Ask any tech company to name its biggest challenge and the answer is likely to be the shortage of manpower, whether engineerssoftware developers or people who can drive market expansion. 

Singapore does not lack these professionals but they are locked up in start-ups, said Mr Steve Leonard, executive deputy chairman of the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA). 

Mr Leonard has met start-up founders who are passionate and want to change the world, and are busy trying to create products that have a "reasonable chance of crossing the moat". 

However, there are others who cannot "make the vertical leap to fix something better or create something faster and cheaper that people must have", he said. 

"Better they fail and fail fast." 

Failure is painful, but those founders would be gaining experience that would give them a better stab at making a success in their next endeavour, he noted. 

But more significantly, failed companies would release the engineers, software developers and other experts that the start-up market needs.

Mr Leonard, who joined the IDA in June, spoke to The Straits Times in San Francisco last month when he was there to visit tech companies and meet Singaporean software developers and engineers working in Silicon Valley. 

He was formerly the president of software firm EMC Asia-Pacific and Japan, and has lived in Singapore for many years. He has been on the IDA board since 2009. 

Mr Leonard recounted that easily available start-up funding over the past few years had encouraged entrepreneurship and innovation

However, the growing number of start-ups - in the low hundreds - also strained the tight market for information technology professionals. 

It is not that the IDA wants to reduce its funding for start-ups, but he asked: "Is it dollars funding ideas or companies? 

"I want IDA to better reflect our role where grants are concerned. I don't want grants to be our main value. We must try to coach, mentor small companies, help them develop business plans and market their products together with their investors." 

Another way of getting sufficient IT talent here is to attract Singaporean tech professionals working in Silicon Valley to return home. 

It is the opportunity to work on the leading edge of technology as well as the good salaries that have lured them there, he added. 

So Singapore must create similar opportunities - big IT leading-edge projects - that will entice them to return to Singapore. 

One strategy would be to build global companies. No Singapore company has made a global impact since Creative Technology, which dominated the sound card business, he said. 

"I want to develop 15 great local tech companies in the next few years... product-oriented companies that have the potential to expand regionally or globally." 

Singapore tech professionals overseas may return to work in such companies if they know they can make a global impact, said Mr Leonard.

But it is still too early to give details as the IDA is still drawing up manpower plans.