By Zach Tan, Director (London Office), Infocomm Investments

During his recent trip to Southeast Asia, Prime Minister David Cameron discussed trade deals, which have the potential to pump £3 billion a year into the British economy. During the same period, a delegation comprising key stakeholders from the UK government, corporate, academia, risk capital, and entrepreneurial community, also visited Singapore as part of the global MIT Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program (MIT REAP) to discuss innovation and entrepreneurship with other like-minded players from Singapore, Morocco, Moscow, Puerto Rico, Qatar, Seoul and Valencia. Singapore was the first Asian country to host this global innovation initiative.

Why the increased interest in Southeast Asia? For starters, the UK government is setting its sights on the region’s growing middle class and appetite for British goods and services. Southeast Asia is expected to be the fourth-largest market in the world by 2030 (Forecasts by IHS), and is presently home to 600 million people and 227 of the world’s companies with more than US$1 billion in revenue (McKinsey Insight: Understanding ASEAN: Seven things you need to know: May 2014).

However, the potential for UK start-ups extends beyond exporting goods and services. For high-growth UK tech companies that are looking to scale globally, Singapore offers the most strategic gateway to the Southeast Asian region. Singapore ranks fifth in the world for corporate-headquarters density and first for foreign subsidiaries (McKinsey Insight: Understanding ASEAN: Seven things you need to know: May 2014). Many investors and company founders are attracted to Singapore because of the ease of doing business, and easy access to highly-skilled talents, funding and community networks.

The relationship works both ways, with Singapore looking to work with UK entrepreneurs and businesses, and integrate them into its Smart Nation vision. Launched by the Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong last year, Singapore’s Smart Nation vision is the country’s commitment to establishing Singapore as the world’s “Living Lab” for the ideation, prototyping and testing of new and innovative solutions that will tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges, such as urban density and the aging population. This involves pulling together Singapore’s unique asset mix of world-leading universities and research institutes, and fast-growing start-up community and venture capitalists, together with the commitment of the government, private sector, and citizens, to drive a culture of experimentation and risk-taking.

Singapore has already started laying the foundations for the technological infrastructure, policies, standards and capabilities that will enable a Smart Nation, including investment of over US$22 billion in research and development over the past decade to boost innovation. The nation’s commitment to building connections with the UK included the setting up of Infocomm Investments Pte Ltd (IIPL)’s office in London last October, and the investment in London-based Startupbootcamp FinTech Accelerator, which has since anchored its Asian programme in Singapore. IIPL has also most recently invested in UK-based “pre-team, pre-idea” talent platform, Entrepreneur First, which focuses on investing in highly technical talents to build deep tech start-ups.

The Smart Nation vision presents great business opportunities for UK start-ups to take advantage of this innovation utopia, with the ultimate aim of creating better lives for global citizens.