Budget debate

Need for ecosystem that supports innovation: MPs

Onus on businesses to come up with fresh ideas, with Govt providing support system

A spirit of innovation and breaking new ground is crucial for Singapore's survival, MPs said on the first day of the Budget debate.

While the MPs supported the Budget's measures to boost such breakthroughs and welcomed help for companies, some said the Government may not always make the right business calls.

Ultimately, it is businesses that must come up with the next "killer" product or service that customers want, Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) said in his speech at the start of the debate.

For this to happen, Mr Liang said it is essential to have a vibrant start-up scene with low barriers to entry such as low rental costs and less red tape.

"We need an ecosystem with the necessary players, budding entrepreneurs, mentors, venture and private equity funds among others," he said, adding that he supports the setting up of SG-Innovate, which Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced in his Budget speech to provide such an infrastructure.

Over the next five years, the Government has set aside a record $19 billion for research and development(R&D), of which $4 billion has been earmarked for industry-research collaboration. It will top up another $1.5 billion to the National Research Fund in Budget 2016.

Mr Alex Yam (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) said that while the Government could provide financial help, "the onus is on our businesses to innovate and be productive".

He cited entrepreneur Kenny Yap, who heads tropical fish distributor Qian Hu. Mr Yap had said in an interview: "Any enterprise that does not embrace innovation, especially in Singapore, will not survive in the next three to five years."

Several speakers touched on the need to support innovations by Singaporeans and ensure that the country gains from what it invests in.

Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh said while there is heavy investment in deepening R&D capabilities, there should also be focus on making sure these are anchored by a Singaporean core in the sector.

Nominated MP Chia Yong Yong raised the issue of ownership of intellectual property (IP) through innovation, which she feels is important when research collaborations involve non-Singapore entities.

She hoped the Government would set clear guidelines for the retention of IP that was of strategic value to Singapore.

"We must not let Singapore pay money to be used as a test bed without retaining strategic IP arising from such research," she said.

Mr Chong Kee Hiong (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) also said it was important for Singapore firms to own intellectual rights to reap the returns of the Government's efforts in innovation.

Mr Lee Yi Shyan (East Coast GRC) noted that Singapore should not just consume smart solutions in areas like robotics, but also create applications and products that it can commercialise and export.

He noted that a 2013 survey showed economic spin-offs attributed to R&D were valued at $23.8 billion."It is clear that allocating more R&D funding to industry-led research collaborations would greatly multiply the economic spin-offs to our economy," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 05, 2016, with the headline 'Need for ecosystem that supports innovation: MPs'. Print Edition | Subscribe