Saturday 15 March 2014

LaunchPad 'to regional start-up hub goal'

Block 71 space for start-ups to be upsized as part of effort
By Grace Chng, The Straits Times, 13 Mar 2014

SINGAPORE'S humble unofficial home for the fast-growing start-up community in a former flatted factory is now official - and is going to grow far bigger.

In recent years, Block 71, in Ayer Rajah industrial estate, has attracted more than 100 start-ups, from chapati maker Zimplistic to travel portal Flocations.

Yesterday, Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck launched an expanded version of Block 71 - to involve two more blocks - called JTC LaunchPad@one-north.

But even before those two extra buildings have been built, Mr Teo has pledged to provide even more space to the nation's budding entrepreneurs.

Future buildings, he said, will accommodate up to 800 start-ups and about 3,200 entrepreneurs, up from the current 250 start-ups and 1,000 entrepreneurs.

"We want to make Singapore the regional hub for start-ups, and the LaunchPad is the beginning of this effort," he said.

If LaunchPad succeeds, the Government hopes to replicate the concept across the island for other economic sectors, he added.

Mr Teo was speaking at the launch of LaunchPad, a joint effort between JTC Corporation and SPRING Singapore.

LaunchPad will comprise Block 71 and two new blocks, 73 and 79, as well as any other new buildings there. The two new blocks together will provide space for another 230 start-ups. The number of entrepreneurs, engineers and other employees will also rise to 2,000.

Mr Teo praised the success of Block 71, which has blossomed into a successful start-up community from a flatted factory just three years ago. News magazine The Economist recently called it the "most tightly packed entrepreneurial ecosystem".

In an off-the-cuff speech, Mr Teo reiterated the need to create an entrepreneurial culture.

"It's no longer about grants as there're plenty of funds ready for for entrepreneurs to tap on. Now we want to encourage entrepreneurship," he said.

He wants to see entrepreneurs set up their businesses "to step out of their comfort zone and make things happen".

This is important for Singapore to renew and rejuvenate its economic sectors, he added.

Success will not be measured by the number of public-listed companies although he said he would be delighted if Singapore can produce its own Googles and Facebooks.

"What is important is that we have a culture of entrepreneurship across the board, whether you're tech or non-tech start-ups," he said.

But the Government has done enough and it is time the private sector steps in to drive entrepreneurship, he said. The Government "will provide a supporting and facilitating role" where, for example, it can bring international investors here to interest them in funding local start- ups.

He called the LaunchPad a "dream come true".

"Start-ups now have a place to call their own," he said.

Mr Teo credits the work of pioneers like NUS Enterprise - the National University of Singapore's entrepreneurship arm; SingTel Innov8 - the telco's corporate venture arm; and the Media Development Authority (MDA), whose passion and dedication led Block 71 to be a thriving start-up hub.

Entrepreneurs and investors who spoke to The Straits Times were pleased that the Block 71 concept has been expanded.

Most, like Mr Derek Tan, co-founder of online streaming start-up Viddsee, like the ecosystem built at Block 71, as "it's a community of like-minded people open to discussing ideas, solving problems and providing any help".

Many of the start-ups there worried that their three-year leases expiring on March 31 would not be renewed and that they would have to leave, destroying the community they had developed there.

Five levels of the seven-storey block were leased to the MDA, which in turn leased it to interactive digital and media start-ups. The other two floors were also tenanted to tech start-ups by JTC.

The MDA had a pioneering hand in developing Block 71 but was faced with a problem. Start-ups attracted by the community there wanted office space in Block 71 but current tenants wanted to stay put.

As an interim measure, MDA extended the lease of all tenants there to March 31 next year, giving time to those who have to vacate.

From here on, all tenants will need to follow the new start-up tenancy criteria drawn up by JTC. Those who are more than five years old will have to vacate.

Dr Lily Chan, NUS Enterprise chief executive, said the growing demand for office space is a testament to the success of Block 71.

She hopes that NUS Enterprise-funded start-ups which have to leave after their lease ends will return to participate in events there and share their experiences.

The new criteria of tenancy, which also applies to Block 71 tenants, are that they must be incorporated in Singapore and be less than five years old to qualify to apply for the three-year lease.

They must also be endorsed by one government agency, such as SPRING Singapore, MDA, National Research Foundation, Agency for Science, Technology and Research, or Infocomm Development Authority. They must also not be a subsidiary of an established company.

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