DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam at the official launch of SGInnovate

DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam | 22 November 2016 | Transcript exactly as delivered

 

Ms Yong Ying-I, Chairman SGInnovate,
Steve Leonard, CEO SGInnovate,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen


I'm happy to join you this morning for the official launch of SGInnovate at 32 Carpenter Street or 32CS.

Our Ambition and Where We Are Now

SGInnovate is an important part of our journey towards being an innovative economy and society.

We have the capabilities in different fields – entrepreneurial capabilities, scientific capabilities, financing capabilities. But we are not yet achieving the full potential that comes from our capabilities. And to achieve that full potential, we have to bring our capabilities together in a new way. We have to achieve better synergy, better interaction between different players and more spark coming out of that interaction. So we have real capabilities, but we need to bring them together in a new way to achieve our full potential. We are not there yet and SGInnovate is one of the ways to help us get there.

We are a small country, but there is much more we can achieve despite our size.

Some of the leading innovation hotspots around the world are in fact in small countries. Sweden – 10 million population – is home of several unicorns such as Spotify, Skype, Candy Crush, and Minecraft. It has also built many other world-leading companies over the decades. Old or new, the Swedes have built a culture of innovation.

We cannot ensure success in innovation. We cannot plan it to the last detail, because innovation is an inherently uncertain business.

But neither is it a purely random process. We know that there are some things that we can do make the ground fertile, so that seeds have a better chance of sprouting up and eventually growing into a dense grove of trees.

a) We have laid strong foundations over the years – investing in a strong basic education system, communities of talent in science & tech, competitive funding of research.

Our research efforts have gained international recognition. However, more of our research has to translate to commercial output. Patent output in Singapore is still relatively low, and there is still much opportunity to develop commercial outcomes downstream.

We are also doing well in terms of VC investments but not enough of their investee companies spring from technologies from our research labs.

Many startups in Singapore replicate proven technologies and business models to take advantage of regional growth, rather than deploy new technologies. There is nothing wrong with this approach, and it is part of the journey. But to sustain the journey, and create sustainable advantage, we need to create value through innovation.

We therefore have to strengthen our networks, in order to enhance the pipeline of potentially successful commercial applications from research.

Role of SGInnovate

SGInnovate is a significant step towards strengthening those networks, especially between researchers, start-ups and VCs.

It is not starting from scratch. It is grown from Infocomm Investments Pte Ltd (IIPL) which has built up capabilities over the years:

  1. IIPL brought Entrepreneur First (a successful incubator in the UK), into Singapore, to brings together talented individuals to develop deep-tech start-ups.
  2. Ran co-working and accelerator space BASH (Build Amazing Start-Ups Here) at JTC launchpad@one-north.
  3. Over time, it has developed some know-how around such co-working spaces and accelerator programmes – the knowhow on how we can maximize synergies and productive interaction of ideas.

How will SGInnovate go about its work?

Strengthen networks across the innovation ecosystem

First, it will foster deep tech-focused communities and encourage interaction via co-working spaces:

  1. 32CS is an example of how SGInnovate will go about doing its work. It is not just a generic co-working space, nor is it a specialized technology lab. It is a curator, selecting and bringing together deep tech-focused players in the same space with the aim of catalysing productive interaction.
  2. 32CS will be a focal point for interaction between deep-tech scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs in various domains, and financiers. The Artificial Intelligence cluster within this building is a good example:
    1. It brings established players in AI, like Nvidia and McLaren Applied Technologies, together with start-ups.
    2. NTU, SUTD, NUS and SIT will also be attaching professors and interns here to work with entrepreneurs on areas such as AI and blockchains.
    3. Entrepreneur First’s first cohort will also be graduating soon, and several of them are working in areas such as AI and VR.
    4. SGInnovate will also work with its partners to bring together AI enthusiasts from different research institutions and companies to exchange ideas and form teams.

Develop a local cadre of Mentors and Start-up expertise

Second, SGInnovate will strengthen the linkages across talented individuals within the ecosystem and develop a local cadre of Mentors to promising start-ups.

To do so, SGInnovate will identify mentors and professionals with start-up experience and expertise (VCs, angels, regulatory experts, IP advisors, etc.) who can help or even become part of the team of aspiring start-ups looking to scale-up. SGInnovate will help connect and bring them together, including in a co-working space such as this.

Uncharted Territory

We cannot centralize responsibility for supporting innovation in any single agency, because no one can foresee how technology and markets will develop and intersect. SGInnovate is therefore about networks, and will work in a flexible and market-responsive way.

I must caveat that SGInnovate is itself a start-up, and it would require a different set of capabilities from the usual government agency work. I foresee that SGInnovate will keep piloting, prototyping and pivoting in the coming years. It will do what is needed, to run alongside deep-tech entrepreneurs in Singapore, on their journey towards developing pioneering solutions for the world.

I hope the entrepreneurs who pass through 32CS, and indeed SGInnovate itself, will learn to fail fast, learn fast and pivot fast, and in so doing, achieve your ultimate goal – to solve difficult problems and improve the lives of people around the world.