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Advantages and challenges of doing business in Singapore

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The opinions in this blog are that of Benjamin Towell in his personal capacity and should not be associated with his professional roles or organisations he is linked with.

I have been asked to write a blog post following my talk for the Connected Cities UK mission, run by UKTI and Innovate UK, in Singapore in March, where I apparently had some “sound” business advice for those companies wishing to do business in Singapore.

Firstly I must ask you, the reader, to take this with a pinch of salt, because I am actually within the public sector (thus I am more used to my rubber stamps and my red tape) and secondly all of this is common sense!

That said, in my role within Singapore I have a lot of interaction with new and existing businesses and providers who are seeking or have broken into the Singapore market and there are some general observations from those I have dealt with that are successful, and more importantly the less successful companies.

Doing business in Singapore, Singapore
Singapore business district


  1. Transparent and open to UK business

Firstly the positives: Singapore is a transparent business haven: clear rules, simple and effective regulations, second to none intellectual property protection, speed and scalability are all here for you.

Furthermore being a British company, Singapore works on a system that we are familiar with both in terms of business language, culture (for the most part) and legal systems.

  1. Government investing heavily in smart cities

For the built environment sector – sustainability, productivity and smartness are all key drivers.

The government is actively funding (heavily) in research development and deployment, test bedding and demonstration projects that are all followed by wide scaled adoptions. This is due to the progressive nature of Singapore and its hunger to be the most advanced city in the world.

The second reason is the government is a huge (I mean huge) developer with housing, industrial buildings and high tech, clean tech business parks. Thus, securing a government project or funding is a great idea, as once you get the job it will go all the way quickly.

  1. Singapore is a gateway to South East Asia and beyond

This can be used to establish yourself regionally as you will be provided a platform to share your knowledge and services with Singapore’s neighbours.

Challenges or differences to be aware of

However it’s not all oysters and champagne. Working in Singapore is challenging especially with the current global economy. You will need to understand the socio political context of Singapore and its intricacies.

  1. Government has very strong influence

The government has a very strong influence, thus working with a government linked organisation or the government directly can be advisable especially for smart building solutions.

  1. Respecting hierarchy and seniority are a must

There are of course cultural differences which however slight are still present and must be respected. The concept of “giving face” and following hierarchy within organisations and government bodies exist and must be worked with, not against, which at first can be a challenge.

  1. A love of meetings

Furthermore there is an unholy love of meetings in Singapore and you will be expected to attend many of these at various levels. What would be a simple email or phone call in the UK, often will be cause for a meeting in Singapore.

This, to an outsider (and insider) sometimes, feels frustrating, but bear with it as things start to move very quickly once people have been convinced.

Doing business in Singapore, meeting 620x310

The most important thing is don’t just talk a good game, you must be able to prove you have the product/ service that works.

  1. Can be cautious at first

Singapore, although it is very secure in its global position, is still very cautious in adopting new things, especially new foreign things. There are two solutions to this:

  1. Have example case studies of successful implementation overseas, preferably in scenarios applicable to Singapore as a city.
  2. The other way and often most successful is to tie up with local partners, or set up a local office that contributes to developing or making use of the Singaporean talent pool. For those in R&D success often comes from tying up with local institutions including Polytechnics, Universities and vocational educational institutions such as ITE’s ‘(Institute of Technical Education).

If you think you have a good product, service or area of research especially looking at solutions to urbanisation, then Singapore is a great place to work to develop and implement such systems. But remember there is a lot of competition and having a good sales pitch is often not enough, talk is cheap, Singapore likes to see action.

Benjamin can be contacted on his email ( and his Twitter (which he is getting to grips with slowly! - @bhtowell1)

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