Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat at the Launch of SG Innovate Deep Tech Talent Central on 13 January 2023.
Dr Lim Jui, CEO SGInnovate,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very happy to join all of you at the launch of SGInnovate’s Deep Tech Talent Central this afternoon.
In my work chairing the National Research Foundation and the Future Economy Council, the single most important issue we grapple with is how we can continue to keep Singapore’s economy vibrant, dynamic, and inclusive. And how we can work with partners around the world. Now, the answer is a complex and multidimensional one. What we are launching today, the Deep Tech Talent Central, is one piece of this large jigsaw puzzle. So, building on the name of this timely initiative, let me share my thoughts on three aspects – Deep Tech, Talent, and Centre.
Deep Tech ConvictionFirst, Deep Tech. This journey had its roots in our push for an innovation-led economy several decades ago. From the early 1990s, we invested in building our research and innovation ecosystem through a series of national R&D plans, the latest being the $25 billion RIE 2025 plan. Over time, as we built deep domain expertise, we also began to push the boundaries of innovation in deep tech. This was driven by the conviction that by translating the advances in scientific research into solving real world challenges, deep tech has immense potential in enabling transformative change across many areas.
Deep tech is a long game, but we have made encouraging progress. Our research ecosystem has matured considerably. Our universities, research institutes, and hospitals are doing excellent work across a range of areas. As part of this growing ecosystem, we now also have a vibrant deep tech start-up scene. I visited several deep tech start-ups in recent years, including precision medicine company Lucence, quantum communications firm SpeQtral, and material science unicorn Nanofilm. What has made the growth in deep tech here possible is also the rising intensity of VC and PE activities. In fact, SGInnovate was founded in 2016 to catalyse and crowd-in funding for early-stage deep tech investments, and it is still doing this today. Today, venture funding for start-ups here has grown significantly.
Looking ahead, deep tech holds great promise in solving humanity’s biggest challenges, and improving lives. Without breakthroughs in mRNA vaccine technologies, the COVID-19 pandemic could have turned out very differently, perhaps with a death toll greater than the 1918 Great Influenza. In Singapore, we were also able to tap on our deep expertise in biomedical sciences, to develop diagnostic test kits at unprecedented speed. The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced our conviction in investing in innovation and deep tech. Deep tech will play an even bigger future role in addressing the many global challenges, including Disease X, climate change and ageing.
Talent CommitmentThis brings me to my second point - Talent. The patient capital invested over the years has been key in building up our deep tech capabilities. This will continue to be important. But money itself does not directly generate new ideas, people do. Increasingly, talent has become an equally if not more critical resource for innovation as the world faces a global talent shortfall, especially in deep tech where very specific expertise is often needed. This shortfall is especially pronounced in Singapore, as we have a very small population. For this reason, SGInnovate has refocused its mandate from crowding in funding to also developing talent.
Our approach to talent is multi-pronged. Cultivating an interest in STEM starts early in life. But it’s not just about classroom learning. Many secondary schools offer applied learning in STEM areas, providing students with hands-on experiences and nurturing their interest. I’m glad to see many ladies in this room because all our students, boys and girls, develop a strong foundation in STEM in their first 10 years of basic education. And in fact, many go on to our institutes of higher learning, in universities, in research. So, for those who decide to pursue a post-secondary STEM education, we also invest heavily in their learning. For example, through A*STAR scholarships, we send our brightest to learn from the world’s best and to continue to maintain their legs. Beyond the schooling years, we have mid-career programs to enable those in adjacent fields to cover opportunities in deep tech domains. At the same time, we made a deliberate effort to remain open and welcome overseas talent who bring complementary skillsets to contribute to Singapore and to the world.
SGInnovate’s Deep Tech Talent Central is yet another meaningful initiative to strengthen talent development. I am glad that you will work with industry partners to offer opportunities to those interested in deep tech - from apprenticeships for students, to mid-career on-the-job training programmes. Let me also congratulate you on the newly launched Helix Immersion Programme, which addresses talent needs in the biotech sector through an on-the-job industry training programme for biomedical researchers. This is an excellent way for research scientists to consider a career in industry, for those who have the interest.
SGInnovate’s efforts are part of a wider collective effort to develop talent in these domains, as building human capital naturally requires industry players, academic institutions, venture capitalists and other stakeholders to play their part. As a small open economy, Singapore is committed to talent development – to bring the best out of each individual and to attract global talent with complementary skills. This applies as much to deep tech as it does to the wider economy. So, I encourage SGInnovate and all of us to do even more to grow our talent base in Singapore.
Centre of CollaborationThis brings me to my last point.
Collaboration is necessary not just for talent development, but to grow the overall deep tech ecosystem. I am glad that SGInnovate is strengthening its role as a centre of collaboration. Through Deep Tech Talent Central, you are bringing together Communities of Practice to network and share views on emerging deep tech topics. Beyond Singapore, I am also encouraged that SGInnovate is building international linkages. For instance, the Deep Tech for Good initiative, where you work with the UNDP on a thought leadership series on how deep tech can advance the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, is one such meaningful collaboration.
Singapore is small, but small can be beautiful. Precisely because we are compact, we should be able to better pull together different parts of our growing ecosystem. I am confident that SGInnovate will continue to strengthen your role as one of the centres of collaboration in our Deep Tech landscape, both within Singapore and across our borders.
ConclusionLet me conclude.
Our Deep Tech ecosystem has come a long way. SGInnovate, together with ecosystem partners, have played a key role in building up this vibrant landscape that we see today. The newly launched Deep Tech Talent Central is the latest milestone in your journey. It is not simply a new human capital initiative, but a reflection of your conviction to deep tech, your commitment to talent, and your role as one of the centres of collaboration in the wider deep tech community. Congratulations on this new launch, and I wish everyone all the very best in the year ahead.
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