Insights Into Singapore’s Startup Scene: DBS’s CIO Neal Cross

E27.CO: DBS Chief Innovation Officer Neal Cross tells it like it is in an exclusive interview with e27 and gives startups some valuable advice

When it comes to encouraging the entrepreneurial spirit with Singaporean startups and growing the startup ecosystem, three main ingredients have kept the pot stirring: Extensive government support in building the country’s infrastructure and establishing financial schemes, interest from venture capital firms and investors, and collaborations with various companies and educational institutions.

Now a new flavour is entering the mix– banking institutions, with Development Bank of Singapore (DBS) taking the first dip. In an exclusive interview with e27, DBS Chief Innovation Officer Neal Cross outlines DBS’s plans for the Singapore startup scene and his insights on what areas entrepreneurs should focus on.

An event-packed 2015 

Cross shares that DBS has in total, 12 events and programmes lined up in 2015 that are aimed at contributing to the startup scene.

Following Cross’ induction as CIO eight months ago, DBS has begun concentrated efforts in accelerating entrepreneurship in Singapore. One major event is the ongoing DBS HR Talent Conference. Its mega-hackathon session will be taking place from 25 to 27 March, where 80 handpicked talents from DBS are paired with startups to solve specific business challenges posed by DBS stakeholders.

Aside from hackathon events, DBS is also involved in noteworthy projects like the Startupbootcamp accelerator program from May to July as wellas the Sparkfest Innovation Fair in September, showcasing innovations at DBS from startups, universities and so on.

“We want to put money in. We’re ramping things up this year,” says Cross.

He goes on explain that as this is DBS’s process of learning and being part of and responsible for the ecosystem.

A culture shift

Part of that learning process encompasses fundamentally changing the culture of banks, and making DBS act more like a tech company or a startup, a mission Cross is intent on accomplishing at DBS.

Cross acknowledges that at their core, the culture of banks and tech companies are vastly different and that the crux of the issue is the different mindset when it comes to failure.

“You can’t be seen to fail at a bank and or share success as you’ll be seen as weak. For tech companies, they see sharing success as stronger; it shows how much leverage you have and failure is seen as the bedrock of innovation,” says Cross.

So how does a culture shift fare when it comes to the checks and balances and what will come out as profitable for the company? Cross believes that profitability through product creation is not the main emphasis here, rather it’s the potential to find new ways to approach and solve challenges. According to Cross, culture shift also involves collaborating within the different communities in DBS as well as with other companies, monitoring the partnerships via metrics and mapping the networks.

“We partner, we leverage, so we get huge scale as an innovation group. It has to be a win-win,” he said.