Parliament: More funding, new co-working space to help companies embrace innovation

Innovation is important in ensuring Singapore's small and open economy remains nimble and able to respond to changes in global trends, said Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon.
Innovation is important in ensuring Singapore's small and open economy remains nimble and able to respond to changes in global trends, said Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The Government will be doing more to help companies in Singapore foster a spirit of innovation, from increasing funding options for certain sectors to creating a co-working space to help companies from the medtech and other sectors work on their unique products, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon said on Tuesday (March 3).

Innovation is important in ensuring Singapore's small and open economy remains nimble and able to respond to changes in global trends, said Dr Koh during the debate on the ministry's budget.

Translating research into commercially viable products will not only bring about economic opportunity, Dr Koh said, but innovation can also help the Republic deal with sudden disruptions, such as the outbreak of Covid-19.

Citing local start-up Kronikare's artificial intelligence wound-monitoring software to help patients take care of their wounds, Dr Koh said: "When Covid-19 struck, Kronikare quickly re-engineered its core technology to develop an automatic fever detection solution to aid other businesses in the fight against the disease."

The Government will work to strengthen Singapore's innovation ecosystem, and leverage innovation to transform the Republic's industries and seize new growth opportunities, said Dr Koh.

NURTURING START-UPS

Start-ups are a crucial feature in Singapore's innovation ecosystem, as such companies can bring new ideas to the table and spur industry to do things differently.

To help home-grown companies bring their products to market, the Government will be enhancing the existing Startup SG Equity Scheme to help deep-tech start-ups in the areas of pharmaceuticals, biotech and medtech, advanced manufacturing and agri-food tech, said Dr Koh.

"Such start-ups typically require larger investments and longer gestational periods because of the multiple iterations of prototyping, test-bedding and pilot production needed," said Dr Koh. "Not all moonshot projects will succeed. But when they do, they break new ground that gives fertile foundation for future, incremental innovations to succeed."

The Startup SG Equity Scheme encourages public and private co-investment for deep-tech start-ups, which usually take a longer time to commercialise their products. 

The Government will be topping up $300 million to the scheme, which will also be enhanced to double the maximum amount each start-up can receive, from $4 million to $8 million, Dr Koh said.

 
 

To encourage funds and fund managers to invest more in start-ups based in Singapore, the Government will also extend the relevant tax incentives by five years.

Dr Koh said: "This also includes enhancements such as expanding the types of investments and incomes incentivised and streamlining the requirements to invest in Singapore-based enterprises."

GROW EMERGING SECTORS

Innovation can also help the Singapore economy keep an eye on the future, where technological advancements are changing the face of certain sectors, such as advanced manufacturing, sustainability, and agri-food tech.

"Innovation is not only about investing in research and development, but also about transforming our industries for the future," said Dr Koh.

For the advanced manufacturing sector, a new co-working space called the SIMTech Innovation Factory will be built in the Jurong Innovation District to help companies brainstorm and design their unique products, he said.

 
 

After successfully designing their own products, companies can then go to one of the two model factory facilities at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) for pilot production, he added.

"For a start, there will be a focus on equipment design, medtech devices and electromechanical modules," said Dr Koh.

Climate change is another global trend that has the potential to affect Singapore, which imports more than 90 per cent of its food.

To boost food security in land-constrained Singapore, helping farmers harness technology, or agri-tech, is key.

"But the Government must be prepared to relook at our rules and regulations as we grow new sectors," said Dr Koh. "As with any new sector, there will be a learning curve for both businesses and the Government. But we must not be afraid to try."

At the upcoming Agri-Food Innovation Park in Sungei Kadut, which by the first half of 2021 will allow high-tech farming operators to test-bed and commercialise their technologies, a "regulatory sandbox" for high-tech farms will be rolled out.

This will allow the Government to review regulations - such as those involving building infrastructure and fire safety - for tenants quickly, he said.

But even as climate change continues to pose a threat to business-as-usual, there are opportunities to be reaped too.

"One area of growing interest is the idea of a circular economy," said Dr Koh, referring to a concept where resources are continually recycled in a loop to maximise their value.

Industrial developer JTC is partnering with companies on Jurong Island and other agencies, such as national water agency PUB and the National Environment Agency, to conduct a Jurong Island Circular Economy Study, which will map out the flow of water, energy and waste on the island and identify system-level gaps.

"This will allow companies to come together to develop solutions to address these gaps, test-bed solutions on Jurong Island, and then export these solutions globally," said Dr Koh.