Singapore has a problem with failure — we are just not making enough of them, reckons Dr Finian Tan. “You cannot ride a bicycle without falling. But if you ride a bicycle and if you fall and you die, you will never try to ride a bicycle.”

Cycling is, of course, an analogy but Tan’s call to rock the boat is clear. We are aboard Tan’s yacht, berthed at the very end of a dock off the prestigious Sentosa Cove area on the island of Sentosa. The main deck is enclosed — carpeted and air-conditioned — with silverware laid out on a dining table. The large craft sways ever so slightly, and soon becomes barely noticeable. Singapore, and its start-up field in particular, needs a radical change, says Tan, who is the founder of Vickers Venture Partners, now the fourth most consistently performing fund manager in the world. To foster a lasting culture of innovation, Singapore will require more than what he helped to kick start some two decades ago.

From 1997 to 1999, Tan served in the Ministry of Trade and Industry as deputy secretary, where he worked to turn Singapore into the “Silicon Valley of Asia”. To drive this transformation, he put forth three recommendations: A billion-dollar fund from the government to jumpstart venture capital in Singapore, an inter-ministerial committee to allow start-ups to thrive and the creation of a science hub in the Buona Vista area. The government accepted all three proposals and he was placed in charge until he left for the National Science and Technology Board (now A*STAR), becoming its executive deputy chairman.

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