Having been chased out of Hong Kong by Super Typhoon Mangkhut on Friday, a few days in Singapore with investors and entrepreneurs offered a modest respite. Actually, no…it was the Singapore Formula One Grand Prix weekend at the sovereign city-state, which coincided with the Singapore Summit that convened global leaders (quite different from the notorious June 2018 summit with other leaders, Trump and Kim). Not surprisingly, Lewis Hamilton below in the silver “car” (more like a rocket with wheels) won the race.
This island country of less than 280 square miles, sitting on the southern tip of Malaysia balanced on the equator, has become a global powerhouse in commerce, finance, education and healthcare since securing independence in 1965 from said Malaysia. Home to 5.6 million people, 74% of whom are ethnic Chinese, Singapore ranks third in the world in GDP per capita and fourth in quality of healthcare.
Unfortunately, like many countries in Southeast Asia, the current economic climate is being battered by bellicose trade rhetoric between the U.S. and China. The Singapore Straits Time Index is trading at its lowest level in the last 18 months. The Singapore Commercial Credit Bureau just significantly moderated its 4Q18 Business Optimism Index, which tracks the top 200 companies in country. This theme seems to be playing out across the region.
Singapore spends 4.6% of its GDP on healthcare, which is less than the 4.9% it spends on its military (the U.S. is approximately 19% and 3%, respectively). The healthcare system struggles with many of the same structural issues experienced in the U.S. – how to provide care in non-traditional settings, drive down cost of care, and how best to utilize many of the innovative healthcare technology solutions coming to market. While there over just a few days, there were several interesting healthcare announcements:
- The Ministry of Health established a “regulatory sandbox” for telemedicine providers, announcing the creation of four telehealth start-ups
- Formation of several community health centers to address chronic conditions for the elderly, with an objective to dramatically increase the number of health assessments across the population
- Installation of automated external defibrillators across the city
And given Flare Capital’s investment in Circulation (more to come on that later), it was particularly notable that Singapore-based Grab, the leading regional provider of ride-hailing services (Grab acquired Uber’s Southeast Asian operations in 1Q18), announced this week that transportation volume to / from medical centers increased by 500% since 2015, making those facilities the third most popular destinations. A leading medical tourism survey recently ranked Singapore as the most attractive of all Asian countries.