Singapore: Ambition beyond its size

This perspective is one in a series of blogs from experts of the cyber innovation environment.

Posted on: 30/06/2020

This perspective is one in a series of blogs from experts of the cyber innovation environment.

Related events

The blogs follow on from Cybersecurity Global Expert Missions and the outcomes will be presented and shared on our webinar in July.

We hope you can join us! Details are below.


Strengthening Cybersecurity Collaborations – Outcomes from missions to Singapore, Israel & USA, Online Webinar, 7 July 2020, 11am (UK time)

Between June 2018 and October 2019, three Global Expert Missions took place to Singapore, the USA and Israel to better understand their research and innovation landscapes and to establish potential opportunities for collaboration in the cybersecurity sector. This webinar will present the findings and insights from delegates and allow attendees to pose questions to a panel. It will provide a holistic and wide viewpoint of the capabilities identified during the Global Expert Missions and will showcase key opportunities for UK businesses who may be interested in international collaboration. We hope you can join us for this fantastic networking opportunity.

For more information and to register, click here.



Following the Expert Missions, Dr Ilesh Dattani, Assentian Limited tells us about his experience in the cyber innovation environment:


“I think it is very important to remember that leaders have got to do the right thing, given the circumstances, and prioritise what is important for society.” (S.R Nathan , 6th President of the Republic of Singapore).


Singapore is a small island in South East Asia that has only existed for 200 years yet its ambitions suggest it desires to be a place of considerable influence as well as a hub for global trade in the ASEAN region. In 1965 Singapore received independence from Britain and separation from Malaysia. Whilst this was an important mark in Singapore’s history, it left a great deal of uncertainty with the loss of land to Malaysia and assets held in pound sterling that were plummeting in value. Singapore’s leaders of the time prioritised industrialisation developing the naval bases and shipyards left behind by the British. This was the start of modern-day Singapore with Innovation and Continuous transition at the heart of its outward facing forward looking plan for economic growth. Singapore has had strong government intervention from the way it dealt with resolving its differences with Japan after independence to the creation of Temasek Holdings in 1974 1. Innovation and government intervention has transformed the Singapore economy from one based on raw materials to today as one based on services, manufacturing and technology 2. Singapore has most recently seen the growth in technology start-ups combined with innovation and digital transformation in its core industries which has all culminated in Singapore making cybersecurity a national priority.


Singapore has identified four pillars to innovation: Digital Economy, Sustainable Technology, Defence and Security and Education.


The global expert mission to Singapore in October 2019 was aimed at understanding the cyber security landscape, the roles played by the various actors within the local ecosystem (public and private), and the key priorities going forward and most importantly the opportunities and mechanisms for collaboration within the context of realizing those key priorities. The mission involved meetings with representatives of the Singapore Government and its agencies including:


The Cyber Security Agency (CSA)
The National Research Fund (NRF)
The Economic Development Board (EDB)
The Ministry of Home Affairs


Academia was represented by the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) with a focus on their specific activity in cyber security. The Cyber Security Consortium represented collaboration between government, academia and industry. Private Sector engagement during the mission involved meeting with the key Singapore cyber security accelerators, the largest home-grown cyber security company, a number of cyber security start-ups that have chosen Singapore as their primary location and established multi-nationals who are using Singapore as a platform for the ASEAN region.


Singapore sees the United Kingdom as a natural partner given, they’re not insignificant historical ties and legal systems and there is wide recognition of the need to collaborate. As Singapore marks the Bicentennial of Sir Stamford Raffles’ arrival and the United Kingdom begins a new era, both countries have started a partnership to broaden and deepen their ties in the years ahead 3. The partnership is aimed at building on existing links and strengthening collaboration, especially in the following four areas (the four pillars of innovation identified by Singapore) 4.


South East Asia’s growing political, economic and strategic significance means that it is critical that the United Kingdom forges strong relationships, collaborations and ties with all the countries in the region. These relationships will be critical for the United Kingdom’s influence, prosperity and national security. It is imperative that the United Kingdom is well positioned to take advantage of the continuing prosperity in the region and helping to ensure that this is underpinned by regional stability and security 5. Within this context closer collaboration on innovation and research and development with partners in Singapore be it between government agencies, between academics or industry will form a crucial component of the United Kingdom’s approach.


There are clearly opportunities for companies based in the UK to benefit from a significant and growing commercial opportunity in the ASEAN region and likewise the UK can offer companies in Singapore with access to a larger and more mature cybersecurity market in Europe (including proximity to customers in the cyber security sector).


Singapore has a solid infrastructure; framework and culture to foster innovation and entrepreneurship which helps attract foreign companies to use Singapore as a gateway to the ASEAN market. The commercial opportunity in the ASEAN region is considerable and using Singapore as a base represents a good move for companies that are currently based in the UK and want to expand into the region. The relationships we have started to build via the Global Expert Mission will help our companies expand into the region whilst ensuring that we retain IP and talent in the UK which is important.


On the research and innovation front there are interesting advancements in Singapore, and significant opportunities to collaborate with the UK innovation community. Joint funding, joint calls and appetite for collaboration is clearly there and could help to advance work in areas of strategic importance and interest to both countries such as; Hardware Security, 5G and Cybersecurity, Securing the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, Blockchain Security, Quantum Key Distribution.


As is readily apparent Singapore is a highly digitised country and is only becoming more so as they expand upon their goal of being a Smart Nation. Smart Nation is the national effort of Singaporeans, businesses, and government to support better living using technology with advancements in transport, home and environment, business productivity, health services, and public sector services. Within this context Singapore sees cyber security as critical from a national security perspective, from the threat it poses to its economy, the critical business sectors and as a pure business opportunity given the economic growth and take-up of digital technologies within the ASEAN Region. The Singapore Government is providing strong strategic guidance and is setting up the required support to realise this ambition.


The activities included:


• The launch of the Singapore Cyber Security Masterplan in 2005
• The Cyber Security Agency (CSA) was created in 2015 The CSA as indicated earlier in this report is responsible for the national protection of cybersecurity and computer systems, from detection to response and recovery, from cyber threats and incidents
• In 2016 the Singapore Cyber Security Strategy was announced and was released to the public in the following year
• In 2018 the Singapore Cyber Security Bill was introduced.


All government departments and agencies have taken on activities to support the overall goals of Singapore’s cyber security strategy and ambitions. This has included funded research and development programs, support for new start-ups and companies looking to set-up their south-east Asian operations in Singapore, international collaborations on policy, strategy and research and programs to improve the talent and skills base within Singapore. The National Research Foundation, The Economic Development Board and Enterprise Singapore have all and continue to play a pivotal role in all these efforts. Whilst they still have a long way to go they have made significant progress.


It seems like one big company, rather than a scrabbling political seething mass that we are used to. It’s driven by very few policies or regulation in Singapore. In comparison the US is at the opposite extreme where almost every federal department has a strategy and then states and major cities will have their own independent work and initiatives as well. This may well however prove to be an oversimplification of the issues as a result of the fact that Singapore is still as we have already indicated in the early stages of its journey. One observation supporting the assertion that Singapore is still immature when it comes to strategy is the clear dis-connect between the growing technology sector and the policy makers – it is unclear how the two work together at a strategic level – the technology companies are unsure as to how they work with the policy makers.


Culturally Singaporeans are risk averse; however they have strong aspirations to be like Israel when it comes to entrepreneurship and start-ups in technology. To be like Israel this cultural attitude will have to change. It is also possible that as a culture they are too polite and less likely to approach other businesses on an idea. not great at randomly just approaching people to try and do business, they’re more timid and ‘polite’. Less Chutzpah! Both elements have contributed to Israel’s success. In the UK things are improving in so far as working in a start-up or founding a start-up is now being seen in some quarters as a legitimate career path and in many cases the more fashionable place to work, their still however remains a distinct ‘fear of failure’ – it is not seen as a learning exercise and viewed as a positive in the way that we see in Israel. Size and the connectedness that comes from that is something that Singapore and Israel share – this intrinsically means that ‘within a couple of calls you can reach the person you are trying to get to’.



[2] Turnbull, Constance Mary. A History of Modern Singapore, 1819-2005. Singapore: National University of Singapore Press, 2009.




Contact Details

Dr Ilesh Dattani

Assentian Limited (United Kingdom)
Assentian Europe Limited (Dublin, Ireland)

About Global Expert Missions

Innovate UK’s Global Missions Programme is one of its most important tools to support the UK’s Industrial Strategy’s ambition for the UK to be the international partner of choice for science and innovation. Global collaborations are crucial in meeting the Industrial Strategy’s Grand Challenges and will be further supported by the launch of a new International Research and Innovation Strategy. The Global Expert Missions, led by the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN), play an important role in building strategic partnerships, providing deep insight into the opportunities for UK innovation and shaping future programmes.


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