Economic geographers have long sought to explain the development of new, innovation-based industries. To do this, they have drawn particularly on the US technology sector, in general, and the concentration of digital technology industries around Silicon Valley in particular. The result has been a series of seminal studies about the emergence and development of clusters of innovative activity (e.g. Saxenian 1994; Kenney, 2000; Storper et al., 2015). The ‘Silicon Valley model’ has inspired policymakers across the world who have used a similar toolbox but, often, achieved very different results (Lerner, 2009; Klinger-Vidra, 2018).
However, the focus on the Silicon Valley model ignores other examples of success in the development of innovation-intensive industries (Breznitz, 2021). For example, the Singaporean ride-hailing company Grab had the largest NASDAQ IPO of any South East Asian company. But the story was very different to that of Silicon Valley, as the Singaporean government – through Temasek, a state fund – was a major early investor, and the entrepreneurs involved were highly networked into the ruling party. Yet there has been little work on the development of the digital tech sector in Singapore.
This project would address this gap with a detailed case study of the development of Singapore’s digital technology sector, understood as firms which use digital tech as part of their growth – this would include Singaporean firms such as Trax (computer vision), Patsnap (internet software), Hyalroute (fibre), and Matrixport (Fintech). Funding from SEAC would help us investigate the political economy of the development of Singaporean digital tech, the wider policy lessons of the approach, and the problems it raises.
Professor Neil Lee, Principle Investigator
Professor Neil Lee is Professor of Economic Geography in the Department of Geography and Environment. He joined the Department in 2013, having previously run a research team in a think-tank. He convenes the Cities, Jobs and Economic Change theme in the International Inequalities Institute and is Director of BSc Geography with Economics.
His research considers economic development, innovation, public policy, and inequality. Recent studies have included work on institutions and economic development in Africa and China, regional inequality and political polarisation in Europe and the United States, and innovation policy in Kuwait. Current projects include a major ESRC funded project constructing new measures of regional inequality and a book, due 2023, on innovation and inclusive growth.
Augustin Boey, Co-Investigator