“What Singapore needs for tomorrow, however, is to push the boundaries of its productive capacity, and this is where technopreneurship comes into play” (Aspire To Be A Technopreneur, Rather Than A Doctor Or Lawyer, Hooi Den Huan, Loh Wan Fei, Hooi Ren Yi, and Hooi Ren Syn).
Calls for the government to invest more in technopreneurship is often marked by anxiety, with warnings that in the immediate future innovative disruptions around the world could have painful consequences for local industries, especially the traditional ones. Digitisation – for instance – has already affected tour guides and department stores in Singapore, who face stiff competition from low-cost, high-growth tech startups.
Yet, while sustaining an effort “to attract international venture capital and incubators … to build a stronger technopreneurship networks” should be a straightforward endeavour for Singapore, crafting “an endearing culture [which] will motivate its population to want to develop an enterprising mindset” (TODAY, Sept. 24) – on the other hand – has proven to be more tricky. Few see the need to strike out on their own, without a safety net of qualifications.
After all, the perceived superiority (and safety) of the academic pathway – and by extension, the importance of a university degree – has persisted, and the accumulated aversion to risk has to be chipped away with time. Against a background of initiatives, the government has done its fair share, with the startup grants and schemes made available as well as the wider range of financing options through venture capital firms and venture debt programmes.
This has successfully encouraged a flurry of activity in Singapore’s tech and startup ecosystem.
Perhaps a useful indicator – beyond the number of new startups incorporated over time, or the amounts of funding they raise – is whether young or qualified Singaporeans are willing to work in these new organisations. And if human resource management, such as recruitment and retention, is indeed the problem, patience will be necessary in this regard. The commentary is optimistic about e-commerce trends and the emergence of big data companies, that “technopreneurship … will help in the push towards an adaptive economy”, but should be cognisant that the quantity and quality of available talents are formidable obstacles.
In this vein, it would therefore be constructive to survey tech startups on the structural challenges they may face in terms of recruiting and retaining manpower. Are graduates from the polytechnics and universities willing to work in these new companies? If not, what are the reservations? Have the tertiary institutions done enough? Within an anxious ecosystem to support technopreneurship, it is hardly meaningful to just call for individuals to move away “from the traditional focus on job security and wealth accumulation” to create “hunger for innovation and impact”, without addressing more fundamental, entrenched mindsets.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.