Use existing infrastructure as mini innovation hubs

While the plan to build a mega innovation park in Jurong near the Nanyang Technological University looks impressive, there may be a cheaper and more immediate alternative way to spur innovation and create world-beaters ("Jurong to be 'industrial park of the future'"; March 25).

Three Singapore tech inventions that rocked the world - the Creative Sound Blaster, the Trek Technology Thumb Drive and the X-Mini Capsule Speakers - all started as small, private developments.

Similarly, the Hyflux water filtration system also arose from humble beginnings.

As the average vacancy rate of JTC Corporation facilities across the island is about 10 per cent, an alternative way to spur innovation is for JTC, working together with Spring Singapore, to allow innovators to use these vacant facilities rent-free for three years, renewable for another three years, depending on the promise and potential of their projects.

They need pay only their utility bills as well as fire and hazard insurance.

This allows innovators to work at a facility near their home and frees them from the burden of paying rent, so that they can focus on their ideas.

Most of these facilities are also convenient, as they are near amenities and already have their own food canteens.

It is definitely more environmentally friendly to use existing facilities than to continually build new ones.

Spring Singapore should also set up and regularly update a central database of researchers from our universities, polytechnics, the Agency for Science, Technology and Research and other institutes, as well as their research interests and contact information, so that innovators can easily collaborate with a whole island of researchers, rather than confine themselves to just one institute.

Collaboration by academics and researchers in these projects should carry the same weight in their annual performance reviews as having their research published in international journals.

As Singapore is a small island with great connectivity, it is easy for innovators and collaborators to meet anywhere physically or to bounce ideas off one another in cyberspace.

Thus, incentivising the use of existing facilities across Singapore is a cheaper, greener and more immediate alternative to expensively built mega parks located in only certain parts of the island.

The money saved can then be used to finance start-ups so that their research, development and manufacturing activities can continue to provide jobs for Singaporeans.

Anne Chong Su Yan (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 20, 2016, with the headline 'Use existing infrastructure as mini innovation hubs'. Print Edition | Subscribe