DPM Heng Swee Keat at the Official Launch of the NTI-NTU Corporate Laboratory

DPM Heng Swee Keat | 28 November 2023

Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat at the launch of the Nanofilm Technologies International (NTI)-NTU Corporate Laboratory on 28 November 2023.


Ms Goh Swee Chen, Board Chair, Board of Trustees, Nanyang Technological University

Professor Lam Khin Yong, Vice President (Industry), NTU,

Professor Shi Xu, Founder and Executive Chairman, Nanofilm Technologies International,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Good afternoon. I am delighted to be back in NTU today to launch this new Nanofilm-NTU Corporate Laboratory.

Corporate labs play an important role in Singapore’s innovation ecosystem.

They bring like-minded research and enterprise partners together to develop new breakthroughs and actionable solutions that can be brought to market.

This strong nexus between academia and industry is critical and mutually beneficial. It sharpens our academic research edge and enables enterprises to be at the forefront of innovation.

Over the years, our Autonomous Universities and research institutions, with the support of the National Research Foundation and other government agencies, have established over 20 corporate labs in areas such as artificial intelligence, urban sustainability and semiconductor technologies.

While this is NTU’s 10th corporate lab, it is a very special one because it is the first lab to be set up jointly by NTU with one of its own spinoffs.

In coming full circle, as Professor Shi mentioned, this is not just a proud homecoming for Singapore’s first deep-tech unicorn, but a great inspiration and encouragement to NTU and our broader ecosystem.

Over the past 2 decades, as you heard from Professor Shi, Nanofilm has established itself as a leading nanotechnology solutions provider in Asia and helped strengthen Singapore’s position on the global technology and innovation map.

At the same time, NTU has earned strong recognition as a global academic leader in material sciences and energy.

This new lab brings these two strands together to drive the next bound of innovation in nano-engineering.

By leveraging their respective strengths to develop advanced coating technologies, this joint partnership exemplifies how industry and academia can mutually reinforce each other to pursue research that meets market needs as well as generates wider societal impact.

In particular, having Dr Shi back and working together with NTU is a very powerful reflection of the ecosystem we seek to build. 

That is, one where academic institutions like NTU produce successful technopreneurs like Professor Shi and spinoffs like Nanofilm, who in turn inspire and partner their “home” institutions to mould the next generation of disruptive innovators. As Professor Shi said, I see many young people here, including many potential young trailblazers. I hope this lab we are launching today is a beacon of hope and inspiration for you.

I am especially pleased that this lab will advance research into deep technology, or deep tech, which represents the next bound of growth and innovation for Singapore’s R&D ambitions.

Deep tech has captured increasing interest globally.

On the back of the mRNA vaccines that saved millions of lives during the COVID pandemic, there is growing recognition that deep tech holds the key to enabling us to unlock constraints and addressing global challenges like the energy transition and aging demographics.

During my recent travels to the US and Europe, I met deep tech startups working on groundbreaking clean energy solutions like solar fuel and nuclear fusion. These could be pathfinders towards a more sustainable future for all.

It is heartening that deep tech is claiming a steady 20% share of venture capital funding today – double what it was a decade ago.

For a small and compact ecosystem like Singapore, we need to be especially proactive and agile in pulling the different strands together so as to seize new opportunities.

Growing a deep tech ecosystem requires patient and smart capital, intentional venture building, and sustained talent attraction and development to build strong research niches.

After all, as Professor Shi said, deep tech is not for the faint-hearted.

In Singapore, our efforts to build a deep tech ecosystem have accelerated in the last few years.

We are partnering with venture builders, crowding in venture capital, and drawing in and fostering innovative startups.

Between 2020 and 2022, deep tech investments in Singapore almost doubled.

Last month, the most recent edition of SLINGSHOT, Singapore’s marquee deep tech startup competition, attracted close to 4,700 participants from across 150 markets.

In tandem, we are also building up intensive, focused and industry-relevant research capabilities in different niche areas.

This is where corporate labs, like this Nanofilm-NTU lab, can contribute to advancing Singapore’s deep tech ambitions – by driving research that is transformative and impactful.

So how can we make sure that deep tech research creates impact? Let me briefly touch on two ways.

First, by being mission-focused and purposeful about applying deep tech research insights to solve wicked problems and make human lives safer, healthier, and greener.

Take, for example, the task of expanding global solar energy adoption.

Solar is today the leader among clean energy platforms. In fact, the International Energy Agency projects that global investment into solar power will exceed that into oil production for the first time in 2023.

This is very encouraging. Even so, more work needs to be done to improve solar cell efficiency, including in maximising the energy produced per unit area.

This is particularly salient for solar deployment in land-scarce countries like Singapore.

Researchers at this Nanofilm-NTU corporate lab will study how new functional coating increases the reliability and efficiency of clean energy devices.

This can help to pave the way for more affordable and widely deployed clean energy, and a more sustainable energy future.

And deep tech’s game-changing quality is that it often operates at the intersections of different domains. This means that breakthroughs in one area can help to accelerate progress in others.

This lab’s work on advanced coating technologies, for example, is also expected to drive research on semiconductor applications, medical and optical applications, and hydrogen energy.

Second, deep tech innovation requires collaboration across different parts of the ecosystem.

Different players should leverage complementary strengths to drive breakthroughs, create long-term value and strengthen the overall ecosystem.

So I am happy to hear Professor Lam say earlier that NTU intends to leverage this new lab to consolidate your intellectual property (IP) portfolio, as well as offer differentiated technology solutions to accelerate the R&D efforts of local enterprises.

Just as Nanofilm’s industry expertise will unlock opportunities for NTU faculty and students to work on industry-relevant research, Nanofilm should tap on NTU’s strengths – in scientific research as well as management skills – to nurture research talent with sharp business acumen.

This way, the corporate lab can help to incubate the next generation of technopreneurs, bold ideas and innovative companies – in other words, produce many more Professor Shis and Nanofilms!

And the impact of deep tech innovation can and should go beyond Singapore’s local ecosystem.

As we aspire to be a Global-Asia node of technology, innovation and enterprise, solutions and new technologies developed here can be scaled for wider impact in the region and beyond.

So I encourage the corporate lab to tap on Nanofilm’s strong regional and international network to proliferate your innovation and amplify your impact.

To conclude, Singapore is investing decisively in strengthening our deep tech ecosystem to help write the next chapter of excellence in our R&D story and tap on deep tech’s potential to improve the lives of people here in Singapore and around the world.

Fundamental to these efforts is developing cutting-edge deep tech research capabilities which aim for real-world impact and are responsive to industry needs.

With an industry leader like Nanofilm and a premier academic institution like NTU as partners, this new corporate lab is well-positioned to help advance such research capabilities.

It also demonstrates the power of collaboration, which is critical to a successful deep tech journey.

In a small ecosystem like ours, partnerships like these can enable innovation, accelerate progress and amplify impact both in Singapore and beyond.

So let me wish this Nanofilm-NTU Corporate Lab the very best in your research endeavours. I look forward to seeing the innovations, breakthroughs and impact you achieve in the years ahead. Congratulations and all the very best.