Singapore is ranked as one of the most innovation-friendly countries in the world. But underneath the success lurks an identity crisis: Singapore has never had a blockbuster invention or technology it can call its own.
That’s a stain on what’s otherwise a Cinderella story of how a small island—less than half the size of London—transformed itself from a colonial backwater into the one of the world’s most affluent, most fully wired cities in a single generation. That rise is attributed to luck and smart planning by a government that has plowed billions into infrastructure, R&D subsidies, and tax breaks to lure multinational corporations.
Yet Singapore’s own ideas and startup companies are struggling to define themselves in the shadow of big names that have set up shop on its shores, such as Google, Hewlett-Packard, and Procter & Gamble. There’s no company that jumps out as a Singaporean success in the same way that South Korea’s Samsung or Japan’s Sony does. Despite heavy investment in biomedical research, there’s still no Nobel Prize, either. The country’s most famous entrepreneur may actually be Eduardo Saverin, the Facebook cofounder who renounced his U.S. citizenship and took up residence in a snazzy Singapore penthouse.