Friday, July 10, 2009

Silicon Valley-Southeast Asia Entrepreneurial Links

(Note: A slightly abbreviated version of this was published in The Bold Entrepreneur --TIECON 2009 Special Edition (May 2009), p. 16)

Much has been written about the growing entrepreneurial links between Silicon Valley (SV) and Asia. Up until the late 1990s, the links have been mainly one-way – from Asia to SV. A significant reverse flow has developed since then, with many SV-based Asians returning home to start ventures. In addition, the phenomenon of entrepreneurial circulation and cross-continent venturing has also emerged strongly. Many SV-based VCs have also started operations in Asia.

Much of the public media attention on the growing SV-Asia entrepreneurial links has centered on India and China (including Taiwan), and rightly so. Although the overseas diasporas of Southeast Asia – especially Vietnamese and Filipinos -- have already become sizable in SV since the 1990s, the phenomenon of reverse flow of entrepreneurial talents to Southeast Asia remains nascent. Nevertheless, I predict that entrepreneurial links between SV and Southeast Asia will gain much more visibility over the next decade. In particular, I believe that one spot in Southeast Asia – Singapore -- will play a prominent role in this process. This belief stems not only from my on-going research on SV-Asia entrepreneurial links, but is also bolstered by my own personal experience working on the ground, both in my role as the director of entrepreneurship promotion programs in a leading university in Southeast Asia (the National University of Singapore) as well as in my capacity as an angel investor.

Since the beginning of 2000s, the National University of Singapore (NUS) has established a new entity called NUS Enterprise with the mission to inject an entrepreneurial dimension to NUS education and research. An incubation ecosystem has been established to nurture technology spinoffs by NUS professors and students. Besides physical incubation space, we have established several seed-funding schemes to give promising ventures a head-start. A mentoring scheme has also been developed, involving not only local experienced entrepreneurs and investors as mentors, but also a number of mentors who are SV-based.

Since 2001, we have also started a global entrepreneurial immersion learning program. Each year, about 50+ NUS undergraduate students are sent to SV to intern in early-stage high tech start-ups for one year, while taking entrepreneurship courses at Stanford University on a part-time basis. This NUS Overseas College (NOC) program has since been extended to Philadelphia, Shanghai, Stockholm, Bangalore and Beijing.

As a result of the foundation laid by these and other NUS Enterprise programs, as well as various new support schemes for start-ups by the Singapore government, I am now witnessing a growing stream of new start-ups by our NOC returnees, particularly those returning from SV. Some of these have begun to explore expanding their ventures back in SV. Our incubator has also been receiving increasing enquiries from SV-based ventures to start their Asian operations in Singapore.

As an angel investor and the founding chairman of Business Angel Network Southeast Asia (BANSEA), I am also seeing a growing number of business plans coming from outside Southeast Asia, including from North America. Personally, I have invested in a SV-based venture several years ago to help it establish its Asian regional headquarter in Singapore, and am finalizing a second such deal.

As the saying goes, the best way to predict the future is to create it. I look forward to the opportunity to work with the entrepreneurial community in SV to build stronger links with Southeast Asia.

1 comment:

Marmalade said...

With the right policies and incentives, Singapore can certainly be a vibrant entrepreneurial hub. While I can understand Silicon Valley and London as magnets for enterprising spirits – they have a large hinterland and a cosmopolitan mix among other things - I’m scratching my head on how Tel Aviv can achieve so much success while Singapore still seems to be pondering on how to get there with half-baked luke-warm approaches on this front.

Hopefully, ESC will make a difference.

Prof: “I am now witnessing a growing stream of new start-ups by our NOC returnees, particularly those returning from SV.”

I’m curious, how are these NOC returnees doing now?