Innovation Nation: Singapore, The Global Hub For Business

Innovation Nation:

Singapore, The Global
Hub For Business

Why Companies are Choosing Singapore
as Their Base in the Region

Singapore’s landscape in a nutshell

  • World’s Most Competitive Economy

    World’s Most Competitive Economy

    According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2019.

  • Asia’s Most Innovative Nation

    Asia’s Most Innovative Nation

    The Global Innovation Index 2020 ranked Singapore as the most innovative nation in Asia.

  • Global Leader In Mice

    Global Leader In Mice

    Singapore is consistently ranked as one of the best meetings, incentive travel, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) Cities globally.

Southeast Asia may only cover 3% of the global landmass on a map, but its size belies its economic might. ASEAN is the fifth-largest economy in the world. It is also home to over 670 million people — about 10 percent of the global population — half of whom will be classified as middle-class by 2030.

Located in the heart of the region, Singapore is a city-state that has become a crucial base for international businesses and multinational corporations (MNCs) who are looking to capitalise on the growth and resilience of Southeast Asian markets, a position that has only grown stronger amid the global pandemic.

Despite the challenges resulting from Covid-19, Singapore’s economy is by no means shrinking. While forecast estimates do show that GDP might contract by 7.6% for Q3, economists have forecasted the economy to expand 5.4% in 2021 and 3.1% in 2022. This is largely attributed to the safe reopening of the economy and the low number of Covid-19 deaths.

Attracted by Singapore’s advanced digital infrastructure, stable system of governance, strong bilateral ties, and effective management of Covid-19, MNCs across a wide range of industries, including technology, advanced manufacturing and finance have set up, or are planning to set up their headquarters and digital centers of excellence in the lion city.

“Southeast Asia’s Internet economy is worth US$100 billion and is expected to balloon to US$300 billion by 2025.”

Bain & Company

Deborah Elms, Founder and Executive Director at the Asian Trade Centre — a think tank, advocate and educator for trade in Asia — says deciding to base her company in Singapore was an easy choice.

“In Singapore, you can easily do business with both ASEAN and Asia while maintaining strong connections with multinationals, American companies and European businesses. It makes sense to be here,” she says.

A Magnet For
World-class Talent

A top-rated education system, job stability, plentiful opportunities and a high quality of life means Singapore is continually ranked as one of the best places in the world to live and work by expats; it is often the only Asian city in the top three for global rankings across key categories. This has been a key factor in drawing talent to the city-state, thereby fostering a highly global skilled workforce.

HSBC expat global report 2019

HSBC expat global report 2019
HSBC expat global report 2019

“Singapore has a pro-business environment, with many Fortune 500 companies located here. It is a regional management hub, commercial hub, innovation hub, logistics center and also a place where we groom many types of talent for the rest of the business world.”

Tommy Leong
President of East Asia & Japan, Schneider Electric

Tommy Leong, President of East Asia and Japan at Schneider Electric says, “Establishing a regional headquarter requires international, regional and also local talent to fill a number of different roles. The advantage of Singapore is that this is a place where you can find candidates that suit these requirements. At the same time, you can also find world-class local talent to do regional roles and international roles as well.”

The diversity of the population in Singapore also allows companies to gain valuable market insights into the rest of the region which can benefit future growth plans.

Dwight Hutchins, Managing Director of Asia Pacific at Accenture observes, “Things are changing so fast on the ground that companies are coming here to understand what will work in Southeast Asia and Asia Pacific. For instance, Southeast Asians are much more on their mobile devices. So, what are the technologies, apps and use cases that resonate here for companies to capture growth?”

Talent aside, businesses seeking growth require a playing field that is primed for digital innovation, and that’s exactly what Singapore offers.

An Advanced Infrastructure
For Digital Innovation

The country’s state-of-the-art digital infrastructure is another draw for big businesses looking to pursue forward-looking innovation. Accenture’s Hutchins says, “Singapore is a fantastic place to get talent that is focused on innovation, as the country is pushing towards becoming a smart nation.”

“Singapore continues to be ranked Number One in human capital development.”

The Human Capital Index 2020 Update: Human Capital in the Time of COVID-19, World Bank Group

This is why Singapore is a popular test market for companies looking to innovate and commercialize high tech solutions such as artificial intelligence and full automation for the region and beyond.

“There is a huge capability for developing artificial intelligence in Singapore. We are happy to partner with universities, professors and PhD. students to collaborate on research and development topics,” says Nicolas Hunsinger, Director of Financial and Strategic Operations at video game developer Ubisoft. The company launched in Singapore 11 years ago.

Supported by the growth of a vibrant local tech community, the Ubisoft Singapore office not only established a pioneering game production network in the region, but also became the company’s regional hub six years ago.

“Singapore is proactively preparing for its future and that is a good sign. They want to drive their future by investigating in new sectors and technologies, not only for the short term but for the long run, which is a very good mindset.”

Nicolas Hunsinger
Director of Financial & Strategic Operations, Ubisoft

With talent and innovation comes the need for protection, and regulation is held in high regard among businesses in Singapore.

Smarter And Clearer

Another one of Singapore’s strengths lies in its transparent, well-defined regulations that enable companies to conduct business smoothly. From intellectual property laws to regulations on standards, settlements and commercial disputes, Singapore has built a reputation for strong governance and a conducive business environment for multinational companies.

Singapore has also proven it has its finger on the pulse to respond quickly to sudden global economic shifts. The country demonstrated quick adaption of policies and created business-friendly adjustments in line with global shifts. Within a month of announcing a global pandemic, the government had initiated measures to ensure business continuity in spite of the lockdowns.

These reactions were pivotal given businesses are facing one of the most volatile global environments. Unlike an unregulated environment which suffers from high uncertainty and risk, experts say Singapore’s clearly set-out regulations create a secure and easily navigable environment for corporations to operate in.

“Singapore is the top-ranking Asian country in the 2019 Rule of Law Index.”

World Justice Project (WJP)

“Singapore is a regulated market that makes sense. It’s transparent; it tends to interact with businesses large and small to find out what they need, and then creates very sensible regulations.”

Deborah Elms
Founder & Executive Director, Asian Trade

Hutchins says, “This creates a positive working environment as we can communicate to companies and clients exactly what we can do here. This is why Singapore is increasingly becoming the hub for developing emerging technologies.”

The icing on the cake is that Singapore is a market that primes business for growth across the region.

The Ability To
Expand Into Asia

There are plenty of opportunities abound for businesses looking to expand beyond Singapore. As a top location for regional business events, companies based here have multiple opportunities to network with potential business contacts from Southeast Asia and beyond without leaving the country.

A frequent attendee of Singapore-based conferences and industry events such as BlockShow, Hunsinger says these are good avenues to network with corporations and start-ups in the region.

Elms adds, “When you have people coming in for a particular purpose, you also have the ability to leverage on their presence to hold other meetings and smaller events, which is also amazing.”

Singapore’s announcement in October 2020 that it will be allowing bigger MICE events of up to 250 people was well received by companies eager to meet with industry peers and pivot their businesses. At the same time, various green lane travel arrangements have been established with countries whose Covid-19 infection rates are low. This includes Brunei, China, Japan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, New Zealand, South Korea and some parts of Vietnam and Australia.

MICE industry aside, Singapore is well-known for its digital connectivity.

Singapore is consistently rated as the best MICE destination in Asia.

International Congress and Convention Association Global Rankings 2019
  • - China
  • - European Union
  • - India
  • - Japan
  • - Korea
  • - New Zealand
  • - Panama
  • - Peru
  • - Australia
  • - Costa Rica
  • - Jordan
  • - Sri Lanka
  • - Turkey
  • - USA
  • - Hong Kong
  • - Brunei
  • - Chile
  • - Vietnam
  • - Mexico
  • - Malaysia
  • - Canada
  • - Cambodia
  • - Myanmar
  • - Philippines
  • - Lao PDR
  • - Indonesia
  • - Thailand
  • - Saudi Arabia
  • - Kuwait
  • - U.A.E.
  • - Qatar
  • - Bahrain
  • - Oman
  • - Iceland
  • - Liechtenstein
  • - Norway
  • - Switzlerand

Singapore’s strong bilateral relations with neighboring countries also makes it an ideal launchpad to make a foray into other markets. The country has implemented 24 free trade agreements and economic partnership agreements that span the globe, paving the way for international businesses who are looking to gain a foothold in the region.

“We call Singapore, ‘America’s business headquarters in Asia’ because there are so many American and European businesses that have their APAC headquarters here for all the fundamental reasons. It is absolutely the launchpad for the rest of Asia.

Dwight Hutchins
Asia Pacific Managing Director, Accenture

Elaborating on the importance of strong global connections, Elms says, “This is becoming increasingly crucial with so much trade disruption and challenges globally. As businesses look to diversify in times of turbulence, Singapore will become more attractive as a base because it has this incredible network of opportunities.”

The Bottom Line

With global connectivity, a strong rule of law, a diverse business ecosystem, and access to world-class talent, not forgetting the country’s fast response to the challenges of Covid-19, the roar of the lion city is as strong as ever. As a result, Singapore has become, and will continue to be the top choice for global businesses looking for a hub in Asia Pacific.

This page was paid for by Innovation Nation. The editorial staff of CNBC had no role in the creation of this page.