How to become an entrepreneur in Singapore

Entrepreneurship in Singapore

Singapore is worldwide considered as the ideal city to « make business ». Is this good reputation in the Singaporian city-state true, especially when it comes to setting up its own business as an entrepreneur ? Martin Pasquier, a young French entrepreneur in Singapore, explains how to succeed as an entrepreneur in Singapore.

Hello Martin, thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. First of all, according to you, is it really easy to set up your own business here in Singapore in terms of administrative procedures?

On one hand, creating its own business in Singapore is quite straightforward. It takes a few days to go through the administrative process and it costs around $1000 at a maximum, which is reasonable. The legal structure you create allows you to quickly recruit people, invoice clients and pay suppliers with a professional account all around the world.
On the other hand, it can be very difficult to obtain a working visa when you set up your own business in Singapore. In fact, the city can refuse to give you the working visa you need because your company has not recruited local people. In most cases, and particularly in the services sector, you can get your working visa as an entrepreneur, but only on the condition that your business generates revenue and is able to hire Singaporian people.

Can you feel the benefits of the so-called “pro-business” mentality in Singapore?

The pro-business mentality is indeed very strong in the city-state.
First, networking is a very easy thing to do here in Singapore. There are plenty of social events about entrepreneurship during the week, where you can (and need to) meet people. The networks are numerous and built with respect to – amongst others - nationality and sector. In the technology sector for example, the newsletter thelist.sg reminds you of all the events that will take place during the following week.
Most of the time, people in those networks are seeking out new business opportunities and make themselves available to evaluate your project and make a partnership if they believe in it.
In that respect, there are also many investment funds and venture capitalists in Singapore which are willing to finance innovative entrepreneurs’ projects, especially when it is about high tech.
People are very flexible and dynamic in Singapore, so you definitely have to attend those events at least once a week if you do not want people to forget you !

In terms of market opportunities in Singapore, are you also optimistic for entrepreneurs?

Although it is easy and quick to create your legal structure, the market opportunities in Singapore are not significant. Admittedly, people are well-off and have good power purchase, but the market is often saturated. There are only 5.5 millions of inhabitants in the island. This reality can be damaging for many firms. For instance, in the restauration business, there is a huge turnover. 40% of the Singaporean restaurants have to close each year due to the lack of demand. In those conditions, it is very harsh for new entrepreneurs to succeed in this very mature market, whatever the sector might be.
As the Singaporean demand of your product or service can be weak, you need to bear in mind that you have to expand your business internationally if you want to survive and thrive.

Where exactly do entrepreneurs need to expand their businesses?

When you set up your business in Singapore, you can quite easily access the South East Asian market, which is made up of 11 countries and around 600 millions of people!
Moreover, the Singaporean diaspora is strong in those neighbouring countries, which can help you to reach the dynamic Asian markets.

Which Singaporean dynamic sectors should entrepreneurs focus on ?

First of all, Singapore is a financial hub. Indeed, the banking and insurance sectors are developed on the island. Many expatriates are working in those fields. It could be relevant to invest in these branches.
Besides, the Singaporean city-state has become a technological hub for around 15 years. For example, Singapore is one of the most dynamic cities in terms of smart cities’ development. The city is trying to benefit from the development of the Big Data to improve the efficiency of their core services (water management, transports, energy). The Singapore’s Smart Nation project is a case in point. The government wants to stimulate innovations in various technologies in order not to be dependent on regional energy suppliers and to make the urban living in Singapore better. There are big opportunities there.
Finally, as an entrepreneur, you should take the demographic ageing in Singapore into account. The “grey economy” is developed in the island. Thus, there are good opportunities in the health services (customisation of care treatments, services to individuals,). Those activities are subsidized by the government agencies.

What is the main mistake to avoid when you start as an entrepreneur ?

If there is one thing to keep in mind: do not only focus on Singapore to develop your business. The city is only a platform to expand to other countries in South-Easy Asia.
As the market is small and the subsidies are numerous in Singapore, you might be willing to take the easy option and focus only on the local market. Trust me, it is the wrong option. If you want to grow your business, you have to reach other countries.

Date of publication Sep 29 2016