Finding or growing a sustainable customer base is interestingly identified as the biggest challenge facing UK-based tech start-ups today, according to a new poll conducted by British market research company, YouGov, during the period of late October to early November this year. The start-ups surveyed also highlighted other important contributors to their business growth, the top three being establishing the right product-market fit (54%), having access to reliable and good public infrastructure such as pervasive connectivity (48%) and finding suppliers (44%).

The research, spearheaded by the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA), Singapore government technology arm, engaged 193 UK-based early stage tech start-ups, to better understand the business challenges they are currently facing, and what it takes for them to consider expanding their business overseas.

The start-ups surveyed include young UK tech businesses with less than 5 years of operations, with majority at the early stages of raising their seed, angel or Series A funding. To date, they have received, on average, £1.1 million in funding, and stated that they need an average of £650,000 over the next 12 months to meet their business goals.

Majority of the founders surveyed have built high tech businesses that aim to tackle challenges in a diverse range of sectors from financial services, public/government services, education, transportation, to healthcare, using big data & analytics, mobility, and future communications and collaboration technologies.

On their global aspirations, the survey revealed that over half of the start-ups have an eye on international growth – 15% having already expanded their business abroad, 17% having plans to grow at least part of their business overseas and a further 19% considering international expansion in the future. The start-ups cited the ease of doing business (79%), a strong public infrastructure (72%) and policies and regulations that support innovation (70%) as important factors when considering a potential city for expansion.

With technology and connectivity today enabling aspiring entrepreneurs to expand their start-up business globally relatively quickly, the UK is becoming home to innovation-driven tech start-ups with aspirations to go global. IDA Singapore, through its investment subsidiary, Infocomm Investments Pte Ltd, is helping more globally-minded entrepreneurs with their expansion plans, by offering them the access to business opportunities in Southeast Asia, one of the world’s fastest-growing markets, using Singapore as their logical gateway. Southeast Asia is home to more than 600 million consumers, within a three to four-hour flight radius of Singapore. Investment is currently flowing into the region, with venture capital investment in Asia already reaching USD $28.4 billion this year (Source: KPMG & CB Insights, Global Venture Capital Report). Having consistently ranked by The World Bank as the world’s easiest place to do business for ten consecutive years, the Singapore government plays an important enabling role in cultivating a regulatory environment that nurtures innovation, with the support of over 7,000 multi-national corporations headquartered in the country.

Singapore has embarked on an ambitious vision to build itself into a Smart Nation, bringing together entrepreneurs, researchers, academics and innovation leaders in big corporates to create the world’s first “living laboratory” on a nation-wide scale and offering ‘live’ test beds for new solutions to be prototyped. The country has also invested USD $22 billion into research and development over the past decade to help companies develop, test and commercialise new products and solutions.

The UK and Singapore are natural partners where it comes to building tech start-ups that have the potential to scale globally. Both countries are working to tackle important shared global challenges arising from the realities of increasing urban density and ageing populations that have an impact on areas such as healthcare, transportation and resources sustainability.

As Singapore pursues its vision to become a Smart Nation, it’s encouraging to see that more than half of the UK start-ups we spoke to are equally excited by this vision and two-thirds believe that their business is a good fit with some of the pressing challenges that Singapore is working on to improve the lives of global citizens. By pulling together its fast-growing community of start-ups, large pools of risk capital, world-ranked universities, multi-billion dollar R&D investments, big corporates, together with the commitment of the government, we believe Singapore has all the raw ingredients for entrepreneurs to build and grow their business.

More than half of the start-ups surveyed were excited about the pervasive nationwide connectivity infrastructure Singapore is building to enable test beds of new solutions, as well as the ongoing self-driving vehicles, Internet of Things@Homes and tele-health trials that are currently being rolled out in Singapore.

By Steve Leonard, Executive Deputy Chairman of the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA)