One of the greatest risks to Singapore’s economy is a risk-averse population. The island state has been governed since its independence from Malaysia in 1965 by the People’s Action Party, which implemented a strict, rules-oriented regime that bred a compliant, hardworking electorate. That allowed the government to build quickly a powerful manufacturing economy during the 1970s and ’80s. But, recognizing Singapore’s by-the-rules mind-set could doom its bid to create an innovation-led economy, government officials are urging citizens to become risk-loving entrepreneurs.
The government is revamping Singapore’s education system, which has been based on learning by rote, to foster creativity. Government units have sprung up to grant seed money, cut red tape, attract foreign capital and provide support to would-be entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurs are the new state-sanctioned heroes.
Spurred by tax breaks and other incentives, private venture-capital companies have discovered Singapore. Last year, 150 such firms managed funds totaling S$15.8 billion, up from 105 firms managing S$11.5 billion during 2000.
The government has designated biomedical sciences as one of the next target industries, and plans to spend more than S$3 billion over the next five years to make that happen. It is offering incentives to encourage companies to set up research-and-development centers here, helping local start-ups and funding research institutes devoted to genomics, bioinformatics, bioengineering, nanotechnology, molecular and cell biology, and cancer therapeutics. It also is building Biopolis, a S$300 million city-within-a-city to house public research institutes, private R&D centers and companies. Biopolis will be completed later this year.