Keep Growing Conversations
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Keep Growing Conversations: What does it take to keep growing? Our ACEO Emily Liew shares her perspective on team and personal growth

Keep Growing – this is our clarion call within and beyond Enterprise Singapore.

It’s about breaking out of our comfort zones, challenging the status quo and continuously learning to become better versions of ourselves.

In this instalment of our Keep Growing Conversations series, we speak to Emily Liew, Assistant Chief Executive Officer for Innovation and Enterprise Services. Under this portfolio, Emily supports Singapore’s innovation and startup ecosystem to anchor Singapore’s position as a hub for innovation. Emily also drives SWITCH (Singapore Week of Innovation & Technology), where international startups, entrepreneurs, innovators, and investors come together to interact and collaborate.

Hi Emily, you’re currently an ACEO – Innovation & Enterprise Services at Enterprise Singapore. Have you always been in the public service? Please share your journey with us.

Yes, I have always been in the public service. That said, I have taken quite a varied path.

I started in the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) as a policy officer, first on the Indonesia desk and later the Middle East. After living overseas for a few years, I joined the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), where I eventually became the Director of Planning & Policy. It was this stint at A*STAR that laid the foundation for my current innovation portfolio at Enterprise Singapore.

My journey here can be summed up as doing a new job every year. I started as the Director of Planning in 2019, soon after the merger of SPRING Singapore and International Enterprise Singapore. In 2020, my portfolio changed because of the pandemic. It changed once more in 2021 when I was appointed ACEO for Digitalisation, New Industries and Enterprise Services, and again in 2022, when we started the Strategic Partnerships team. In 2023, I moved to helm the Innovation group while retaining the Enterprise Services portfolio. My current work is focused on ecosystem and partnership-building, to reach the thousands of enterprises and startups that Enterprise Singapore would not otherwise reach, helping them access the support they need to grow and innovate.

They say that change is the only constant and my 5 years in Enterprise Singapore has certainly been that. The different portfolios have given me invaluable opportunities to learn and meet new people along the way.

Having been in the public service for over 20 years, what are some experiences that have stood out for you?

Two events stand out.

The first occurred during the post-Suharto era. I was a young officer in my first job watching events unfold in Indonesia. I learned quickly of Singapore’s place in the world, how we must never take our peace and prosperity for granted. It also taught me how much thought and work goes into protecting and advancing our national interests. The second is the COVID-19 pandemic. That was life-changing for many of us. It was during these challenging few years that I saw the best in my colleagues and many others, who made personal sacrifices and banded together to bring Singapore out of the crisis.

In my area of work, the issues are oftentimes at a national and economic level, which can be overwhelming. While at A*STAR, I was part of the interagency team that put together the first Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2015 plan, which laid the groundwork for Singapore’s path towards becoming an innovation-led economy. I had to navigate a stream of complex issues and a myriad of stakeholders. Through these challenges, the one thing I’ve learnt is that behind every good leader, is a great team.

As a leader, I am mindful of creating a safe space where my team feels comfortable to express their opinions. They shouldn’t feel judged or that their views are too small to matter. Working together collectively helps us examine a problem from all angles. If nothing else, it bonds the team together and makes the journey a less daunting one.

Innovation helps businesses gain an edge over the competition and unlock value. How does Enterprise Singapore help companies to innovate?

Innovation doesn’t mean you need an army of PhDs to do R&D. It’s simply the mindset of never staying still – knowing where your business is, what your competitors are doing and making sure your product or service stands out.

Singapore’s innovation journey started in the 1980s but accelerated in the early 2000s, when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, then Deputy Prime Minister, spearheaded our drive towards a knowledge-based economy. He said then as part of the Economic Review Committee recommendations that Singapore must “promote innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship”. We have since made great strides, but with Singapore’s small domestic economy, we need to go global to keep growing.

At Enterprise Singapore, we aim to provide businesses with end-to-end innovation support. Within the ecosystem that we have built up, you would be able to find the assistance that best suits your business needs. If you are just starting out on your innovation journey, you can find partners within A*STAR to help you strategise and map out your plan. If you are developing a product, you can approach the relevant Centres of Innovation established within the institutes of higher learning. And if you are sourcing for technology, you can approach our subsidiary Innovation Partner for Impact (IPI).

Continuing on innovation, what are your thoughts on Singapore’s startup ecosystem, and how is Enterprise Singapore supporting startups?

Startups are unique – they are inherently dynamic and can move very fast. But as fledgling enterprises, they have specific challenges. When starting out, they may require guidance on practically everything, from raising capital to product development, business management and talent sourcing. It’s the proverbial it takes a village to raise a child – they need to know who to connect with and how. The Action Community for Entrepreneurship is our key partner for building a vibrant startup community.

Over the last 10 years, our startups in Singapore have done well. We have built an ecosystem with over 400 venture capital firms, 220 accelerators and incubators, along with a whole range of partners to support their growth. We will continue to keep up the momentum.

At Enterprise Singapore, our focus is shifting towards building deep tech startups, who face more hurdles and have a longer gestation period. It’s critical that we connect them with the right VCs, investors and partners who understand deep tech, and are willing to provide the necessary resources, time, and expertise for these startups to incubate and scale globally.

If successful, deep tech can generate outsized impact for Singapore’s economy and the world.

Sounds like you’ve got your hands full. What do you do outside of work to relax?

I love running. These days I try to hit around 20 km in total each week. The funny thing is I used to hate it. With poor stamina, I found it difficult and painful. But now I consider running as a kind of rest as it allows me to clear my head and reflect.

Music is another great love. I listen to anything from Ed Sheeran to Eric Chou, from classical music to new age. Music is quite personal – it brings people to their special place, be it a happy memory or a yet-unfulfilled dream. As Victor Hugo said, music expresses that which cannot be said, but that which cannot remain silent.

Finally, what is your philosophy on how to keep growing?

Purpose. Passion.

My advice is to not lose sight of your purpose – be it in life or at work. Our work here to secure Singapore’s economic growth and prosperity is critical, but it is challenging. From time to time, we may get deflated when things get tough, especially when the fruits of your labour take years to harvest. Remember to look long-term. The work we do today sow the seeds for our future generations.

It’s also important to be excited about our work. Passion makes the job come alive and pushes us to improve and grow in new areas. And as the name of this series says, conversations fuel that excitement and energy for me. I’ve had the good fortune of meeting many creative and committed people who motivate me with their enthusiasm and wonderful ideas. Life is much more fun when there’s passion for what we do.

For more on how we can support your business to deepen innovation capabilities and #KeepGrowing: Grow your business with Enterprise Singapore (