Singapore is a great place for many things, including starting a business. What are the pros and cons? Four entrepreneurs spill all.
So you’ve always dreamed of bidding farewell to corporate life and becoming your own boss? It’s not as easy as it looks. For every success story, there are plenty of entrepreneurs who made mistakes and business ideas that flopped. There’s so much you need to know about starting a business in Singapore, from administrative processes to finding your tribe and building connections in networking groups. The best way to learn? From the experts, of course. These entrepreneurs have built successful businesses, and they’re here to spill the beans on the most rewarding and challenging aspects of starting one in Singapore.
Starting a business in Singapore: The best and worst parts
1. Ana Mackay, 35
Founder of Ana Mackay Osteopathy
The best part of starting my business in Singapore has been the incredible word-of-mouth support of other professionals in my industry, mentors and patients as I branched out on my own. There’s a caring sense to helping others grow, especially from those who have already “been there, done that”. I really appreciate my former boss encouraging me to start my own brand. I absolutely love treating the women and babies of Singapore. These mums have been diligently spreading the word about our work and I can’t thank them enough.
The worst part was the paperwork at the beginning. I wasn’t used to managing documents and business banking on my own. It was months of difficulty trying to get everything in order. However, I was lucky to get recommended to Assembly Works. They gave me excellent tips, my employment pass application was shortly accepted, and now we’re off!
2. Shireena Shroff Manchharam, 39
Life coach and founder of Getting to Happy
The best and worst things about starting a business in Singapore are actually the same. I believe the close-knit, small community makes it so easy to collaborate, know the market, and get tremendous support as an entrepreneur. Because of our community size, reaching out to potential partners or getting in front of the right people to pitch is simpler in a smaller market.
Once a business is established here, the chances of being a “big fish in a small pond” can happen quite rapidly for certain brands and businesses. On the flip side, the same close-knit community has its limitations when a business starts to grow. I hear this often from business owners and entrepreneurs who find the market too small and face challenges growing and attracting new customers.
When I had my handbag label, House of Sheens, I felt a similar paradox. We were one of a handful of local labels selling exotic skin accessories, but after several years, we found the market well saturated. If you’re starting a business and looking for support, government funding, and accessibility to all kinds of people, Singapore is a great place. Simultaneously, it’s important to keep expansion outside Singapore in mind once your business starts to grow.
3. Puja Bharwani, 44
Starting a company in Singapore is an efficient and bureaucracy-free process with ACRA (the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority). The requirements for incorporating a company are straightforward and the procedure is simple. It takes a couple of hours to incorporate a new company and the annual compliance requirements are simple with no complex paperwork.
What I love about the whole process: it’s extremely transparent and the system is designed to encourage starting a business. It also gives working mothers and first-time entrepreneurs additional perks. You automatically become part of a thriving start-up ecosystem which provides services and support backed by many local and international organisations, VCs and communities.
Singapore allows a foreigner to own 100% of a Singapore-incorporated company’s stock, which means you don’t need any local partners or shareholders. This enables you to start a company with exactly the type of capital structure you design and distribute its ownership to suit your investment needs.
But, one of the biggest challenges is dealing with international markets and expansion in a cost-effective manner, and finding the right talent to grow your business. The market here is too small to build a global business. You need to think about being global and what goes into that from the start. Physical overheads are high, hiring talent is expensive, and there are restrictions and labour laws in certain industries such as F&B. Factor these additional costs and bureaucracy into your expansion and growth plans early to avoid pitfalls during a hypergrowth and expansion stage.
4. Kiranjit K Dharsan Seiter, 48
Managing partner at Seiter IP Consultants LLP
When I first started my own intellectual property firm in Singapore years ago, it wasn’t a very difficult decision to make. I knew Singapore was one of the easiest places to set up a business. There are a few different factors that make Singapore the best. These include financial perks and tax benefits for companies based here; the abundance of information and government assistance for SMEs; and the excellent trade associations to grow your network of contacts and connections.
Examples include the Action Community for Entrepreneurship (ACE), the Association of Small & Medium Sized Enterprises (ASME), and the Singapore Business Federation (SBF). Also, we have Enterprise Singapore supporting SMEs and many ongoing events or conventions for networking and business opportunities.
I don’t think there’s any worst thing about starting a business in Singapore because every business is different and has its own set of challenges – especially when you’re starting out. But, if I have to pick one based on my own experience and field, it’d be the size of the market.
Since I specialise in intellectual property law, the Singapore market is too small for me to make a decent living and survive. So, I offer IP services in all of Southeast Asia and internationally. If I had more than one area of practice in Singapore, size wouldn’t matter. But even then, competition in Singapore is fierce because it’s such an attractive hub. So, the key to success for me is to work hard, focus on your strengths and dispense with your fears.
Want to join a community of entrepreneurs building businesses that are a force for good? Need expert advice or peer mentoring for your business? Check out Launchpad, a networking platform that encourages connection, business support and community.