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Speech at EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2023 Singapore Awards Gala

Dr Tan See Leng, Minister for Manpower, The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore

Mr Liew Nam Soon, EY ASEAN and Singapore Managing Partner,

Members of the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Singapore Academy,

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

1. Good evening. I am delighted to be here with you at the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Singapore Awards Gala.

2. Tonight, we celebrate the hard work and dedication of the four winners of the EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2023 Singapore award. They have contributed to the vibrancy and resilience of the entrepreneurial landscape in Singapore, building on the efforts of many of you here.

Entrepreneurs play a key role in driving innovation

3. Entrepreneurship is a vital component of Singapore’s economy. It drives innovation, creates jobs and fosters economic growth. Through the efforts of our entrepreneurs, stakeholders and enablers, the startup ecosystem in Singapore has grown from strength to strength.

a) For instance, this year, Startup Genome ranked Singapore as having the 8th best startup ecosystem among cities around the world. This is an improvement of 10 places since 2022, just a year ago.

b) As of last year, we also have 31 unicorns headquartered in Singapore, with more than half of them setting up base here in just the past 2 years.

4. Entrepreneurs are at the forefront of developing new technologies and business models, and you play a critical role in shaping the future of work. Mr Liew Nam Soon spoke about technology and purpose being two key ingredients in the “Art of Entrepreneurship” . Indeed, this is a topic that is very close to my heart. 

5. Like many of you tonight, I started my life hearing the siren call of entrepreneurship and started my first startup in my twenties. It feels like a couple of lifetimes ago, but now that I have had some benefit of hindsight, I hope that you will bear with me and allow me to share some of the key learnings from my experience.  

a) First, exactly like what Mr Liew has just shared, entrepreneurs should have clear vision and purpose. I hope that you have that “eureka!” moment, that “aha!” moment where you see what most others do not see, but that inspires you to dive in, bootstrap and pursue a purpose wholeheartedly. And you must be able to take the hits and the knocks because very often, when you set that purpose and mission, what then results is multiple curveballs, and you may end up in a totally different endpoint. But that is the art of entrepreneurship.

b) Second, entrepreneurs should build extensive global networks and cultivate authentic relationships. I've always been advised by many of my friends who are businesspeople, who say that you do not just need to have the knowledge and the “know-how”, but more importantly, you must have the “know who”. And it's very important when you work overseas. Now, I am not suggesting that people should make private deals only among friends and associates. But what I am suggesting is that all of our Singaporean entrepreneurs set their sights high and always strive to compete, and learn from, the best in class, and not just restrict yourselves to one market. 

c) Third, entrepreneurs take many risks upon themselves. Yet the risks need to be calculated and sustainable and keep the wellbeing of their people, your only resource, which is human talent, at the top of their minds.

d) And lastly, to succeed, our entrepreneurs must very quickly learn how to navigate the multitude of grants, solutions and assistance schemes that the Government provides. 

Government support for businesses

6. For those of you who have still not navigated, please give me some time to share some of the support that's available. As business leaders, you know that a strong team is critical for success. When it comes to attracting, recruiting and retaining talent, you cannot play defence. HR must be an offensive strategy, and companies must proactively help their people grow their skills and adapt to the evolving nature of work. Successful entrepreneurs are not just chief talent officers. CEO stands for “Chief Engagement Officer”, “Chief Entertaining Officer” because you have to keep your staff engaged and entertained, then you can retain them. To that end, MOM introduced a five-year HR Industry Transformation Plan. I urge all of you, if you have not heard about it, to tap on it to strengthen your human capital capabilities and transform your HR practices. 

7. At the same time, we want to empower Singaporeans to take ownership of their “career health”. This means every single one of your talents should keep abreast of the latest industry trends and take active steps to improve and promote one’s career prospects. For instance, some of it can include going for skills upgrading courses or seeking adjacencies in skills training to move into more productive roles. As employers, it is in your interest to work with us to build up the career health of your employees, because then, it not just maximises but also optimises the potential of your available human capital.

8. Again, support is at hand for businesses to adopt progressive people practices. 

a) The new Job Redesign Centre of Excellence will serve as a one-stop touchpoint for enterprises looking to create better and more productive roles in your respective organisations.  

b) We are also developing digital tools to guide employers and workers through more personalised recommendations on career and skills pathways.  

9. What I have just mentioned only scratches the surface of the plethora of available resources, initiatives and support measures. I strongly encourage all of you to find out more and tap on them to drive your business growth, your business transformation and harness the potential of your people.   


10. As entrepreneurs, all of you must understand and see the need to plant the seeds of your businesses and work hard for it to grow. The Government will do our level best to provide a rich ecosystem and we will help you cultivate a strong team who can work with you to multiply your harvest. 

11. To the four deserving award recipients this evening, my heartiest congratulations to you once again. Your dedication and innovative thinking have contributed significantly to the entrepreneurial landscape in Singapore. One of you will be revealed later as Singapore’s representative for the EY World Entrepreneur of the Year award. We cheer you on as you represent Singapore on the global stage. Entrepreneurship is really mixing up the different ingredients of success – whether it is looking at the white space, the blue sky, whether it is ideating the concepts that other people have not thought of, or working the math, building the relationships. At the end, I want to close by quoting what Mr Liew said: “There is a certain sense of beauty and artistry in the entire journey. And I hope that the art pieces that you produce will last for many, many, many decades to come.” Thank you.