Becoming an innovation hub is an ambition for many cities because it attracts investments and talent and Singapore is no exception. There are three parameters — culture, ecosystem and the urban environment — that work together to make a successful innovation hub, according to Yossi Vardi, a veteran Israeli entrepreneur and investor.
Culture affects the willingness among innovators to take risks and can foster a more collaborative environment. A vibrant ecosystem allows people with similar mindsets to discuss ideas and help each other.
"You always have to reach out outside of the boundaries of your five, six, seven or 20 people," Vardi told CNBC earlier this year, adding that meetups, hackathons and industry conferences help people to expand their network within an ecosystem.
He added that, because of globalization, innovators can move around more freely. Cities, Vardi said, need to offer a comfortable standard of living to attract or retain talented individuals.
While Singapore can attract talent, and build an ecosystem of entrepreneurs, investors, corporations and research institutes, experts say the city-state generally lags in the culture of risk taking.
Leonard pointed out the challenge is in convincing people at every level to buy into an innovative idea, where not all the variables are known from the start. Giving an example, he explained that in the 1940s, a big innovation to cars was padding the dashboards to offer some protection in accidents. That ushered in more features, including seat belts, airbags and electronics for anti-lock brakes.
"The point is it's not like we kept vehicles off the road while we figured all these things out," said Leonard. But he acknowledged winning over skeptics is difficult. "I don't pretend to have the answer. I think there's just this good, old fashioned will which says if this is important enough, we commit to it."
Singapore's leadership appears to understand the necessity to constantly innovate and take risks. Last year, the government committed 19 billion Singapore dollars ($13.6 billion) to support research and developments over the next five years. And earlier this year, it announced more than $100 million will be invested into local efforts in artificial intelligence — which is still at its nascent, experimental stages — over the next five years.