Join Singapore dots for direct line to new Asian markets

Occupying a landmass about the size of Co Louth, just one degree north of the equator, Singapore is known as the Red Dot. It teems with a population of over 5.5 million and has four official languages: English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil.

Most Singaporeans are bilingual: English is the shared language. Almost three-quarters claim Chinese descent, followed by Malay and Indian. Then there's an expat workforce of close to 1.4 million, including over 2,000 Irish nationals.

Singapore shares many parallels with our own little green dot in the North Atlantic. Pro-enterprise incentives and policies have stimulated a highly entrepreneurial, innovation-led economy. Singaporean businesses thrive in an ecosystem that attracts massive FDI particularly in banking/financial services and manufacturing. The country is home to the Asia-Pacific headquarters of 4,200 multinationals. In 2016, it attracted FDI inflows of $50bn.

Irish companies have been following their semiconductor and pharmaceutical multinational clients into Singapore for decades. CRH, Kerry, PM Group, Zenith Tech, Dortek and Kingspan have regional bases there. But there are far wider opportunities across a gamut of sectors from smart cities, travel technology and fintech to aviation and healthcare.

Technology permeates Singapore. It is truly an innovation-led economy. 4G coverage is widespread. A video call will survive a trip on the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit, Singapore's vast underground train network), a stroll through an underground mall and a hike through one of Singapore's national parks. The telco industry expects 5G mobile services to be commercially launched in 2020.

Because of the country's compact size and early adoption of new technology, it is a prime testing-ground for technology-driven solutions. Smart-city and internet-of-things initiatives underway include the driverless bus and smart mini-grids, with roof-top and floating solar panels, tropical data centres and underground cooling systems.

Likewise, the government continues to invest in innovation-led healthcare delivery, with platforms such as the hospital of the future and homecare of the future. Irish healthcare companies, including Kora Healthcare, Novaerus, Connexicon Medical and AQF, are active in the market.

Like Ireland, Singapore is major location for aircraft leasing. It is also a global transport and financial hub. Irish financial services companies Corvil, Fenergo, Fexco and Taxback all have major Singaporean customers.

In fintech, the Monetary Authority of Singapore is encouraging more experimentation. At CommunicAsia 2017, Dublin-headquartered Solgari announced its entry into the market with partner SP Sysnet, and Fenergo recently signed a major deal with Standard Chartered that will grow its operation in the region.

Singapore is a mature and competitive market. To succeed, Irish companies must be capable of standing up to intense competition from Japanese, US and European industry-leading firms.

Although initial market validation can be performed on a fly-in, fly-out basis, a physical presence is vital for long-term results. As space in Singapore is limited, the use of co-working spaces is common among startups. Sourcing the right talent can sometimes take longer than expected, so this is another factor Irish companies should consider early on.

The relatively small size of the domestic market is more than compensated by the fact that Singapore provides an ideal springboard for entering neighbouring markets throughout the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and into wider Asia-Pacific. The aviation industry, for example, offers opportunities for Irish businesses throughout ASEAN markets - all 10 of which are covered by Enterprise Ireland's office in Singapore.

To explore opportunities for your company in this market, get in touch with us.

Smruti Inamdar is Enterprise Ireland's manager for the ASEAN region.

Sunday Indo Business

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