Innovation must be fostered at the national and corporate level as it is the key to sustaining growth - whether in a country or a company, said Mr S. Iswaran yesterday.
The Second Minister for Trade and Industry and Home Affairs told the annual SID Directors' Conference : "For countries, it is key to ensuring the long-term competitiveness of our economy, thereby creating good jobs and opportunities for its citizens and businesses.
"Companies too must deal with competition from new products, services and business models that emerge with new technologies."
Mr Iswaran, who is also Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, added: "Innovation is the only sustainable competitive advantage of the 21st century economy."
About 800 directors and executives attended the sixth edition of the conference, which was organised by the Singapore Institute of Directors, at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre.
Mr Iswaran noted that Singapore's development in the past 50 years has been underpinned by its capacity to innovate and "an indomitable spirit to make the seemingly impossible possible, be it the development of the Marina Bay precinct or the F1 night race that takes place within it".
He said the Government has taken a comprehensive approach to building strong research capabilities, especially in the public sector.
Since 2011, it has committed $16.1 billion to support research, innovation and enterprise activities - maintaining its investment even during the global financial crisis in 2008 and 2009.
Mr Iswaran said the Government is also partnering companies to develop and adopt new technologies "so that they can become more productive and competitive", while providing them with infrastructure and institutional support, such as the JTC LaunchPad@one-north.
But company directors must at the same time drive strategic innovation, he added.
"This means embracing and nurturing a culture of innovation ... matched by action and resources - leadership and organisational structures that encourage and reward innovative behaviours from within, and attract innovative talent from without," he said.
"The key is for the corporate leadership, in particular, top management supported by an informed board, to prioritise innovation, actively foster an enabling culture and allocate resources on a sustainable basis for the effort to succeed."
Engineering conglomerate Sembcorp Industries chairman Ang Kong Hua, who also spoke at the conference, noted that creating value for stakeholders through innovation is "a never-ending journey".
But doing so has led to "tangible results in sustaining the growth and enhancing the competitiveness of (the group's) core businesses", he added.
Its offshore and marine arm, for instance, has managed to secure significant new orders with its proprietary solutions for customers "even in difficult times", said Mr Ang.