Helping firms bridge technology gaps

Dr Sze Tiam Lin says IPI expects to focus on emerging segments such as big data, medical technology and new materials/nanotechnology in the coming years.
Dr Sze Tiam Lin says IPI expects to focus on emerging segments such as big data, medical technology and new materials/nanotechnology in the coming years.ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

Non-profit agency wants to link them with partners to solve their tech needs

Innovation and technology have become buzzwords among companies here looking to ramp up growth, but turning those concepts into money-making ventures is often easier said than done.

This is why companies should be open to innovative ideas and solutions, not just from within but also from outside sources, says Dr Sze Tiam Lin, senior director of Intellectual Property Intermediary (IPI) Singapore.

A non-profit organisation established under the Ministry of Trade and Industry, IPI links Singapore-based companies with partners in its global network of technology solution providers.

The agency, which has "deliberately stayed under the radar" since its inception in 2011, has facilitated over 500 technology project discussions and completed more than 120 technology partnerships.

It also runs an online portal listing more than 800 technology solutions available for companies to license.

IPI - which has a staff of 22 - works with companies that want to incorporate new technologies into their businesses but might not know where to start or which partners to approach. The bulk of these - about 85 to 90 per cent - are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

"We're hoping to drive more open innovation - the idea that companies should leverage on external ideas to fuel their growth," says Dr Sze, previously a senior vice-president at ETPL, the commercialisation arm of the Agency for Science, Technology And Research (A*Star).

  • 500+

    Number of technology project discussions facilitated by Intellectual Property Intermediary (IPI) Singapore.

  • 120+

    Number of technology partnerships completed by IPI.

  • 800+

    Number of technology solutions available for companies to license that are listed on an online portal run by IPI.

  • 22 

    Number of IPI staff.

These external innovations could come from tech solutions providers or researchers in Singapore, as well as IPI's network abroad.

Recent success stories include a collaboration between Singapore manufacturing firm Armstrong Industrial and Collagreen Tech, a spin-off from the Nanyang Technological University. Collagreen develops technologies to recycle biowaste from local frog farms and fisheries into high-value collagen.

The outcome was a partnership to develop collagen-based products for the medical, cosmetic, and food and beverage industries.

IPI is looking to work with firms across all industries, but expects to focus on emerging segments such as big data, medical technology and new materials/nanotechnology in the coming years.

Its technology matching event and marketplace - TechInnovation 2017, to be held tomorrow and on Wednesday at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre - will highlight food technology.

In the coming years, IPI's approach will be more targeted towards helping companies create new products and solutions, instead of just linking them with potential partners.

"Do we want to spend time helping companies buy equipment? We are not their procurement department. It's not just about scale (reaching out to many companies) but also about efficiency and impact. We want to be able to sniff out the companies we can value-add more to, and focus more on them."

The process of forging new partnerships can also be challenging. For instance, "when you bring partners together, how do you recognise and respect intellectual property?... These are issues that need to be worked out".

Dr Sze likens the technology commercialisation process to planting trees. While "it's not easy and some projects can take a long time", the payoff can be worthwhile.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 18, 2017, with the headline 'Helping firms bridge technology gaps'. Print Edition | Subscribe