Emerging Trends | Innovation | SDG8
May 3, 2019

How can government and academia spur domestic tech innovation? Lessons from Singapore.

By Ted Chen, Co-founder of EverComm Singapore, and Science-Policy Interface Focal Point for the United Nations Major Group for Children & Youth (UN MGCY); and Jasmine Ong, MSc in International Affairs candidate at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore.

Building a sustainable digital economy requires strong support for local companies.

Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) often face strong headwinds as they venture out into the digital economy. As such, governments need to be prompt in charting the navigation plan.

One such example would be Singapore’s five-year Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) plan.

To ensure the country’s long-term investments in research can be effectively captured by the local enterprises, universities and Institutes of Higher Learning (IHL) serve as a strategic facilitator to the local innovation ecosystem.

To support the objectives of Singapore’s RIE plan, university technology transfer offices such as NTUitive Pte Ltd have become integral in building the local startup ecosystem.

In FY18-19 alone, 40+ innovative companies were created under the university’s ecosystem and more than 5,000 students were engaged in entrepreneurship/hackathon related activities.

Furthermore, to accelerate digital transformation while optimizing resource utilization, the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) was convened in January 2016 to review Singapore’s economic strategies.

In the following year, The Report of The Committee on the Future Economy was published, and the Industry Transformation Programme — an ambitious S$4.5 billion programme to promote growth and competitiveness in 23 industries — was put into motion.

Strengthening the local core and mapping out opportunities

In order to grow the local supply of cutting-edge and innovative technology suppliers, Accreditation@SG Digital (Accreditation@SGD) was launched by Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) in July 2014 to enable Singapore-based technology companies to build up their track records through government and enterprise projects.

The accreditation evaluation process looks at three aspects of the company: technical, financial and operations. This covers, for example, company credentials, as well as delivery on the claimed product capabilities.

These evaluations also help minimise uncertainty for early technology adopters who might not have the expertise or resources to evaluate these products.

As of February 2019, the Accreditation@SGD programme has created over 1,700 government and enterprise projects in the pipeline (worth >S$310M) for the accredited companies, and of these more than 640 projects have been awarded.

Today, Accreditation@SGD continues to support relevant agencies in their implementation of the Industry Transformation Maps. A total of 23 Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs) fall under the Industry Transformation Programme, accounting for approximately 80% of Singapore’s GDP.

Starting from 1% GDP with Singapore’s hotel industry

The hotel industry has been a key pillar of Singapore’s tourism growth over the last decade. It is composed of approximately 400 establishments, employs about 1% of Singapore’s workforce and contributes close to 1% GDP.

Following the 2016 launch of the Hotel ITM, Singapore Tourism Board (STB) kick-started the Hotel Innovation Challenge in 2017.

Back then, 11 validated problem statements faced by the hotel industry were distributed, and 15 local companies were shortlisted to pilot their proposed solutions with the participating hotels.

Fast forward to 2018, when Pan Pacific Hotel Group — one of Singapore’s largest homegrown hospitality companies — announced that they would take the initial STB Innovation Pilot to the next level, aiming to deploy Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies over 30 regional Pan Pacific Hotels Group hotels, resorts, and serviced suites, with Singapore as the lead.

What began as an innovation pilot quickly grew to become an important case study for Singapore’s digital transformation story.

Timely and strategic support from public agencies like the Singapore Tourism Board, Enterprise Singapore, the Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore, and Singapore Economic Development Board ensured that critical challenges within the innovation ecosystem were addressed. Actions were taken to develop local human capital through skills training. New initiatives such as ‘SME Go Digital’ were in place to facilitate technology adoption and to empower local SMEs.

Leveraging ICT to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The example above is just one successful project, in one initiative, under one ITM in Singapore.

Sector convergence is key to accelerate digital transformation at the country-level, and there are many government-led initiatives being launched with the aim to foster collaborations between Startups/SMEs with multinational corporations and institutes of higher learning.

The next step is to streamline pilot initiatives, provide companies with comprehensive public/private-sector test-bedding sites to improve the innovation success rate.

More importantly, aligning ITMs to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) would make it easier for the international community to reference and discuss what Singapore is doing, and it would support international collaboration and sharing of best practices.

Ted Chen Ted is the Co-founder and Chief Product Architect of EverComm Singapore– one of Asia-Pacific’s fast-growth Energy IoT startup in the clean-tech sector. In his commitment to expand the involvement of youth in science policy, Ted works as a Science-Policy Interface Focal Point for the United Nations Major Group for Children & Youth (UN MGCY).
Jasmine Ong is a MSc candidate in International Affairs at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore
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How can government and academia spur domestic tech innovation? Lessons from Singapore.

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