Singapore Innovation Index – Our Innovation Powerhouse Status

In 2024, Singapore maintained its position in the global innovation index ranking as the fifth most innovative country globally and the foremost in Asia, as per the Global Innovation Index (GII) by Cornell-INSEAD and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). This achievement reflects Singapore’s continued success in fostering an environment conducive to innovation, surpassing powerhouse nations like South Korea (ranked 11th) and China (ranked 12th), renowned for their innovation prowess and home to tech giants like Samsung and Huawei.

During the Budget 2024 address, Prime Minister (former Finance Minister) Lawrence Wong highlighted the significance of advancing Singapore’s innovation capabilities. He unveiled augmented funding for research and development, stressing the imperative for enhancing innovation efficiency to sustain Singapore’s competitive edge. Former Finance Minister Wong highlighted the swift digital transformation in sectors like finance and healthcare, signaling the need for Singapore to continually evolve.

Despite its high ranking and numerous Smart Nation initiatives—such as AI integration in lamp posts for anomaly detection and the adoption of the Mobile Parking App replacing traditional coupons—some perceive Singapore as not yet achieving its full potential as an innovation hub.

As of 2024, Singapore’s performance on the GII aligns with its high-income status, catapulting into the top five for the first time. Alongside Israel and the United States, Singapore excels in specific innovation indicators, leading in 11 out of the 80 GII metrics. These encompass operational stability for businesses, government effectiveness, ICT access, logistics performance, venture capital received, high-tech manufacturing, and GitHub commits.

Singapore’s achievements also extend to human capital and research, creative outputs, and knowledge and technology outputs, reflecting its success in innovation inputs and outputs. It shares a parallel with Japan concerning years of healthy life beyond 60, boasting 14 healthy years and an additional 10 beyond healthy years.

Notwithstanding these accomplishments, Singapore’s innovation output performance is deemed inefficient, signaling areas for potential enhancement in business sophistication, institutional regulatory and business environment, and creative outputs. The GII results underscore Singapore’s continued commitment to fostering an ecosystem conducive to innovation, as published by WIPO and Cornell-INSEAD.


3 Perspectives To Become An Innovation Powerhouse

Here are 3 perspectives we offer on Singapore’s status as an innovation powerhouse and what we can do to improve its prospects for long-term innovation excellence.


1. Not Enough Reward/Desire for Risk-Taking

Kicking off, as a society, we simply do not place enough emphasis on risk-taking. Schools and universities train students to work, parents encourage their children to study hard in order to secure jobs in large multinational firms. As a result, while Singaporean students are consistently ranked first in worldwide student assessments, such as Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), mugging words from textbooks and regurgitating them on paper, unfortunately, does not equate to and induce innovative intelligence.

Consequently, Singapore also ranked a lowly 24th in displaying innovation and entrepreneurship through practicality by the same Global Innovation Index (2017).

Whilst we have tried to advocate the ‘Teach Less, Learn More’ axiom, our education system still puts emphasis on academic rigour at the expense of creative thinking.

At Citadel Search, this is what we observe even in graduates, the risk-taking mindset just isn’t there and the wish to take the road less travelled is often treaded with caution, or sometimes even feared. Students generally score better in the competency of ‘Planning’ and ‘Analysis’, but do not do as well in ‘Creativity’ and ‘Tolerance of Ambiguity’ in Assessment Centers.

What could be done to improve? In theory, it’s fundamental, commencing from primary school to tertiary education, dilute the emphasis on grades and instead incorporate assessments to reward unique concepts and ideas generated.

In the workplace, even Government organisations can explore to ease up on the fixed practices of bureaucracy and instead reward innovation. A client of Citadel Search incorporates an ‘Innovation Day’ in their company, where every Friday afternoon employees are encouraged to volunteer their innovative ideas. That is a good start!

The path to changing mentality is not a bed of roses, it’s a pit of fire; however, with the correct initiatives and foundations put in place by the nation’s Leaders, Employers, Workers, Parents and Students alike, it is possible to spark a movement that can inspire an environment conducive for producing innovation.


2. Lack of an Innovation Sandbox – Franchising offshore innovations doesn’t make us innovative!

In recent years, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has continued to promote innovation through initiatives like the Fintech Regulatory Sandbox. This controlled environment allows new business and technology models to be tested with reduced risk, encouraging firms to experiment and innovate freely.

Despite this, the broader adoption of innovation sandboxes across various industries in Singapore has been limited. Consequently, Singapore has yet to produce truly groundbreaking startups, often relying on adapting successful foreign business models. For instance, startups like HonestBee and Redmart adopted online-shopping models long used by American and European supermarkets. Viki, an online streaming platform for Asian TV shows, mirrors Netflix’s model, and Grab, despite its success, openly admits to following Uber’s concept.

These examples highlight a broader trend: many of Singapore’s most well-funded startups are localized versions of proven foreign models. This approach, while practical, does not foster true innovation. According to the Global Innovation Index 2023, Singapore excels in several innovation indicators but still struggles with innovation efficiency—the ability to convert innovation inputs into impactful outputs.

Embracing AI for True Innovation

To illustrate a shift towards unique and groundbreaking innovation, we can look at some recent AI-driven startups in Singapore that are making waves:

  1. Taiger: Specializing in knowledge work automation, Taiger uses AI to read, understand, and extract information from complex documents. Their solutions are completely unique, focusing on enhancing human cognitive processes rather than replicating existing models.
  2. DataRobot: This AI platform allows businesses to build and deploy machine learning models quickly and efficiently. DataRobot is pioneering in its approach, providing automated machine learning solutions that are first of their kind in the region.
  3. ViSenze: An AI company providing visual search and image recognition solutions, ViSenze powers the search engines of some of the world’s largest e-commerce platforms. Their technology is groundbreaking, enabling a visual-driven shopping experience that is unique in its application.

These companies demonstrate how fostering a culture of innovation and providing environments like sandboxes for experimentation can lead to the creation of unique and impactful technologies.

To truly become an innovation powerhouse, Singapore needs to expand the use of innovation sandboxes beyond Fintech. These environments can provide a crucial space for local startups to experiment, fail, and ultimately succeed in creating unique solutions. By encouraging original ideas and offering a safe space to test them, Singapore can move beyond simply replicating foreign successes.

Quoting Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, “Don’t be the best, be the first!” Singapore should strive to lead with original innovations rather than repeating what others have done. Expanding the sandbox concept across various industries could be a pivotal move in this direction, enabling the country to nurture homegrown innovations and produce startups that are truly groundbreaking.

3. Startup Founders, VC’s in the Board of Singaporean Firms

While an Innovation Sandbox increases the chances of substantial innovative concepts pouring in, it’s important to note that many of these will come in ‘beta-versions’ and require refining and heavy testing as they lack the business sophistication. What would catapult and give larger Singaporean firms, including Governmental organisations, a significant edge over similar associations in the region is the ability to incorporate successful startup founders, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and techies into Board of Director positions.


In the fast-evolving ever-changing world today, Singaporean firms need to leverage on the technologically savvy millennials (or even gen Zs)  and at the same time harness the wisdom of the experienced management members to work together to be one step ahead in front of disruption. This will in turn drive up the innovation outputs and catapult Singapore global innovation index. 

Those who do not do this well, is often a game-over.


Staying Connected

At Citadel Search, we’ve noticed that there is a stark difference in the governance of startup boards, as compared to local/Governmental boards, in that startup boards are filled with the aforementioned founders, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and techies that focus on the innovative growth of the company, understanding the importance of breaking boundaries in order to succeed.

Their raw energy and passion certainly rub off when we work with them, almost always passionate and you often wonder where they get their adrenaline from. 

At Citadel Search, we are gratified to work with more local innovation start-ups that are filling up their boards with such dynamic members.  We had recently worked with Patsnap a solid Singapore innovation powerhouse , a company that understands the importance of breaking boundaries in order to succeed. 

A board has the responsibility of fostering creative output and innovation output within organizations. They set the pace for current and future operations, ensuring business sophistication and driving profitable connections that lead to business growth. Their role is not just to offer alternative views but to cultivate an environment that champions success in innovation.

Thus, it may be advantageous for Singaporean organisations, private and public, to integrate these startup personnel in board positions to learn a fresh perspective in growth and transformation in their businesses; at the very least, to head an innovation audit to assess firms’ competence in innovating and growing. Rather than worrying about disruption, be the disruptors!


Looking Ahead 

In conclusion, while Singapore certainly isn’t the least innovative country in Asia, it is difficult to justify its succession to the top, stated by ex-PM Lee, especially when there are countries much ahead, in both innovation and innovative culture.

At Citadel Search, we’ve seen an expansion in Innovation-related roles, with many of our candidates securing Innovation Manager and Innovation Director positions in our clients’ leading Fintech and HealthTech companies. Local Start-ups are also getting back of the house filled with the right engines by hiring Developers and Data Analytics Consultants etc.

Innovation is the new kid on the block in this digital era, with roles opening up in abundance; while traditional roles are on the verge of being phased out by AI. We would love to see more Singaporean candidates filling up these roles, which can only happen when Singapore as a society adopts these practices and becomes truly innovative.

Singapore and Singaporean companies must start to rely less on foreigners/foreign models and give chances to local youth, startup founders and entrepreneurs to drive innovation in businesses throughout Singapore. And who knows, given enough time in the right direction, Singapore innovation index could top the globe one day. 

Accept innovation, not reject it, it IS possible. Believe in our people, believe in the vision. 

To get the latest job updates, check out our job postings. If you are interested to learn more on how you can scale up your innovative team, contact us.

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