To keep its entrepreneurial scene vibrant and active, Singapore needs more brave entrepreneurs who have the tenacity and willingness to build interesting things to remain competitive, according to Esther Wang, founder of Joytingle.
Wang's company makes Rabbit Ray, an educational toy that teaches children about medical treatments, such as how injections can make them well, helping them overcome their fear of needles. Rabbit Ray is available at 40 hospitals in 11 markets.
While funding is important for startups, Wang said, entrepreneurs should also support local manufacturing to provide employment and support innovation in Singapore.
Q: How supportive is Singapore's government of startups?
A: The Singapore government has done a lot [in terms of] environmental support for young companies. They have, through their MRA grants [the Market Readiness Assistance Grant by IE Singapore, offered to support companies and help protect their intellectual property]. I'm very aware of that. Having traveled to so many places, there are not many countries that are so supportive. Also, in some countries, they go by [personal] connections.
Singapore, in this region, is really the best place to get things done. It has the transparency, the efficiency, the infrastructure and the stability. Political stability is also key, and we attract quality talent from overseas.
Also it is not just about the government's mindset, but the lifestyle that we have built here. Singapore is starting to understand and embrace work-life balance, which would attract families and startups who want to [put down] their roots here, compared to "touch-and-go."
Q: How crucial is funding for startups in Singapore?
A: Entrepreneurship and innovation is not just funding. What money can do is limited. What is more important is the mindset that people have. You need an ecosystem of people who believe in you and want to take the time to give you that chance and platform. We need as an ecosystem of entrepreneurs for innovation to grow. It also comes down to an entrepreneur's tenacity, to actually make things work.
[In Singapore], we still maintain the merit-based system. If you have a product that is good, that really does what it says and delivers, at least you will get a chance to speak to people and get into a meeting to get started. This is a strength of Singapore.
Q: What are some qualities that Singaporean startups should have to compete?
A: As a Singapore company, we need to build our capabilities. The tenacity and willingness to build interesting things is what [we] really need for competitiveness. Competitiveness comes down to the type of people and the value they can provide. We need more brave Singaporean entrepreneurs.
I use the word "brave" because there are so many uncertainties and so many challenges. As a founder, there is actually a lot of stress, mental stress, which you would face. But of course you don't focus on that, you let your work speak for itself.
It is also important as a CEO to be aware of places and people. The role as a CEO is to be forward-looking and see what else is happening and find new possibilities. When you have a pool of different people with strong skill sets and have the opportunity to interact and mix around with them, you can help to generate more ideas and think forward. The worst thing that can kill any business is working in a silo. You need to have that level of cross-pollinating ideas. So talent attracts talent, and innovation all comes from quality conversations. It comes from people who know what they are talking about or have experience with what they are doing.
Q: What are the benefits of manufacturing in Singapore?
A: We do most of our manufacturing in Singapore for a very simple reason: When you are developing products, you want to be there to iron out any teething problems that you may encounter, quickly. You can't, say, wait three days later and be on a flight. In Singapore, I can say that I can be there in 30 minutes. It's also the level of trust, the level of integrity. You want to make sure that your [intellectual property] will not walk through the factory door and go elsewhere. It's protected right here in Singapore.
I can also assure my customers about the quality of the product. I can't guarantee that overseas because I am not there to physically check. Also when you tell overseas factories that you are from a small country like Singapore, with a smaller order, the level of attention is lesser compared to the bigger orders.
In Singapore, the ones who really care about doing a product well are your fellow Singaporeans, because they see that, as a countryman, that what you are doing is good. They are also more willing to work and walk with you.
I choose to do it in Singapore for all these reasons, but also to support local factories. These factories [have] already [been] there since the 1960s and 70s. As much as possible, we try to do it local to give local people employment to support innovation.
Q: What are your plans for Joytingle in the future?
A: I want to be the first go-to name, to be the Disney of children's health care. We are looking at key experiences in the family, at their most vulnerable moments -- like a parent [being] taken to the hospital. We don't want children to walk away with trauma about health care experiences, which may affect their impressions about hospitals and willingness to seek treatment in the future.
For now, the hospitals purchase from us directly and what the kid can bring back are paper finger puppets and a paper certificate. We are considering a consumer-priced product, but now it's key to work with hospitals and health care professionals to ensure widespread acceptance.
Interviewed by Nikkei staff writer Justina Lee.