Singapore bids for contacts & contracts in Chinese GovTech

By Chia Jie Lin

IMDA is bringing Singapore’s startup community into China and winning contracts with state-owned companies.

“The city is changing so fast, it’s hard to keep up,” the coach driver says, as we weave through thick traffic on Chongqing’s roads. Beggars on the streets point to a QR code and ask you to Alipay them.

Chongqing is the fastest-growing city in China. It is home to a large tech industry and has recently launched a digital economy vision. Its overhead bridges are lined with slogans on “building a digital China” and “walking towards a smart future”.

The Singapore government is using its relationships with China to help Singapore-based companies win Chinese govtech contracts. “International and regional partnerships are crucial if Singaporean companies are to stay vibrant,” says Tan Kiat How (pictured), Chief Executive of the Infocommunications Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA), at the sidelines of the inaugural Smart China Expo in Chongqing.

Bringing startups into China

China is a notoriously difficult market for foreign companies to enter - a problem that is particularly acute for startups, which may not have the necessary funds or business connections. “For them to get into the market and build up real partnerships, requires them to duck through many hurdles,” says Tan.

To lower these barriers to entry, Tan’s team is partnering with the Chongqing municipal government to connect Singaporean startups with local companies. It wants to “support enterprises on both sides to be able to have deeper collaboration and partnerships,” he shares. “That's why we have many partnerships with the Chongqing government in terms of smart cities, tourism.”

First, IMDA is helping Singapore-based startups to win contracts with Chinese state-owned enterprises, which ensures that these startups can stay and potentially generate profits. For one, Singapore-based app developer Fooyo is now co-developing the “Love Chongqing” smart tourism app with the state-owned Chongqing Tourism Investment Group.

The smart tourism app will provide guided, voice-over tours to the city’s attractions. Chongqing officials will use data from the app to visualise crowd density and assign officials to manage crowded tourist spots.

To find the right business partners, IMDA identifies Chinese companies in “complementary” industries where there is potential for collaboration, Tan shares. “We try to group the companies that come up, so there's easier matching on both sides.”

Meanwhile, IMDA connects startups with Singapore-based companies already established in Chongqing, which allows them to tap into the existing business community right from the start. One collaboration lies between Freshturf - a blockchain parcel delivery company - with Rizon Technology, an established joint venture between Singapore’s Y3 Technologies and the Chongqing Transport Group.

Bringing China to the world

Singapore and Chongqing are developing a digital platform to speed up customs clearance. Chinese and Singaporean companies will be able to submit trade documents like customs declarations to officials in either countries on this platform.
"Chinese companies will need to have “a different mindset of how they think about products – customising it not just for the Chinese, but for an international audience".
In turn, IMDA believes it can bring Chinese companies onto the global stage. Chinese companies will need to have “a different mindset of how they think about products - customising it not just for the Chinese, but for an international audience,” Tan notes. Singaporean companies, who are attuned to the international way of business, can provide “that additional layer of development and partnerships.”

For Chongqing and Singapore, these collaborations are still in their infancy. More work needs to be done as both cities grapple with digital transformation.