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Why Singapore can’t produce a Zuckerberg?

Business | November 10, 2010

Entrepreneurs have to venture beyond Singapore for business opportunities and, even then, “markets around Singapore are not homogenous enough to create scale”, he said.

In comparison, US companies enjoy economies of scale to build up to a significant size before they branch out into the rest of the world. This means they get a much larger revenue pool, he explained.

Mr Mike Ang, president of the Association of Telecommunications Industry of Singapore, felt that Singapore “just does not possess the eco-system that Silicon Valley has” to nurture billionaires.

He observes that Singapore firms prefer to buy products and services from big overseas firms such as HP, Microsoft, and IBM, instead of supporting small, home-grown start-ups.

Furthermore, Singaporeans are not as receptive to new technology such as Facebook when compared to Americans, he said. It means that if someone wants to launch a new product, he needs to venture into the US to gain credibility, he added.

The issue of young billionaires comes in the wake of last Thursday’s news that Mr Eduardo Saverin, 28, the co-founder of Facebook, has been residing in Singapore for the past 11/2 years.

San Francisco-based technology site TechCrunch said he had set up an office here for his software development company Anideo last year, and is said to be providing funding to Facebook game developers.

In the film The Social Network, the Brazilian-born technopreneur is portrayed by British actor Andrew Garfield.

He owns a 5 percent share of Facebook while his Harvard schoolmate, Mr Zuckerberg, owns 24 percent. The former is said to be a regular patron of Singapore’s party hot spots, such as Butter Factory and Filter Club.

Tellingly, Mr. Saverin, Mr. Zuckerberg, and their fellow Facebook co-founder, Mr Dustin Moskovitz, 26, are the only technopreneurs and self-starters among the eight global billionaires aged below 30. (see chart in sidebar).

The rest are in the property, energy, and steel industries and have inherited their wealth from their parents.

Mr Belani said this suggests that it’s tough for Singapore’s nascent IT industry to produce billionaire hotshots.

However, there is still hope with the growth of regional markets such as Indonesia and the Philippines, which are starting to show promise with increased Internet and mobile use, he said.

Hence, Singapore may one day produce the next Zuckerberg if entrepreneurs here start tapping on users around the region and gain a foothold there before the US companies do, he noted.