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Singapore’s Accreditation@IDA: skip it if you’re a startup

Derrick is the first employee at Kicksend, a Y Combinator-backed startup based in Silicon Valley.

The story of why this Japanese VC decided to make Singapore his home (#StartupAsia preview)

Last month, the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) launched Accreditation@IDA, a scheme designed to “accredit promising and innovative Singapore-based technology product start-ups to establish credentials and position them as qualified contenders to enterprise buyers, including the Singapore Government”.

A Closer Look

While Accreditation@IDA certainly sounds promising in theory, I am skeptical about its effectiveness. As seen in its terms and guidelines:

Objectives

We set up the Accreditation@IDA to help startups win real projects from government and industry buyers, where accredited companies will be considered first for various innovation-focused government projects and industry collaborations.

[The initiative aims to] build an innovative technopreneur ecosystem to drive economic growth, inspire the younger generation, and build more innovative products and technology companies that can scale overseas.

Requirements

The company must have:

  • an innovative enterprise product, with focus on software
  • a financing and/or fund raising plan going forward to sustainably operate
  • the capabilities and resources to support its business plan
  • a sizeable addressable demand for the product to support its business plan
  • strong management team with established track records and low key-man risks

Evaluation

The parameters evaluated are benchmarked using Industry testing best practices such as TMMI and ISO/IEC 25010 standards for Systems and software Quality Requirements and Evaluation (SQuaRE) and includes the functional, reliability, performance, portability, compatibility, security, usability and maintainability of the product. IDA may also require access to the source codes of the product and the company’s staging servers for penetration tests in the event IDA deems that security testing is necessary.

The company shall keep the version of the product that is accredited available for sale in the enterprise market throughout the validity of the accreditation status.

IDA shall charge the company such fees as it may from time to time determine in relation to an evaluation conducted under clause 5 and/or the EPC’s participation in Accreditation@IDA.

Nope.

Accreditation@IDA describes IDA’s ideal “startup” — a company that has found product market fit, precision engineered systems, and a roadmap to guaranteed success. Companies that do indeed fit that criteria do not count as startups.

I would advise real startups to steer clear of Accreditation@IDA. You will waste your time.

The effort you spend getting accredited as a startup is worse than raising funds, or even an enterprise sales cycle. There is the added unknown of a non-transparent panel digging through the guts of your company.

Working on singular government or enterprise projects typically requires your team to extensively customize your product, which detracts from your product vision. You end up building a time-sink solution for just one client. That does not count as product-market fit.

And should you decide to pursue the long windy road of government contracts, you will only develop the highly specific knowledge of navigating government red tape.

Startups have to focus on growth and product refinement, instead of accreditation processes. Build a product that lends itself to scale; create a solution that many organizations can adopt with easy onboarding and minimal customization. And if you are an enterprise-focused company, develop translatable sales expertise.

The fact that Accreditation@IDA acts as a “seal of approval” is a double-edge sword too. An unaccredited company could conceivably be assumed as less trustworthy and second-class by government and enterprise buyers out there, which harms the industry as a whole.

Let’s say a foreign, enterprise-friendly “startup” like Dropbox — who are unaccredited — decides to market heavily to Singapore-based enterprises, where they face local, accredited competitors. In such a scenario, who does Accreditation@IDA truly help?

What can be improved?

As we have seen, Accreditation@IDA is clearly not geared towards startups, but companies with the manpower and runway to undergo such tedious processes. And IDA should be extremely clear about this in their marketing. Instead of proclaiming blanket, lofty marketing speak like “building an innovative technopreneur ecosystem to drive economic growth, inspire the younger generation”, IDA should narrowly market to their real target audience — larger companies.

If the true objective of the initiative is to increase the exposure of startups to the government and enterprise, startups would be better served by a lighter-touch approach; stop imposing such company-warping initiatives upon the ecosystem. IDA should also recognize the increasing consumerization of enterprise IT, and adjust government software procurement policies to reflect that.

Accreditation@IDA  —  as with many entrepreneurship-focused policies in Singapore  —  once again suffers from questionable execution, despite good intentions. It’s about time we start getting better at this.

This article is republished with permission from Derrick Ko’s blog.

Editing by Terence lee, photo by Kevin Grace

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