How Open Innovation is Driving the Next Era of Growth for Singapore
How the government is fostering a deep tech ecosystem, designed to encourage open innovation.
Something surprising happened amidst the gloom and doom in the early months of the Covid-19 crisis — companies began to come together to collaborate on an unprecedented level, putting the ability to create value before profits.
To fully reap the rewards from innovation, companies need to prepare for the transformational challenge ahead. Successful innovation often requires operational and structural changes to how business is done. Such changes are difficult for any employee, team or even business unit to undertake. Smart companies, however, will seize this opportunity to rethink their innovation infrastructure.
To reinforce this effort, the Singapore government launched various initiatives to support technology-focused start-ups – one of these initiatives is SGInnovate, a private organization wholly owned by the Singapore government to develop a deep tech ecosystem in the country.
Recently, Jacqueline Alexis Thng, partner at Prophet, and Dr. Lim Jui, CEO of SGInnovate, held a webinar to discuss the importance of open innovation for businesses today and share their predictions on what the future holds. Here, we share some of those key insights:
How is SGInnovate working to create an ecosystem where innovation can thrive?
Dr. Lim Jui: SGInnovate is facilitating the building of a deep tech ecosystem in Singapore by adopting a triple-helix approach that consists of considerations of investment, community building and talent.
On the investment front, SGInnovate is currently Singapore’s only deep tech career and skills development platform and this platform allows us the opportunity to notice and invest in deep tech companies at their earliest formation. To date, we have about 80 portfolio companies and have catalyzed over $700 million of follow-on investments.
On the talent front, we support the development of entrepreneurial scientists by partnering with institutions to enhance beneficial collaboration at the earliest stage. We also hold regular events to help entrepreneurial scientists connect with companies to raise awareness of their new technologies and then take these ideas further.
We hope to build a community that connects every party, including not only deep tech scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs, but also regulators, investors, vendors and manufacturers, helping them to push their innovation agenda.
Why is adopting an open innovation approach important?
Jacqueline Alexis Thng: Open innovation is a business model that incorporates traditional corporate capabilities with external talents and innovations. This business model challenges the traditional silo mentality where companies have conventionally upheld secrecy around R&D as a means to protect their assets. It not only allows for businesses to find new ways to solve pressing problems but through unlocking new relationships with partners with complementary skills, it also offers the potential for future collaboration.
“To fully reap the rewards from innovation, companies need to prepare for the transformational challenge ahead.”
Siemens, for instance, opened up its Additive Manufacturing Network to anyone needing help in medical device design. Similarly, Ford worked with the United Auto Workers, GE Healthcare and 3M to build ventilators. This recent burst of collaboration reminds us of the massive potential that open innovation brings, whether you’re in a crisis or not.
Dr. Lim Jui: These initiatives are often the tip of the iceberg. When it comes to innovation, the challenge faced by many companies in recent years has been the lack of knowledge, skills and best practice. Organizations such as SGInnovate thus help to foster these networks of collaboration through open innovation, building a community that involves an active free flow of ideas and best practices.
We encourage established companies to do what we call ‘reverse pitching’. While normally it is entrepreneurs who pitch to investors and companies for funds, at SGInnovate, we also encourage companies to review innovations from a different perceptive by inviting them to pitch to entrepreneurs.
Where is the future of innovation headed?
Jacqueline Alexis Thng: Accelerated by COVID-19, digitalization and connectivity has become more essential than ever. We’ve seen a shift in consumer behaviors towards more personalized, contactless and immersive experiences enabled by digital technologies, from healthcare, e-commerce to entertainment.
To respond to these future trends, the Singapore government is said to invest SG$24 billion ($18.1 billion) over the next three years to help local businesses build “deep, future-ready” capabilities for innovation and transformation. They will also enhance programs to support innovation efforts especially in areas such as MedTech and food manufacturing that has seen growing demand across Asean members.
What are SGInnovate’s top two priorities for 2022?
Dr. Lim Jui: Since our founding in 2017, we have been very invested in digital deep tech, which enabled us to be an early investor in areas such as AI, cybersecurity, transportation tech and so on. However, starting from last year, we moved more to digital health, acting as an advocate for areas in drugs, diagnostics and agri-food that don’t necessarily receive the attention they deserve from private companies.
Medicare has always been a key focus for SGInnovate because of our ability to work closely with researchers and institutions at an early stage of innovation. With Covid-19, many previously under-addressed needs have been unearthed.
Telemedicine solutions, for instance, are gaining traction in SEA, as consumers now wish to meet their medical needs remotely due to their fear of the virus. The pandemic also exposed the fragile public healthcare system and the lack of healthcare professionals. As a result, there has been an increasing demand for telemedicine to fill this gap in healthcare.
For example, WhiteCoat, Singapore’s leading telemedicine platform for on-demand remote healthcare services, has been backed by SGInnovate to launch a mobile application that connects consumers to an extensive and curated network of medical practitioners and allied healthcare professionals for a best-in-class telehealth experience.
We expect the growth of digital healthcare solutions to continue to catch steam as Covid-19 has made the subject matter a top priority for consumers and institutions alike.
Agri-food tech is our spearhead to the sustainability space. We look at innovation in food as a means to tackle climate change because the methane impact from eating meat is resulting in such sizable carbon emissions. In Singapore, where we don’t have farms or livestock, our focus could be on things that we already know, such as how to manipulate certain wavelengths of light to accelerate plant growth.
Covid-19 has also greatly accelerated the growth of this industry. A silver lining of the pandemic is that we have successfully unified all research power in the fight against a common enemy, which gave birth to solutions like the vaccine we have today. In the same way, global scientific intelligence has also come together in the fight against climate change. That is why at SGInnovate, the ability to look externally and collaborate with global research power is an important strength we harbor to help drive innovation within this space.
Open innovation is a more profitable way to innovate because it can reduce costs, accelerate time to market, increase differentiation in the market and create new revenue streams for the company. With COVID-19, businesses experienced an opportunity to innovate through the crisis and now it’s about how they can continue to fully embrace open innovation beyond. Companies must consider how they can make these altered ways of approaching innovation truly stick in order to unlock speed, creativity and business growth.
Are you interested in increasing your innovation capacity? Prophet’s Experience & Innovation experts can help you to underpin a superior approach to innovation. Get in touch here.