Innovation is a key pillar of Singapore's economic transformation: DPM Heng

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat speaking at the launch of iLab 2021, a three-day virtual innovation festival. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - Singapore is committed to investing in innovation and research and development, as it must adapt even faster in a complex post-pandemic world, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Tuesday (May 4).

He was speaking at the launch of iLab 2021, a three-day virtual innovation festival organised by American consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble (P&G), in partnership with the Economic Development Board (EDB).

"How well we can innovate will determine whether we can emerge stronger in a post-Covid-19 world. This is why innovation is a key pillar of our economic transformation," he said.

The innovation festival brings together local and regional start-ups to develop technology solutions for P&G to tackle challenges in advertising, retail and supply chain.

These three areas represent the evolving consumer and retail needs, transforming media ecosystems and changes in supply chain, P&G said in a media statement.

Some 100 start-ups were assessed before the festival and the top 27 were shortlisted to showcase their technology solutions.

At least 15 projects will be selected to partner with P&G for pilots, each with a minimum investment $30,000 from P&G.

"Singapore is home to one of the strongest and most vibrant innovation ecosystems in the region, with a diverse pool of talent constantly striving for new ideas and solutions to solve future challenges," said Mr Magesvaran Suranjan, P&G president for the Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa.

He added that the company wants to leverage Singapore as the innovation hub for the firm and the industry, leading digital transformation and powering innovation across all aspects of its business.

DPM Heng said the Government is also redoubling its efforts to strengthen the start-up eco-system here, with a move last year to enhance the mentorship, funding and support for budding entrepreneurs.

"We are growing the momentum of corporate venturing in Singapore. EDB is partnering large corporates to create new ventures, by deploying experienced officers to co-develop new ideas and providing risk sharing capital," he added.

Singapore is investing $25 billion in research, innovation and enterprise over the next five years.

This will go towards initiatives such as growing a scientific base for firms to tap on, investing in growth areas like the digital economy and better aligning research and development with industry transformation efforts.

"All these are part of our efforts to build Singapore as a global Asia node of innovation, technology and enterprise," he said.

"In the last few decades, the Asian region has grown significantly and therefore Singapore is very well-positioned to be... linking the world to Asia and Asia to the world.

"I also believe that technology, innovation and enterprise will be the future - to not only solve many of the major challenges that the world is facing, but also to ensure that we can continue to achieve sustainable economic development."

US embassy charge d'affaires Rafik Mansour added in an opening address: "Just as we have done for more than half a century now, the United States will continue working with Singapore to strengthen our mutual economic interests and people-to-people ties."

He noted that the characteristics of Singapore's start-up ecosystem include government leadership, strong university networks, global linkages, industry specialisation and substantial investment activity.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat interacting with guests during the launch of iLab 2021. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

He also encouraged participating entrepreneurs in the festival to expand beyond their borders and look to open markets like the US.

One of the start-ups chosen for the festival was AiChat, a firm that offers a chatbot powered by artificial intelligence (AI) to help retailers automate their online marketing and sales processes. The bot engages consumers by answering their questions and educating them about products.

Co-founder and chief executive Kester Poh said: "This reduces manpower and also drives the return on investment for the firms in their marketing and sales efforts.

"Moving forward, we will research further into AI tech for a more personalised experience."

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