Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat at London Tech Week on 14 June 2022.
A very good morning,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to be here in London for the Tech Week.
Waves of Change
It is good to feel the energy and vibrancy, especially here!
This is my first visit to London since the pandemic began.
The pandemic has accelerated many digital trends – including telehealth, digital payments, and remote work.
It is a “tech-celeration”.
AI, IoT, and Industry 4.0 are reshaping the way we live and work.
There is more to come, including Web 3.
Singapore is a tiny island.
We are a city state half the size of London!
But in the digital age, small can be beautiful.
Potential is virtually unlimited for any city that can ride the digital wave.
The key question is this: how can we ride on these tech waves to create a better world?
How can we make the most of the sea of digital zeros and ones to make life better for more people?
This morning, I will speak on Zero, One, and Infinity.
Zero, One, and Infinity
Let me start with Zero.
Every company, no matter how successful, starts from Zero.
On Day Zero, the start-up is just an idea. It is when the start-up defines its reason for existence.
Successful start-ups must find problems that are worth solving and tackle them well.
Among the many challenges, the biggest one also starts with zero – a Net Zero future.
Climate change will become an even hotter issue, as the world is not on track to keep global warming in check, and the Russia-Ukraine war has thrown the energy transition into sharper relief.
You have a very exciting agenda on ClimateTech, in areas such as renewable energy and carbon capture.
Let me touch on one area of ClimateTech that is based on nature – nature-based solutions.
The potential for nature-based solutions in Southeast Asia is tremendous – it is home to the largest blue carbon stock in the world.
Take mangrove swamps. Compared to forests, they store up to 10 times more carbon per hectare.
To catalyse investments in mangrove growth and restoration, we need vibrant marketplaces for high-quality carbon credits. One such marketplace is Climate Impact X based in Singapore.
The quality of carbon credits will depend very much on technology – including satellite monitoring, machine learning, and blockchain – to ensure the verifiability, permanence, and additionality of these credits. To address concerns over greenwashing, technology can provide verification and trust.
Net Zero is one key challenge where technology can make a difference.
There are many others – ageing, Disease X, health and educational access, to name a few.
Tech will have a key role to play in addressing them.
From Zero, let me now move to One.
For any start-up, getting from Zero to One is not easy.
Start-ups will have to confront the “Valley of death”.
Tougher access to capital and knockdowns on valuation have hit the otherwise buoyant tech sector.
Getting from Zero to One will need a sharper competitive edge.
Key to this is getting onto the innovation flywheel and being part of the flow of innovation.
We need to flow innovation across geographies.
For those of you who are keen to explore opportunities in Singapore and beyond, we welcome a diversity of talent.
We have the Tech.Pass, a visa that allows tech entrepreneurs and leaders like yourselves to come to Singapore to explore new tech frontiers and new markets.
In Singapore, you will be part of a vibrant start-up community.
This is encapsulated by our Start-up SG programme, where we will walk this journey with you, from networking and mentorship, to funding opportunities.
In Singapore, you will also be able to tap into one of the largest VC markets in Southeast Asia. Last year alone, Singapore-based startups raised US$11billion, almost triple that raised in 2020, and 11 unicorns were minted here.
Singapore has also established the Global Innovation Alliance.
This network lets start-ups explore new markets and discover new partners in key innovation nodes.
We now have 15 such nodes, including in Southeast Asia and Europe, and one right here in London.
Events like the London Tech Week are useful platforms to facilitate the exchange and flow of ideas.
We look forward to welcoming you to Singapore for the Singapore Week of Innovation and Technology from 25 to 28 October this year. Last year, over 15,000 participants from 42 markets came together.
Emerging technologies receive a mix of sceptical criticism and passionate enthusiasm. Understandably so.
In Singapore, we believe that for innovation to thrive, regulators need to know what is useful and what is harmful.
Take crypto assets as an example. Cryptocurrencies are risky for retail investors and subject to speculation.
But there is great potential in the underlying blockchain technology – for example, in wholesale cross-border currency settlements, facilitating Trade Finance, or securing the provenance of key data to power green finance decisions.
Regulators should not simply curtail these technologies.
In Singapore, our central bank – the Monetary Authority of Singapore –takes the approach of working together with industry to minimise the risks, while encouraging innovation.
From 0 to 1, we need a better flow of innovation across geographies, and adopt constructive regulation.
I have touched on 0 and 1. 1 over 0 brings me to my next point – infinity.
Scaling up is a prerequisite for the path to impact and profitability. Beyond expanding market share in your primary markets and widening product range, going international is often the crucial next step.
In recent decades, many European companies and start-ups have ventured into Asia.
This is not surprising, given Asia’s economic dynamism, and with 60% of the world’s population living in the region.
The focus has been on the fast-growing markets in China and India, as well as more developed economies like Japan and South Korea.
This is all understandable. But there is a lot more to Asia, including Southeast Asia.
Southeast Asia is similar in GDP to the UK, and it has much room for catch-up growth.
With a rapidly growing middle class, and a young and digitally savvy population, the digital economy is growing rapidly.
In the digital age, we are going beyond our traditional economic linkages, to build new digital bridges.
We have Digital Economy Agreements with Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and Chile.
I am delighted to announce that the UK-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement enters into force today.
This is our first such agreement with a European country, and the first ever for the UK.
This agreement will make it much easier to operate in and across both markets, as the need to navigate different rules and standards is significantly reduced.
We hope that you will build on this new digital network to scale.
Southeast Asia is a region brimming with possibilities. Singapore sits in the heart of Southeast Asia and in Asia, and we seek to be a global Asia node for technology, innovation and enterprise. Singapore can be a useful gateway for you into the region.
Despite being geographically separated by thousands of miles, we are building new bridges that can pull our regions closer together.
I hope you will venture to explore our region, and scale your growth many times over.
Let me conclude
0, 1, and Infinity.
Having a clear Day 0 purpose to tackle challenges like Net Zero. Being a part of the flow of innovation to get from 0 to 1.
Exploring new markets, including in Southeast Asia and Asia, to scale-up to Infinity.
This way, I believe technology can make lives better for more people and make our planet bluer and greener.
I wish you all success.
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