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Why Are Singapore Startups Successful? Part of the Answer Is Education

The startup scene in Southeast Asia is still nowhere close to that of Europe and the Americas, but it has definitely experienced an uptick over the last few years.

According to Collective Campus, the countries in the region closed over 500 deals in 2017. That’s over 150 increase compared to the previous year. Tech firms raised close to $7 billion within the same period—a far cry from the $281 disclosed funding five years prior.

However, of the 11 nations that make up the region, Singapore tops the list for having the fastest-growing startup industry, according to the 2020 Innovation Index by Bloomberg. It was so successful that it even ranked third globally.

As of 2020, EDB Singapore revealed that the city-state is already home to over 50,000 of these startups—some already established ones like Grab.

Many attribute the success of Singapore’s startups to its flourishing finance and business sector. But education has a lot of contribution to it too.

1. Singapore Scores Very Well in Science and Maths

The home of over 5 million people consistently ranks high in core subjects such as mathematics and science in almost all global assessment tests. These include Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS), where almost 6,000 students represented the country.

Based on the results, the global median for advanced mathematics was only 7 percent. However, over half of the Singaporean primary students met the benchmark of the topic. Around the same percentage of secondary students had good knowledge of advanced mathematics.

Excellent knowledge of maths and science is one of the foundations of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. But mastery of the concepts is only half of the equation.

Learning science and maths also incorporate soft skills that come in handy once students become startup founders in the future.

These include analytical and problem-solving skills, growth mindset, resiliency, creativity, and innovation. They teach the kids to present difficult ideas into understandable ones through visuals and flowcharts.

2. Many Singaporean Students Get to Study Abroad

In the 2017 Global Wealth report by Credit Suisse, Singapore has over 150,000 millionaires or 2.5 percent of the population. The super-wealthy, meanwhile, accounted for less than half a percent.

The majority of Singaporeans earn a monthly median household income of about $9,500. But the cost of living here is also high. Buying an HDB property, for example, can already reduce the disposable income by as much as $3,000.

And yet many parents strive to send their children to colleges and universities abroad. According to UNESCO, around 24,000 Singaporean students are now taking up courses around the world. Over 2,500 of them are in the UK.

How is this possible? One, many primary and secondary schools here prepare the students for universities overseas. The likes of the IB programme in Singapore, American Education Reaches Out (AERO) Standards, and IGCSE provide multiple options for kids who like to pursue pre-university levels.

These programmes boost their credentials, help students specialize in specific fields that match their preferences or interests and provide easier access to a more international university education soon.

The education they receive abroad, meanwhile, teaches them many skills and attitudes that can help them build a successful startup. These are diversity, collaboration, and a better understanding of what the world needs.

3. Kids Are Exposed to Business Early On

Singapore may be modern, but many of its businesses are still traditional—that is, family-oriented. The reins are then passed on from generation to generation, and elders teach their kids about running an enterprise early by exposing them to various roles.

Expectedly, not all young Singaporeans will decide to stay in the family business. In fact, only 12 percent of the family enterprises make it to the third generation.

However, the early exposure to business can help produce children who are not only excellent in problem-solving and analysis but also are capable of being a leader. They are likely to have a deeper understanding of markets and how to build a brand.

These individuals value patience, hard work, and steady returns rather than aggressive growth, which might only result in costly failures later. Moreover, these are kids who may be able to pivot and adapt according to economic changes because business exposure taught them resilience.

It takes more than sufficient capital, a bright idea, and good branding for a startup to work—and succeed. It also demands plenty of soft skills such as growth mindset, access to global learning, and deeper knowledge on the core topics, which Singaporean students get from their education.

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