SMEs pump more money into research and development

Block 71 opened in Jakarta last month (July) to allow businesses from Singapore and Indonesia to explore R&D and collaboration opportunities. PHOTO: NUS ENTERPRISE

SINGAPORE - Investments by small and medium-sized enterprises in research and development (R&D), a linchpin of Singapore's economy, have picked up, said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat.

But future economic growth requires companies to explore beyond their sectors as "the real world is messy, and does not fit neatly into one specific discipline", he said at the opening of the second annual Leaders in Science Forum held at the Biopolis research hub in Buona Vista on Wednesday (Aug 16).

Mr Heng revealed that R&D investments by SMEs grew 7 per cent yearly from 2010 to 2015. This is more than double the 3 per cent yearly rate in the previous five-year period.

Overall, R&D investments by businesses grew 8 per cent yearly from 2010 to 2015, topping $5 billion in 2015.

"This is very encouraging. Today, Singapore is regarded well as a vibrant international research hub," he said.

It is believed that while R&D activities may not have immediate payoffs, they spawn new businesses, entrepreneurs and ecosystems that are key to creating a competitive edge for Singapore.

One example is 23-year-old Singapore-based Addvalue Technologies that invested in satellite communications technologies and turned its consumer electronics products into smart devices. The company then went global, and now has satellite services providers Inmarsat, Thuraya, SingTel and Satcom Global, among others, as customers.

To sustain the momentum, the Singapore Government renewed its five-year $19 billion research fund in January last year (2016). The sixth Research Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) road map - 1 per cent of the nation's gross domestic product - will see R&D investments in sustainable energy, artificial intelligence and advanced manufacturing, among other areas, through 2020.

And "open innovation" is the way forward, as set out by the Committee on the Future Economy tasked to chart Singapore's blueprint for economic growth. This means tapping the expertise of overseas entrepreneurs or the many research institutions here.

One example is the opening of Block 71 Jakarta last month (July) to allow businesses from Singapore and Indonesia to explore R&D and collaboration opportunities.

The 1,500 sq m facility in the Kuningan district is a tie-up between the National University of Singapore's entrepreneurial arm NUS Enterprise and Indonesia's Salim Group conglomerate.

It is based on Singapore's Block 71 in Ayer Rajah Crescent, the heart of Singapore's entrepreneurship scene and home to a community of start-ups, venture capitalists and incubators.

"We must continue to forge closer partnerships and strengthen our innovation ecosystem (to) keep Singapore competitive and relevant to the world," said Mr Heng.

And if innovation is about new combinations and new possibilities, even cross-disciplinary or inter-disciplinary work may not be adequate. "We will need a sense of wonder and curiosity," Mr Heng added.

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