Singapore Economic Development Board
Find out why the founders of Adatos chose to develop cutting-edge artificial intelligence solutions from Singapore, and why the country attracts global tech talent.
In 2015, retired American intelligence officer Mr Drew Perez and British financial markets expert Mr Jonathan Paul met at a dinner event in Singapore. Four years on, the unlikely duo have become firm business partners.
Combining over 46 years of experience, the pair co-founded an artificial intelligence (AI) startup, Adatos.AI – not in San Francisco, London, Beijing or Bangalore, but right here in Singapore.
Adatos builds artificial intelligence solutions for satellite remote sensing in sectors including agriculture, forestry, food security and sustainability. Since its set-up three years ago, Adatos has been leveraging Singapore’s strategic location to tap client and talent networks across the region.
They tell us why they chose to make Singapore home.
Why did you choose to set up headquarters in Singapore?
Mr Perez: Access to capital and efficient mechanisms to launch a company are big in Singapore, particularly for early-stage startups. At a tenth of the cost to operate in Silicon Valley, we can do it here. This is a community that encourages collaboration, mobility and networks. In a country built in 50 years, there is an entrepreneurship sentiment at a national level which definitely makes it conducive for start-ups. I would do it here all over again, over any country in the world.
Mr Paul: What we do, real-world applications of AI-driven intelligence analytics, is something very few people in the world have done, much less at the scale that we are doing it at. Why we are able to do that in Singapore? Because we have a fantastic team, and because we have access to the best resources available. We have enterprise incentives and international investors, and there is no question about quality infrastructure. Can we access high-performance computing when we need to? Of course we can. Day-to-day challenges we might face in capitals around Asia – such as sitting in traffic for an hour to get to the airport – we just don't face here. We have been asked by investors if we would consider moving our operations elsewhere, but there is no question in our minds that the business needs to be headquartered here.
How does Adatos source for talent in Singapore?
Mr Perez: To be frank, Adatos was constrained by scarcity in the worldwide tech talent pool, which is not Singapore-specific, but made more acute when you have a smaller population. We brought in talent from outside, but because of the conditions and the convenience of living and working in Singapore, it is much easier to attract people. The ease of launching businesses and the social fabric makes Singapore extremely attractive for foreign talents to relocate, do business and raise families here.
Mr Paul: I think there are really two ways of looking at talent – on a local and a global scale. There are definitely advantages in attracting global talent to Singapore because it is a fantastic place to live. There is a multitude of reasons for people like me to be here – the quality of life, the MNCs here, and capital. You attract people who could be living in Silicon Valley, London, or Sydney, but want to live in Singapore.
What is Adatos’ current team like? Do you have Singaporeans on the team as well?
Mr Paul: We have a very mixed team – a Sinhalese Singaporean, two Chinese Singaporeans, there is Drew who is American, I am from the UK, and we have a New Zealander. People here have broad-based skills, which I think is important for any business. My impression of Singaporeans is that they take their work very seriously, and there is a lot of trust. We don’t micro-manage people and resources, and we leave people to get on with their work. We’re results-oriented – it’s not how long you are in the office, but what results we get out of it.
Mr Perez: We were very fortunate we were able to recruit a number of key employees that are Singaporean – the cream of the crop in many ways. Singapore’s human capital is much better equipped in STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics]. We are a deep technology company, so we are dependent on staff with solid fundamentals in STEM, and since we apply artificial intelligence that builds artificial intelligence, the right mathematical foundation is critical. Singapore may be at a disadvantage in pure numbers, but it’s much more likely that you will find quality mathematicians here. There is a huge competitive advantage in the education system here, which creates an environment – although extremely competitive and arguably unforgiving – that nurtures quality talent.
What does Singapore offer to tech companies interested to grow in South-East Asia?
Mr Paul: Singapore is not a low-cost location, but the benefits vastly outweigh the costs, particularly for a small and nimble business. There is no question about support and IT infrastructure. For the practical side of doing business, the bureaucracy here is minimal. You want to focus on running a business – we have no desire nor time to do things in duplicate. It’s true what people say – it’s an easy place to do business. We love it here.
Mr Perez: Singapore does have a certain credibility. Clients are looking at what's being developed here because of our lead in technology. Ten years ago, you would try to find out what's being developed in Silicon Valley, but now, we hear: “What's being developed in Singapore, and can we adopt it?” Singapore is more of a leader in artificial intelligence, and the idea is this: come to Singapore to get familiar with the technologies in this field.
On a personal note, what is your favourite aspect about life in Singapore?
Mr Paul: That there is completeness in the Singapore experience. I have been here 15 years. Both my children speak Mandarin. What my wife and I do for leisure ranges from visiting comedy clubs to horse riding. A two-hour plane ride gets you to Laos or Cambodia. Here’s something else that’s exciting for us. My wife, who is a writer, published a book called Olivia and Sophia about Stamford Raffles’ two wives, and two companies are in talks for a television production. It’s a great place for her as a writer because there is a lot of history in the region. This complete package is hard to find just anywhere. Drew and I could choose to live anywhere in the world, and we choose to live here. It shows what we think of the opportunities – it’s a great place to live.
Mr Perez: Convenience. It’s efficient and clean, and I don't worry about crime. Let’s say you are a parent. Do you want to equip your child for the best future? You do it here. If you are to place a bet on where to live to thrive in the future, you’ll want to be in Singapore. The education system here – you can't beat it. Now, if we can only shift the orientation of Earth by 35 degrees, then we will have four seasons, and it will be perfect!