A lot of steps go into launching a start-up in Singapore. It may seem overwhelming to tackle everything at once, but with this simple guide and roadmap, you have everything you need to establish the groundwork for a healthy, profitable start-up.
Remember: you don’t need to sign up for any special training to launch a successful start-up in Singapore. What you need instead is a good start-up idea, a plan, the ability to act on your idea, and the desire to adapt and learn.
But first things first:
What’s a Start-up?
A start-up is a young, fledgling business in its early stages of operation. Usually, they’re bankrolled by the entrepreneurial founders themselves or through bootstrapping.
But there’s more to a start-up than the products or services they intend to sell. The underlying entrepreneurs must visualise themselves changing the world through the product or service. Either by being unique or by changing lives.
There are two types of Start-ups: cold and experienced.
Cold Start-up: This start-up has no experience as it has never existed. They may have a nice idea, but this is the first time they’re implementing it.
Experienced Start-up: This start-up is developed and managed by a person(s) with prior experience in managing a similar product or service. Usually, they’re spearheaded by large companies that want to introduce something new.
The Start-up Scene in Singapore
Singapore is one of the most advanced tech hubs in the world. It’s home to a flurry of start-up incubators and accelerators. That explains why this Asian nation-state has been exploding with microbusinesses of late.
A few stats to watch:
Population: 5.4 million
- Lots of support for start-ups
- So many networking opportunities
- An ever-improving start-up and investment scene
- High cost of living.
- Rent is expensive
- Government break for start-ups
What to expect:
- A pro-business or investment climate
- Well-educated people
- A fast-moving economy
Singapore enjoys a fired-up start-up scene. Setting up a company in the country is also straightforward – no unnecessary hoops associated with other countries.
Support: There’s immense support from both the government and the people.
Global Outlook: The country also enjoys a global outlook. Not to mention high standards of supporting infrastructure.
Great Talent: The country also produces great talent. Whether it’s financial, transport, IT, or telecommunication services, it’s relatively easier to get anything done in Singapore.
It’s fun to invest here: Culturally, Singapore is still young. There’s, therefore, this notion that nothing is impossible in the country. It’s easy for entrepreneurs to get excited about the business scene in the country, which generally makes it fun to invest here.
What’s the Cost of Doing Business in Singapore?
Perhaps the most expensive part of doing business in Singapore is keeping up with the high cost of living.
Rent is high, and it’s generally tough for start-ups to marshal up necessary resources for both the company and its employees.
Start-up Guide for First-time Entrepreneurs in Singapore
Here’s a valuable guide on how to set up a successful start-up in Singapore:
Choose Your Preferred Business Structure
You have to be extra cautious and analytical while choosing a business structure, as there’s a lot of ways the structure you choose could impact your business.
For example, your business structure may affect:
- The control you have over the start-up
- The amount of income tax to pay
- Health, safety, and other legal requirements
- Regulatory Obligations
- The liability you’ll incur in case something happens, or you incur losses
Here are the four structures to choose from:
Sole Trader: This is where you register yourself as the sole proprietor or owner of the start-up business. Meaning, you’re responsible for all the legal aspects of operating the business.
Company: A company is a commercial business entity with a separate legal existence from its shareholders.
Partnership: It’s when you team up with one or more persons or entities to start a company.
Trust: A trust refers to a business entity holding property or any other legal asset that benefits a third party.
Choose your Business Type
After you choose a business structure, the next thing you want to do is understand what type of start-up business is better suited for you. Your options are rife.
- An online business
- An independent contractor
- A Franchise
Remember: each of these options comes with its own set of regulatory requirements and legal obligations.
Choose a Suitable Name for Your Business
The name you choose for your business will eventually become your brand name. That means you have to give it thorough thought. Invite everyone involved and brainstorm on everything to come up with a name that best defines your business.
The name you choose has to be approved, as there are rules that guide the wording and everything else. Follow this link to be guided on how to choose a business name in Singapore.
Register Your Company
A majority of companies in Singapore operate as private limited companies. The companies will have the suffix “Ltd,” “Pte Ltd,” or Private Limited to their name.
Some other countries commonly refer to private limited companies as corporations, limited liability companies, incorporations, unlimited companies, and so on. Singapore is among the few countries that do not use the latter.
Company registration in Singapore is conducted by the ACRA (the Accounting and Corporate Registration Authority).
What Should you Expect after Successfully Registering your Company?
- Unique Entity Number
A unique entity number operates a whole lot like your personal identification, but for your company.
The number is generated automatically, and it’s what you use to identify your company whenever you’re dealing with any government body.
ACRA will also send you a congratulatory letter a week after you’ve successfully registered your company.
- Marketing Mailers
Corporate Service Providers will start sending you numerous marketing emails listing out a range of corporate services you may want to sign up for.
Be sure to perform validation checks on any mailer that purports to be from a government agency.
Open your Company Bank Account
The next thing you want to do is to open a corporate bank account with your company’s name and not yours. You have several bank options to go with.
This bank account is meant to facilitate all your company’s transactions. It’s also a good way to draw a distinction between your personal expenditure and company transactions.
Business Permits and Licenses
Be sure to check out if there are permits and licenses to be precured in your line of business. The licenses and permits tend to have qualifying conditions. It’s, therefore, important that you apply for them before setting up your business.
Setting up an Inventory Management and Record-Keeping System
A common mistake that entrepreneurs make almost all the time is beefing up their marketing while completely neglecting inventory management.
You need proper records for monitoring receivables, payables, business decisions, your company’s financial status, corporate tax filings, and so on. In fact, you’re legally required to maintain proper business records for at least five years.
You need a professionally done website and email system to represent your business online and connect with your online clientele.
Here’s what you’ll need to set up a website in Singapore:
- A domain name, which goes for about $20 per year for a .com TLD, and about $60 per year for com.sg TLD.
- Webhosting: This is like your digital real estate. The annual cost of web hosting can range from $60 to thousands of dollars, depending on the option you choose.
- A web designer and developer: This is the person or agency responsible for designing your website in Singapore. Typically, the cost of hiring one can range from $2 000 to $250 000, depending on the nature of your website.
Business Card Printing
Find a professional business card print and let them help you design your business cards. Don’t skimp. Instead, try to find a business card designer that offers letterpress printing.
Set up a Business Office
You have several options when it comes to setting up your business workspace. You can work from your bedroom or living room or cost-share an office space with one of your friends or colleague.
However, if you’re planning to lease a unit, you should at least be prepared to part away with 2 to 3 months’ worth of rent, with a one-month deposit.
If you’re planning to pay yourself a salary or get one or more employees on a payroll, it’s legally required that you apply for a Central Provident Fund (CPF) number and submission account.
IRAS GST Commitment
It’s a compulsory requirement to register with the GST the moment your annual taxable turnover crosses the $1 million mark. Failure to register with the GST may result in a fine of up to $10 000.
Must-join Start-up Communities, Programmes, and Events in Singapore
The start-up scene in Singapore is a close-knit network of entrepreneurs, marketers, investors, dreamers, incubators, and project accelerators.
Here’s a list of some of the start-up communities and programmes to join in the country:
Tech in Asia
Tech in Asia is where entrepreneurs go to learn about the latest tech news, discussions, and events in Singapore. It’s also a great platform for advertising jobs.
Singapore Infocom Technology Federation (SiTF)
SiTF is a membership directory for SMEs and MNCs. Their primary area of focus is Information, Communication, and Media (ICM). Their 123jumpstart initiative is free to join for qualifying start-ups. It’s a great platform for networking, as it provides access to investors, mentors, co-working facilities, workshops, and so on.
Here’s a list of start-ups related mobile apps to download and install on your mobile device:
BEAM is available as an Android and iOS app. Launched in 2016, the app list a range of players in Asia’s tech world, including investors, founders, journalists, developers, and legal advisors.
It’s an invite-only application. To receive an invitation, follow this link and submit your email address.
DBS Business class
This application seeks to connect SMEs with industry experts, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and SME specialists.
At the time of writing this, the application boasts more than 15, 000 professionals from all around the region.
Singapore Start-up Group
Entrepreneurs join this group to discuss company set-up, structure, marketing plans, investments, and so on. Other than that, it’s a great avenue for networking.
Singapore Start-up Club
This is an open Facebook community, with more than 20 000 members. It’s another great Facebook group for networking and meeting like-minded individuals.
The list updates you on the latest start-up, networking, techy, design, and entrepreneurial events around you.
Tech in Asia Calendar of Events
Tech in Asia Calendar is in every way similar to Tech in Asia – except that, instead of sending you weekly emails, it publicly prepares Google Calendar on the latest events in the country.
Start-up Teaming Singapore
Start-up teaming offers you a chance to meet up with like-minded individuals in Singapore and establish a success-team. It’s a start-up event that you wouldn’t want to miss if you’re interested in networking and teaming up with other start-up entrepreneurs.
Follow this link to find out more about this start-up event.
Meetup is another great platform to meet like-minded individuals in the country. Here are a few active local meetup groups that you’re free to join:
2020 Vision: What Will 2020 Bring for Singaporean Start-ups?
The start-up scene in Singapore is about to take a new turn as the year rolls by. Start-up experts and industry big-hitters have made their predictions, as highlighted in this section of the post.
The Year of Data Intelligence
2020 is the year when data will once again find its way to the fore. A new generation of start-ups will emerge, giving rise to proprietary data sets and data intelligence to a range of industries, including real estate, finance, health care, construction, and so forth.
Consequently, data intelligence will usher in an innovation wave, the same way the internet and app economy managed to do.
Travel Tech will Finally Manage to Beat Fintech
Fintech has been a hot topic, but travel tech is about to claim the spotlight. Several travel tech start-ups will emerge, hitting the $10 valuation within a period span of 5 to 10 years.
Travel tech innovation is fast coming to a hard boil. It’s opening up to start-ups and creating room for them to improve services, collect customer data, and rethink distribution.
Deep Tech Revolution
Deep tech is about to take off.
Almost all start-ups are technical, many of them are hi-tech, but some are more technical than others. 2020 will be the year when new start-ups err on the side of deep tech – especially in the food industry.
More Mergers, Acquisition, Consolidations, and Large-scale Shakeouts
The more the start-up ecosystem in Singapore matures, the higher the likelihood that some start-ups in the country will acquire or merge with other promising start-ups.
Start-ups with deep pockets will make strategic acquisitions to buy off competition and retain dominance.
Similarly, large start-ups that previously commanded huge investments will suddenly hit a rough patch or run into serious debt, similarly to what befell Honestbee.
More Job Opportunities
There will be more Giant tech unicorns setting up camp in Singapore. To job seekers, that means more employment opportunities for them.
This is a trend that started to pick up form in 2019, with the likes of Shopee setting up a unit store in Singapore and employing more than 3, 000 people. Razer has also made it clear that they’ll be opening their Southeast Asian regional offices by mid-2020.
How to Find Start-up Jobs in Singapore
Fresh out of college, coding boot camp, or even autodidact, and you’re ready to take a plunge into the world of start-ups. Finding a start-up job in Singapore shouldn’t be that much of a hassle.
Here’s a list of online resources and job portals that you may use to find a start-up job in the country:
- Tech in Asia jobs: Has jobs on start-up and tech, particularly for the Southeast Asian market. There are more than 4 000 jobs on this platform.
- Glints: Glints seeks to connect students with internship programmes and fresh graduates with start-up companies.
- E27: Has hundreds of start-up jobs in Singapore, and the whole of Asia Pacific region.
- LinkedIn: More than 4 000 start-up jobs have been posted on this social media platform at the time of this publication.
- Startup Jobs Asia: A job portal dedicated to connecting start-ups with amazing talents in the country.
- AngelList: A global start-up job portal serving the whole world, not just Singapore.
- Glassdoor: Another global job portal with hundreds of start-up jobs from different parts of the world, including Singapore.
- Adzuna: At the time of this publication, Adzuna has about 324 start-up jobs in Singapore.
- Jobs DB: A database for job seekers and start-up companies
- Indeed: They have more than 700 start-up jobs that you can apply today.
Top Government Grants for Start-ups in Singapore
Now that you’ve made up your mind and decided to be part of this city-state’s start-up ecosystem, you’re free to take advantage of the following list of government support.
Spring Singapore is the government agency behind the ACE start-ups scheme. On top of providing start-up capital grant, the scheme runs a mentorship programmes for budding entrepreneurs and start-ups.
How the scheme works: For every $3 you raise, ACE will match it up with $7. You’re allowed to apply for a start-up funding of up to $50, 000 with ACE.
Eligibility: Singaporean entrepreneurs who are permanent residents. Selection is based on the feasibility of your business model, uniqueness of your business concept, and your potential market value.
Early-stage Venture Funding (EVF)
EVF is a government-initiated equity scheme that works together with Venture Capital firms to co-fund start-ups. Its beneficiaries are early-stage technology start-ups in Singapore.
Eligibility: Singapore start-ups dealing with technology.
How the Scheme Works: Start-ups can apply for up to $3 million in grants. But there’s an approval procedure that your start-up has to go through to qualify for the grant.
ComCare Entreprise Fund
ComCare is the latest government grant, introduced about a year ago. It aims to support social enterprise start-ups.
Eligibility: social enterprise start-ups that hire disadvantaged Singaporeans and take them through training.
How the scheme works: The scheme can fund up to 80% of your capital expenditure. The start-up grant is capped at $300, 000 the first two times you apply.
Technology Enterprise Commercialisation Scheme
TECS targets deep tech start-ups or entrepreneurs with technology-based ideas but have no means to bring them to life. It seeks to fund start-ups at their early stages of operation, or until they’re stable enough to stand on their own.
Eligibility: Singaporean companies that have been registered for less than five years. The scheme prioritises companies that offer commercially viable tech solutions.
How the scheme works: A two-tier start-up fund: $250, 000 for “proof of concept” and $500, 000 for “Proof of value.”
Productivity & Innovation Credit
PIC is instituted by the Inland Revenue Authority (IRAS). The funding provided covers research, business registration, development, in-licensing of your intellectual properties, and staff training.
Eligibility: Sole proprietors based in Singapore
How the Scheme works: Businesses get to enjoy 400% tax deductions (capped at $400, 000). Alternatively, they’re eligible for 40% cash pay-out (capped at $100, 000).
Top Singaporean Start-ups to Watch in 2020
We scoured the internet and filtered out some of the most promising start-ups in the country. Here’s the list:
Grab needs no introduction. It’s an on-demand logistics start-up that offers transportation services to the people of Singapore. In 2019, the start-up managed to close five different funding deals.
Founders: Tan Hooi Ling, Antony Tan
Total Funding: $9.1 Billion
Founding Year: 2012
Category: Logistics Start-up, Transport
Address: 28 Sin Ming Lane, #01-143 Midview City, Singapore 573972
Impress is an AI-drive recruiting solution. Founded in 2017, the start-up seeks to automate the hiring process and connect businesses with the right candidate. The company managed to raise about $1.4 million in funding recently.
Founders: Dr. Vaisagh Viswanathan
Total Funding: $1.4 million
Founding Year: 2017
Category: Job, recruitment
Address: 80 Robinson Rd, #08-00, Singapore (068898)
Talking about the ecommerce industry, Zilingo is one of the most popular and promising fashion platforms in the country. The start-up was established in 2015, the company offers a range of lifestyle and fashion products, and it’s essentially one of the fastest-growing start-ups in the country.
Founders: Dhruv Kapoor, Ankiti Bose
Total Funding: $308 million
Founding Year: 2015
Address: 3 Fraser Street, Duo Tower, #15-24/25, Singapore (189352)
Trax seeks to empower Singaporean retailers through IT. The company offers a range of IT products and services, including market research, in-store executive services, shelf storage, store management, and so forth.
Founders: Joel Bar-El
Total Funding: $387 million
Founding Year: 2010
Category: IT Solutions
Address: 65 Chulia St. #09-01 OCBC Centre, Singapore (049513)
Near is a global data-driven SaaS product currently serving giant brands such as the We Company, News Corp, and Met Life. Their focus is on customers’ experiences, which they do by collecting all kinds of data on them.
Founders: Anil Mathews
Total Funding: $134 million
Founding Year: 2012
Category: Customer Data
Address: 3 Temasek Avenue, Centennial Tower, Level 18-01, Singapore (039190)
Singlife is a digital insurance platform. But besides protecting your money, the platform also offers to help you grow and manage it. Imagine handling all your insurance operations online without unnecessary paperwork.
Founders: Walter De Oude
Total Funding: $173 million
Founding Year: 2014
Address: 18 Robinson Rd, #04-03, Singapore (048547)
Deskera is a start-up that offers IT solutions. Its primary clientele are the SMEs in the country. The company offers a range of IT solutions, including ERP, CRM, HCM, and PM. They also provide mobile solutions that help with managing your business.
Founders: Paritish Mahana, Shashank Dixit, Somesh Misra, Brajesh Sachan
Total Funding: $308 million
Founding Year: 2008
Category: IT Solutions
Address: 39 Robinson Road, Robinson Point, Singapore (068911)
Advance is a revolutionary start-up that offers Artificial Intelligence and Big Data services to the people of Singapore. It aims to protect businesses from cyberattacks and fraud. They offer a range of security-related services, including face recognition, KYC, identity check, and alternative data.
Founders: Jefferson Chen
Total Funding: $136 million
Founding Year: 2016
Category: AI and Big Data (Online security)
Address: 80 Robinson Road #09-01, Singapore (068898)
RedDoorz is a marketplace for budget-friendly accommodation options. They have a range of budget hotels and other accommodation options for tourists traveling to Singapore, Vietnam, and the Philippines.
Founders: Kunwar Ashesh Saxena, Amit Saberwal
Total Funding: $135 million
Founding Year: 2015
Address: 12 Kallang Avenue, Aperia #03-27/28, Singapore (339511)
Carousell is a popular ecommerce brand, operating as a P2P online selling platform. Besides selling products, its users are allowed to list their services and job offers on the platform.
Founders: Lucas Ngoo, Marcus Tan, Quek Siu Rui
Total Funding: $182 million
Founding Year: 2012
Address: 240 Tanjong Pagar Road, Keppel Towers 2 #12-00, Singapore (088540)
GoBear is an online financial management and planning portal. Users are allowed to compare credit cards, insurance, and loans from different banks and insurers and make sound financial decisions.
Founders: CCO Marnix Zwart, Ivonne Bojoh
Total Funding: $80 million
Founding Year: 2014
Address: 4 Battery Road, Singapore (049908)
AirTrunk is one of the leading providers of big data and software solutions in Singapore. The company has received funding from the likes of TPG and Goldman Sachs. They have established offices in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Australia.
Founders: Robin Khuda
Total Funding: $307 million
Founding Year: N/A
Address: 18 Robinson Rd, #23-01, Singapore (048547)
Formerly Garena and SEA, Seal is among the few start-ups that have successfully managed to transition – from a gaming platform to an ecommerce store. It’s one of the most promising start-ups in the country, and certainly, a force to reckon with.
Total Funding: $1.4 billion
Founding Year: 2017
Address: 470 North Bridge Road, Bugis Cube, Singapore (188735)
KaHa is a smart IoT platform for wearables. They produce a range of smart products, including products for athletes, disabled people, and for monitoring bodily functions, such as temperature, blood sugar, and UV protection. They’re also the company behind Cove.
Founders: Pawan Gandhi
Total Funding: $10.7 million
Founding Year: 2015
Category: IoT smart wearables
Address: Aye Rajah Crescent 81, #02-42, Singapore (139967)
Coda payment offers payment and gateway solutions to people without credit cards. The platform has integrated more than 100 payment methods for collecting payments online. It’s an alternative payment option to credit cards, e-wallets, bank transfers.
Founders: Paul Leishman and Neil Davidson
Total Funding: $25.3 million
Founding Year: 2011
Category: Payment Solutions
Address: 53 Craig Road, Singapore (089691)
TenX is a revolutionary digital and physical cryptocurrency wallet. It’s a start-up that’s making cryptocurrency spendable via a debit card. Ever thought of spending any cryptocurrency asset almost instantly? Well, TenX is perhaps the first start-up to ever make it happen.
Founders: Dr. Julian Hosp, Toby Hoenisch, Paul Warrunthorn, Michael Sperk
Total Funding: $81 million
Founding Year: 2015
Address: 11 Keppel Road, #07-00 ABI, Singapore (089057)
HooQ is a Singapore-based video-streaming service founded by Sony Pictures, Warner Bros, and Singtel. Although the start-up has its roots in Singapore, the platform was also launched in India, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines. It’s monikered as the “Asian Netflix.”
Founders: Akio Morita, Masaru Ibuka
Total Funding: $95 Million
Founding Year: 2015
Category: Video Streaming
Address: 31 Exeter Road
Sunseap is the largest provider of renewable energy in Singapore. Having been in the business of developing clean energy solutions for more than three decades now, they’ve managed to expand their operations and cover the APAC region.
Founders: Frank Phuan
Total Funding: $79.8 million
Founding Year: 2011
Category: Renewable energy
Address: Harbourside 2 2, #04-03, #04-04, #03-04 Boon Leat Terrace, Singapore (119844)
Kyber Network is a Singapore-based blockchain Start-up specialised with conversion and exchange of digital products. The platform has attracted more than 60, 000 community members, with 33, 000 coming from its sister platform, the Slack channel.
Founders: Loi Luu
Total Funding: $60 million
Founding Year: 2017
Address: 8, Eu Tong Sen Street, #15-90, The Central, Singapore (059818)
MyRepublic is a multinational internet company that has its roots in Singapore. The company was started in 2011 and has since then expanded to Indonesia, New Zealand, and Australia.
Founders: Malcom Rodrigues, KC Lai, and Greg Mitman
Total Funding: $52 million
Founding Year: 2011
Category: Fibre Broadband (Internet)
Address: 1 Woodlands Square, Causeway Point, #03-K11, #03-26A. S’pore 738099
Top Start-up Accelerators in Singapore
Passionate entrepreneurs that lack the resources to bring their ideas to life or scale up their already existing projects don’t need worry.
Here’s a list of a few start-up accelerators and incubators to take advantage of today:
Start-up Bootcamp: Start-up boot camp is a global accelerator programme for start-ups. The platform strives to connect start-ups with an international network of mentors, investors, and partners. Their goal is to help start-up entrepreneurs scale around the world.
Sph Plud and Play: This accelerator programmes offers help to media and tech start-ups looking for seed-stage funding. Qualified start-ups are awarded $30, 000 in seed funding, in addition to receiving a series of other perks and services amounting to $200, 000 in exchange for a stake in the start-up company.
Dbs Hotspot: This accelerator programme offers $25, 000 to qualifying start-ups at their early stages for zero stakes in the company. The platform offers you expert mentorship, in addition to helping you pitch to investors. They also try to refine your strategy and products by taking you through a series of skill enablement classes.
Inspir Asia: Inspir Asia is a start-up accelerating programmes targeting mature start-ups that lack the resources to scale. It’s an accelerator programmes meant to help businesses expand to other markets and organise international partnerships. They also support start-up by refining their strategy, visions, business modelling, and product standards.
Singapore Fintech Bay: As the name suggests, this is a dedicated fintech platform that offers co-working space to qualifying fintech start-ups in Singapore, laced with state-of-the-art innovation labs, meeting rooms, curated activities, and education opportunities to budding fintech start-ups. SFB offers two accelerator programmes: The Venture Accelerator programmes and the Fintech Talent Programmes.
Singapore has all the hallmarks of a thriving start-up ecosystem. Can this city-state rise to be the next Silicone Valley?
Only time will tell.
In the meantime, you can contact us for professional start-up marketing and consulting services.