SINGAPORE - Singaporean companies, especially those in the tech sector, are flocking to Australia in larger numbers despite pandemic disruption and the fact that Australia does not necessarily come to mind when surveying the international landscape.
According to Enterprise Singapore's (ESG) global markets director, North-east Asia & Oceania, Eugene Toh, the Infocomm & Tech (ICT) and media sector has been one of the top sectors among Singapore companies leveraging Enterprise Singapore's support to make their first foray into Australia.
For the first time since 2019, ICT and media has emerged as the top sector for Singapore companies that are entering the market.
Toh said that ESG supported 75 firms entering the Australia market for the first time - a nearly 70 per cent increase compared to pre-pandemic levels in 2019.
Maturing startup scene
According to tech market intelligence platform CB Insights, Australia is home to 6 unicorns.
Of these, 4 are in "Internet companies": Canva, SafetyCulture, Culture Amp and GO1. Airwallex is in the fintech space and Pet Circle is in the e-commerce and direct-to-consumer space.
Of these 6 startups, 4 achieved unicorn status in 2021. There are 986 unicorn companies worldwide.
Australia made sense for local digital health startup Cogniant as it is an English-speaking country that is located nearby, and clinical evidence from Australia is accepted in Western markets such as Europe and the US.
Cogniant has been on a tear since establishing an entity in Surry Hills, New South Wales, Australia in 2019.
According to Neeraj Kothari, the co-founder of the remote patient monitoring platform, it has "more than doubled (its) growth" and is now on the cusp of expanding its geographical reach.
"We have captured 20 per cent of Australia's academic research market and 12 per cent of Singapore's clinical psychology market. We are now ready to enter this segment in the US and China," said Kothari.
Toh also picked up on Australia's unique positioning as a springboard for both the rest of Asia and a testbed for "mature and western markets".
"This provides Singapore companies with a clear pathway for expansion and access to a more diverse global audience," he said.
"For instance, Neuron Mobility, a Singapore-based e-scooter rental startup, tapped on Australia and New Zealand as an initial test bed and launch market, before successfully expanding internationally into Canada and the UK."
Covid: a double-edged sword
Not that Covid-19 did not get in the way of Cogniant's plans.
"Trial activities slowed down in mid-2021 because of lockdowns and a pause on non-essential health services," said Kothari.
They then decided to double down on virtual research and clinical trials, moving their patient recruitment from in-person to virtual.
This is in line with their overall belief that a shift to hybrid clinical trials or virtual trials and use of devices in order to improve healthcare trends will be major trends in the next decade.
For remote vitals monitoring subscription-based platform HealthBeats, Covid-19 accelerated its growth even as the pandemic forced it to move away from its initial focus of chronic disease management.
"When Covid-19 started, all our projects came to a halt as healthcare resources were shifted to focus on the pandemic," said CEO and founder Aileen Lai.
"But after the dust started to settle, the drive to embrace digital health expedited a process that would have taken 10 years to move. Covid-19 has absolutely shifted mindsets, priorities and how healthcare can be delivered."
Currently, HealthBeats is deployed across more than 20 hospitals and clinics to support chronic disease population health management for an Australian government agency.
Handshakes director Sachvinder Singh is thankful it made its entry into Australia in the months leading up to the pandemic.
"Those early few months were critical in ensuring our continuous growth during the early stages of the pandemic," he added.
Australia was always part of the long-term plan for Handshakes, an information service that provides personalised news monitoring powered by AI (artificial intelligence) and the first of its kind to provide a corporate intelligence platform that allows users to map out cross-border connections between companies and individuals.
They started strategising in the "later part of 2018" before it materialised in July 2019.
"It was during those early months that we began engaging Enterprise Singapore, Invest Victoria and the Department of Trade and Investment Queensland, whom all played a crucial part in supporting us throughout our journey here in Australia," said Singh.
Advisory support and market connections were rendered to more than 100 Singapore technology startups in 2021 through its overseas centre in Sydney, according to ESG.
The agency also works with in-market partners such as MedTech Actuator, a dedicated MedTech accelerator programme to provide specialist support and catalyse growth for high potential startups.
To date, 6 Singapore startups have participated in the programme, some of which have made inroads in the Australian healthcare ecosystem and are in discussions with potential demand drivers to conduct research and clinical trials in preparation for future commercialisation, said ESG's Toh.
On the bilateral level, there are the pilot A*Star-CSIRO Research-Industry (2+2) Partnership to promote collaboration in Science, Technology and Innovation, as well as targeted programmes to strengthen R&D cooperation in the areas of food innovation and health technologies.
"Interestingly, one aspect of the pandemic that worked in our favour was the fact that everyone was now more open to having video call meetings, which meant travelling was no longer essential for the purpose of business meetings," said Handshakes' Singh.
This was critical as it helped speed up the company's outreach to potential clients here in Australia, he noted.
Singapore companies typically prefer to establish a base that is close to their key leads and clientele and where they can receive strong ecosystem support, said ESG.
Specifically, Sydney and Melbourne have emerged as key landing sites for Singapore companies looking to expand in Australia.
Sydney ranks 24th in the Global Startup Ecosystem, according to the innovation policy advisory and research firm Startup Genome's The Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2021. It is home to the headquarters of more than 60 per cent of Australia's tech startups.
Melbourne is fast gaining pace as a leader in tech and innovation, according to ESG's Toh.
Over the past 3 years, the startup ecosystem in Victoria state more than tripled in value to reach over US$7 billion. Venture capital investments in Melbourne reached a record high of over US$1 billion between 2019 and 2020.
"We encourage Singapore companies to consider other Australian cities such as Brisbane, Adelaide, and Perth that are also ramping up their tech and innovation activities," he said.
"In doing so, they can gain first-mover advantage by developing a track record in these less-explored cities, before expanding outwards to other areas in the country."
Source: The Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.