Michael Sainsbury
May 24, 2016

Landing on the SE Asia launch pad

Startups

Landing on the SE Asia launch pad

Singapore sling: The Landing Pad is being positioned on a Launch Pad

Could it possibly get any better? The home for the fifth and final ‘Landing Pad’ under the Turnbull Government’s still nascent National Science and Innovation Agenda is a five hectare precinct not far from downtown Singapore called the ‘Launch Pad’.

At InnovationAus.com, we are guessing that the Australian companies – ten at a time – that are chosen for a stint on the landing pad will then proceed directly to launch. They don’t muck around with their technology programs in Singapore.

Originally a single unused building being readied for demolition, known as Block 71 – the Singaporeans’ broadly call them warehouses but they look like old office blocks – the area has attracted new buildings that are now buzzing with tech companies.

Singapore-based Austrade chief Chris Rees was spotted by an eagle-eyed reporter touring Block 79 late last week and InnovationAus.com understands the government is all but settled on the building, or at least a neighbor in the same estate.

Across the road is Singapore’s equivalent to CSIRO, known by the funky moniker of A*Star.

In the background there’s 50/50 deal between the two nations to tip S$50 million into research projects to add another layer to a technology alliance, as well as plans for cross pollination between Australian universities and those in Singapore – the city’s top two are rated amongst the very best in Asia – that shows plenty of promise.

Australian technology companies that win a place in the government’s Singapore landing pad will be thrust into the heart and soul of the country’s buzzing startup community.

InnovationAus.com understands that the Australian government has narrowed its search for a physical location to this well-known Singapore tech precinct.

Singapore’s Launch Pad is gaining global fame, The Economist recently described it has being, quite possibly, most dense concentration of startups not just Asia, but the world.

On this evidence the Prime Minister has some way to go to even get close to matching the technology ecosystem that the Singaporean government has created since it kick-started its “Smart Nation” project just two years ago.

Sure, its easier being an effective single party state with something of an authoritarian bent, but the piddling amounts that the Australian government has budgeted for its own Innovation Nation project pale into insignificance at the estimated $1 billion that the Singaporean government has poured into its dream of being Asia’s Silicon Valley.

To add insult to the recently Australian Federal Police super-charged NBN, the Singapore Government mandates the delivery of fibre to the premises infrastructure. Not to mention near-blanket 4G mobile coverage.

Sure, critics say, it’s a city-state a little larger than Sydney but Australia’s per capita wealth comes close to Singapore’s and we are a long, long way behind – and a long long away from the teeming, vibrant and increasingly connected markets of Southeast Asian

Austrade is staying mum about the Landing Pad. People close to the group say it is frustrated that it cannot progress to publicly with the innovation and other business components of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership signed with Singapore earlier this month, because government is in “caretaker” mode for the duration of this stultifying eight-week long election campaign.

And if you heed the good news above, what Australian company in its right mind wouldn’t be keen to give Singapore (rather than fibre-free suburban Australia) a chance. That’s not to mention the teams of global VCs roaming the city, cheque books in hand, too busy to take the extra flight to get to Australia.

None of this is to denigrate the developing start up ecosystem in Australia that is throwing off excellent companies like Atlassian and Freelancer.

Singapore has so far struggled to give birth to similar unicorns, although the recent $1 billion purchase of ecommerce group Lazada by China’s Alibaba is a sign that something is working.

But there are already plenty of Australian tech companies that have twigged that Singapore is a useful place to start a business.

A recent study by the National University of Singapore unveiled at last week’s two-day Innovfest Unbound conference in the city, identified Australians comprising an impressive 4 per cent of founders in the city’s 1800 or so startups.

Looking back a few years, the insular and well, dumb decision to turn down the merger of the Australian Securities Exchange and its Singapore counterpart will go down as one of the worst pieces of short term thinking by the Rudd-Gillard governments to knit Australian ideas and experience with Asian money.

The recent upgrading of Australia’s economic relationship with Singapore has gone some way to ameliorating this

If the Australian Government, and whichever party successor falls over the line on July 2, can bolster the promising technology alliance between the two countries: Australia has ideas, Singapore has infrastructure, money and proximity to ASEANs 650 million people, it could be second time lucky.

At least for now, the glass is half-full.

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