Jun 02, 2014

    Australia's loss is S'pore's gain

    AN "ACCIDENT", is how Casa Italia chief executive Phippo Hardegger describes founding his gelato company here.

    Unable to secure an Australian visa, the Swiss was persuaded by a friend to come to Singapore instead.

    "Everything is so clearly regulated, people keep to their contracts, and you have pretty much no corruption here," he says.

    Previously named Gelateria Italia, the firm has opened 15 stores within three years.

    While there are no official statistics tracking the population of foreign entrepreneurs here, a number of them are on the EntrePass scheme, which permits them to start businesses here.

    According to the Ministry of Manpower, the number of EntrePass holders fell 23.1 per cent, from 1,300 in 2012 to 1,000 last year, but some observers feel it is the quality and not the quantity of these entrepreneurs that matters.

    "The number is not the issue. The issues are the quality of the business, its leadership and its value to Singapore," said Victor Mills, acting chief executive of the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce. "Singapore looks for quality, not quantity."

    MOM revised EntrePass requirements in September to ensure it attracts "foreign entrepreneurs who can inject innovation and vibrancy into Singapore's business scene", said an MOM spokesman.

    Most EntrePass holders operate in commerce or finance and business services. Last year saw 2,000 EntrePass applications and, as has been the case since 2003, half were approved.

    Insead professor of entrepreneurship Philip Anderson reckons, however, that "the most logical explanation is simple economics - Singapore is expensive. If the cost of living continues to rise, we will probably see a shift in foreign entrepreneurs".

    Hiroshi Tatara, who founded Japanese food group RE&S here in 1988, also sees Singapore as an ideal "showcase" for presenting a business to potential partners.

    Twelve million tourists a year visiting such a "small territory" means good exposure to partners interested in expanding a concept regionally, he said.

    Scaling up and reaching global markets is the challenge for Singapore-based businesses, says Wong Poh Kam, director of the National University of Singapore Entrepreneurship Centre.

    In this respect, he believes businesses run by foreign entrepreneurs knowledgeable about their home market may actually have an advantage over companies managed mainly by locals.

    He expects foreign entrepreneurship here to rise. "Asia is driving global economic growth, so entrepreneurs here are in the right place at the right time."