapore, you can't help but feel a sense of accomplishment. Your undercover mission has been a success, and you have uncovered the truth about Singapore's social enterprise and startup ecosystem. The clues and evidence you have gathered have helped you piece together the complex puzzle of the city-state's social enterprise scene.

But your work is not yet done. You must now debrief your superiors and share your findings with the world. You make your way to the airport, your mind buzzing with the insights and lessons you have learned. You think back to the challenges you faced, from the lack of talent in the social enterprise sector to the profit-first mindset of many founders. But you also remember the promising leads, such as the focus on market-driven social enterprises and the ASEAN connectivity of the startup scene.

As you board the plane, you realise that your investigation has only just begun. Singapore's social enterprise and startup ecosystem is constantly evolving, and new mysteries and challenges await. But you are ready for the next case, armed with the knowledge and experience you have gained on this mission.

You settle into your seat, close your eyes and think about the next step in your journey, because like all good detectives, you know the work is never done. Exciting memories captured on video to treasure - view here Singapore highlights.