It is sometimes easy to forget that Singapore, an island city-state that began as a fishing village and has mutated into a considerable economic player in South Asia, was considerably poorer at the moment of its independence in 1965 than neighbors like Japan, Australia and Hong Kong. Today's Singapore has comparable proportional wealth and development to these rich nations.
The spectacular development of the island, to a large extent, is thanks to its continuous commitment to investing in research. Though the city-state is a highly-developed metropolis, it has never slowed down, constantly catalyzing technical breakthroughs and driving new areas of economic growth.
In this case, blockchain is hardly a surprising innovation for this worldwide financial center and innovation hub to want to keep an eye on.
According to analysis from the Crunchbase database, there were 40 blockchain-related funding events in Singapore last year, which raised a total of USD 141 million in financing, ranking third and fifth place worldwide, in terms of the number of events and amount raised respectively.
When it comes to the average capital raised per single funding event, Singapore did not manage to secure its leading position among the top ten countries dominant in blockchain investment, with an average volume of USD 4 million in 2019.
This number is slightly lower than that of the UK, whose figure is comparable with Singapore in terms of both numbers of funding rounds closed and total dollar volume raised.
What makes Singapore different?
"Singapore has very fertile foundations and support from all the different parts of the landscape: supportive government, forward-looking policies and regulatory certainty, as well as support from the private sector," Mr. Vinay Mohan – managing director of blockchain software company ConsenSys Singapore – noted during the Singapore FinTech Festival (SFF) during the Singapore Week of Innovation and Technology (SWITCH) 2019.
1. Singapore ranked second place in the 2019 IMD Digital Competitiveness Ranking, which suggests the high development of its network infrastructure.
2. Singapore remains a consistent member of the Global Innovation Index Top 10, and is the only Asian country to have achieved this.
Meanwhile, Singapore has a fairly balanced legal and regulatory regime:
1. Singapore's tax authority proposed in July 2019 to exempt digital tokens from paying the 7% Good and Service Tax (GST, the Singapore version of value-added tax), suggesting the friendly attitude of the government to crypto businesses.
2. The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), which acts as the central bank and as the financial regulatory body of the nation, is continuously making an effort to regulate the market. In particular, it posted strict requirements in anti-money laundering (AML) and counter financing of terrorism (CFT) for ICOs and intermediaries who facilitate ICOs.
In a newly updated regulatory framework, all crypto businesses are required to first register and then apply for a license to operate in the jurisdiction, which should serve to stabilize the market.
3. The Singapore government's ambition of building a smart nation is giving rise to many potential blockchain applications that could help in achieving this goal: digital identity, cross-border trade and data markets that empower smart mobility, to name a few.
The Top 20 Startups in Singapore
EqualOcean used the Crunchbase database to compile a list of the best-funded blockchain startups, most of which raised more than USD 100 million in funding in the three-year period from January 2017 to December 2019.
Investment, asset management and payments made up the core purposes of most companies on the map, followed by platforms and protocols.
A walkthrough in the PE/VC investments in Singapore’s blockchain industry
Here we analyze blockchain-related PE/VC investment in Singapore to give an overview of trends and money flows.
Blockchain investment boomed in 2017, inflated in 2018 and cooled down in 2019
Investment in Singapore's blockchain industry started to boom in 2017. Later, after the inflated year of 2018. The bubble subsided, and PE/VC investors began to be more prudent when valuing the corresponding opportunities in Singapore, as they had in other countries.
However, if we compare the situation in Singapore to what transpired in China and Switzerland – the other two worldwide hubs of blockchain that we discussed in previous articles – the decline in PE/VC investments in the city-state has tended to be much more moderate.
A sum of USD 141 million in funding was raised in the 40 funding events that closed in 2019, representing approximately 63% of what was raised in 2018 in terms of both the dollar volume raised and the number of deals. By comparison, in the cases of both China and Switzerland, neither of the percentages exceeded 50%.
This may suggest the comparably high momentum of the blockchain industry in Singapore.
Cryptocurrency/financial services and platform/protocols are the major categories that risk capital flows to
Risk capital injected into Singapore's blockchain startups is distributed considerably across various categories of startups. Cryptocurrency/financial services continue to occupy the largest slice of the pie, with a 35% – 40% level, followed by platform/protocol applications, that capture about 20% – 25% of the entire money pool.
It is worth mentioning that the percentage of PE/VC investment flows to Singapore's blockchain startups that are focused on developing platforms and protocols tend to be significantly higher than in China and Switzerland. Here we propose two potential reasons for this: 1. Platforms and protocol development startups are more likely to choose Singapore as their base; 2. These blockchain startups may tend to have more promising business models compared to their counterparts in Singapore in general.
The blockchain industry in Singapore is in an emerging stage
Over the three years from 2017 to 2019, seed rounds continuously represented the major series in Singapore's blockchain industry that the risk money flew to, suggesting the industry is in an emerging stage, wherein the players go through 'birth and death' at a rather fast pace. This general trend is more or less similar to what we have found in China and Switzerland.
Besides, the percentage of the seed rounds in the entire pie sharply decreased from 2017 to 2018 and seems to have remained stable in 2019 (as the share of unknown series also increased in 2019, it is hard to say for certain). Meanwhile, the percentage of Series A rounds of financing started to increase slightly over the course of the three-year period.
A Bottom Line
We could see that Singapore, a highly-developed metropolis in tropics, a worldwide hub for innovation and doing business, has built up and continuously improving its ecosystem with favorable climates for the development of blockchain technologies.
Though the market is still in an emerging stage in the city-state – just like what like in several other leading countries in the blockchain industry – the local market shows reliable momentum. We project that as blockchain technology becomes more mature, we may see that more and more industry applications of which emerge in Singapore, as its government puts forward its smart nation strategy.