Saturday, January 3, 2015

Why isn't Singapore as entrepreneurial as Israel?

Over the next few days, I hope to publish a 4-part series on answering the question: Why isn't Singapore as entrepreneurial as Israel?
It is a mystery, especially for a Singaporean like me. Both nations have limited natural resources, rely heavily on its manpower for its growth. Yet, why is it that the Singapore government is struggling to make its citizen create its own jobs?
Back in May 2010, I had the opportunity to embark on a 10-days trip to Israel, to investigate the reasons behind its entrepreneurial economy.
From my internship stint at the Singapore's Ministry of Trade, I learnt about successful Israels Yozma fund, and unsuccessful TIF Ventures in Singapore. Ever since then, I realized that the Singapore government has been mimicking what the Israeli government does. I signed up for Israel BSM to find out the real reasons behind Israels booming entrepreneurship ecosystem and why Singapore is not on par. On the 26th April, as I boarded the plane to Tel Aviv, all geared up to answer two main questions (1) What were the historical differences that led to the todays difference in entrepreneurship culture; (2) Is Singapore on the right track on becoming where Israel is today. As identified by Asaf Barnea, CEO of Kinrot Ventures, apart from funding, there are three main factors that make a start-up technology, market needs and people. In reflection of the historical differences between Israel and Singapore, I will be structuring my thoughts around these four main factors.
Innovation & Education
As we visited the biblical and historical sites, I realized that the Israelis ability to innovate and cater to underserved markets was a result of necessity. Agriculture and water technologies were developed in response to daily survival consumption needs. For example, during the Canaanites inhabitation, an extensive water tunnel was built to access water from the faraway Gihon Spring. In addition, being the geographical land bridge between Africa, Europe and Asia, and the centre of religious conflicts, the nation was constantly attacked. These military threats and pivotal moments such as the French embargo on Israel caused the nation to kick-start its own defence technologies. Singapore on the other hand, had a less pressing need to innovate for self-sustenance. During the starting years, our homeland was fortunate to have a tropical climate for fruits and access to seawater for water and fish. Singapore has also been far less experienced in warfare. Even in times of war, it was the British government who provided majority of the weapons and manpower needed.
There are however, two traits that are similar for both Israel and Singapore. Firstly, both countries placed high importance of education. Due to the Jewish religious purposes, traditionally, boys were made to study religious text in a comprehensive manner from a very young age. This practice is still present in modern times. Even David, our tour guide, has ever brought his son up to the mountains to study the bible together. This attitude towards education has its immense impact on entrepreneurship in modern times. In Technion University, we were introduced to the president of the entrepreneurship club who at only 28 years old has over 10 years of experience in start-ups. His secret was that at 6 years old, he was already reading his fathers computer programming books. Singapore, being an Asia country, had also placed strong emphasis on education in their children. However, unlike the Israelis, during the 1940s to 1960s, prior to entering formal school, parents emphasized on their children hands-on skills to work or help at the family business.
Talent pool
Last but not least, both countries had an influx of foreigners. During the fifth Aliyah movement, many Diasporas returned from Germany and Austria as professionals in the field of medicine, science, finance and arts. This propelled the agriculture and high-tech industry in Israel. Singapores immigrants however, were mostly uneducated, with backgrounds in commerce, textiles and labour-intensive industries. There could have been insufficient individuals with technical know-how to spin off a high-tech industry even if they wanted to.

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