With its unique position in the global economy, Singapore has acted as many a company’s Asian headquarters. For Western companies, the country is a stepping stone into the Asian market, and for companies from central Asia, it is an opening into the emerging South East Asian area. The city-state’s infrastructure, open business policies, political stability, and use of English as its primary language are some of the many reasons why companies choose to set up shop in Singapore.
The Korean MedTech industry is one example, and many companies have since started operating in Singapore due to the collaboration between the Korea Health Industry Development Institute (KHIDI) and Singapore’s Agency of Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). The project commenced in December 2013 and has since included R&D efforts worth US$600,000 (from 2015-2017, 1st stage), globalisation support via A*STAR, and the opportunity to nurture young talent in the health and medical industry.
This ongoing collaboration has attracted a lot of attention in the health and medical technology fields in Korea, which led KHIDI to facilitate the founding of a healthcare incubator in Singapore. The Korea-Singapore Healthcare Incubator was established on 12th September 2017 with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Golden Equator (GE) and C&R Healthcare Global. GE is a Singaporean investment and consulting group whilst the latter is a healthcare business platform and an affiliated company of C&R Research in Korea.
Aiming to develop up-and-coming Korean medical technology (MedTech) companies, the incubator will be selecting its participants within the next few months. About 10-12 Korean startups and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) of varying net worth will be a part of this program. The incubator is housed at SPECTRUM, a Technology and Innovation business club located at Duo Tower in the Bugis area.
We spoke to one of KHIDI’s representatives, Daniel (Dong Won) Lee, about this exciting new collaboration and the incubator’s future plans.
Daniel Lee at SPECTRUM
Can you tell us more about KHIDI?
KHIDI is a Korean government-affiliated institution which supports and develops the health industry while enhancing healthcare services. We have been granted a budget of approximately US$500m every year to help SMEs in the healthcare industry expand and do R&D. So far, KHIDI has 6 overseas offices including the US, UK, China, and now Singapore.
Is the SME environment in Korea similar to Singapore?
It’s similar in the sense that the majority of businesses in Korea are actually SMEs, and they also provide the largest percentage of employment. However, the biggest problem that most SMEs face is growth. They are unable to reach their potential because certain industries (like tech) are monopolised by much larger companies. Once an SME develops something notable, they are either acquired or hired by a larger company, thereby not allowing them to grow on their own.
The Korean government is of the opinion that for SMEs to grow, they should exit the country and work on becoming globally recognisable before coming back and claiming more market share in Korea. That way they will be able to compete with the larger companies. The GE and C&R incubator will allow these companies to grow without worrying about these factors.
We chose Singapore because it has a great global presence and a very good ecosystem for healthcare SMEs to build international partnerships. Many international companies have decided to set up their APAC headquarters here, and the Singaporean government has very good relationships with many countries worldwide. Singapore is an amazing launch pad for companies that want to grow, search for funding, or just want to learn something new.
How did KHIDI’s success with A*STAR inspire it to set up this incubator? And why choose SPECTRUM as its location?
We wanted to continue A*STAR’s success story and strengthen the mutually beneficial partnership between our two countries, so we thought the next step should be setting up an open incubator. SPECTRUM was chosen because we wanted to expand our business models in Singapore’s private sector, and we needed to leverage a wider ecosystem outside of MedTech to help these companies succeed.
GE and SPECTRUM’s greatest advantage is their network. Even though we are in the healthcare field, we think their connections to entrepreneurs from other industries could open doors for unexpected cross-industry collaborations. The culture of open innovation is clear here and I think the SMEs who are eventually chosen for the incubator will greatly benefit from the environment at SPECTRUM.
The robust startup ecosystem in Singapore is not only beneficial to startups and their investors but also the greater Singaporean economy. These companies act as disruptors to their respective industries, building innovative products and forcing their predecessors to keep up or fall behind. An environment of constant learning and engagement will be helpful in fostering a forward-looking perspective while allowing both local and foreign companies to achieve success.