How three local tech startups address real-world business problems and win MNC customers

IMDA’s Open Innovation Platform (OIP) gives local start-ups, SMEs and tech providers opportunities to solve real-world business problems faced by large corporates such as Shell and P&G

Three local tech start-ups, Zuno, Myrmidon Laboratories (MyrLabs), and TransferFi, won IMDA OIP's Open Innovation Challenge, thanks to their winning solutions to challenges posted by ARTC members. PHOTO: ARTC

Not every problem that an industry faces has a simple, packaged solution.

Sometimes, the answer lies in crowdsourcing a solution from technology providers and innovative startups in Singapore.

This was how three tech start-ups rose to the challenge of solving a number of common problems faced by MNCs such as Shell and Procter & Gamble (P&G) in the advanced manufacturing industry. Their solutions make use of digital and other new technologies to address complex pain points in the manufacturing process, like asset tracking, optimising equipment lifespan and interoperability of sensors.

Zuno, TransferFi and Myrmidon Laboratories (MyrLabs) answered the set of business problems hosted on the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA)'s Open Innovation Platform (OIP). These were challenges launched by the Advanced Remanufacturing and Technology Centre (ARTC), a research institute under the Agency for Science, Technology & Research (A*STAR). The ARTC Startup Challenge 2021 consisted of three problem statements from ARTC Industry Members such as Shell and P&G.

Their winning solutions for ARTC’s Startup Challenge 2021 are now ready to make an impact when delivered to the production floor. 

The prototypes they created have not only helped the advanced manufacturing industry to solve complex problems, but can also be further used in other sectors. This helps to grow their potential product lines in new application areas.

In response to Shell’s business challenge, Zuno developed an integrated smart sensor platform prototype. PHOTO: ARTC

Expanding project to new uses

For its winning entry for Shell’s business challenge, Zuno developed an integrated smart sensor platform prototype that was interoperable between wireless sensors of different protocols, and allowed manual control of the sensors. 

The idea behind this is a communication module for wireless sensor gateways with multiple distinct protocols to speak to one another. 

Now, manufacturing firms can manage their network of wireless sensors on-premises from a single touchpoint to ensure interoperability of sensors and enable real-time monitoring for visibility of all end-to-end processes.

“Shell actively seeks out cutting-edge technology to solve industry-wide challenges, and the ARTC Startup Challenge provided an ideal platform to collaborate with new generation disruptors like Zuno to build innovative solutions. It’s a pleasure to mentor and nurture Singapore’s homegrown start-up ecosystem together with ARTC and OIP," said Haripriya Baskar, Shell's engineer. 

Zuno's integrated smart sensor platform prototype is interoperable between wireless sensors of different protocols, thus allowing manufacturing firms to manage their network of wireless sensors on-premises from a single touchpoint. PHOTO: ZUNO

“When the challenge was launched, we immediately identified that the problem statement had a significant amount of overlap with our existing solution – – which collects data from remote sources, aggregates and analyses it through our AI engine, to predict the performance of equipment,” said Mr Hari Nair, Zuno’s Chief Executive Officer.

“So, we decided to see how we could tailor the solution to Shell’s needs while keeping the platform scalable,” he added. “This led to the addition of the sensor validation module, and battery optimisation module to the platform.”

Currently, Zuno is in discussions with key industry players to expand their winning project onto an onsite pilot project.

TransferFi's winning solution was an Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) platform using patented signal optimisation and beamforming algorithms. PHOTO: ARTC

Creating interest across new markets

Meanwhile, Wireless Power Network (WPN) provider TransferFi built an Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) platform using patented signal optimisation and beamforming algorithms – a signal processing technique – to extend the range of wireless power transmission providing continuous power to a sensor network. 

It is the world’s first WPN solution that provides round-the-clock, real-time data collection without the need for power cables.

When the problem owner looked for a real-time monitoring and predictive maintenance solution for industrial cutting tools, TransferFi answered the call.

“Through the OIP, the engineers at ARTC assisted with determining the parameters to meet, followed by the testing and verification of hardware and software, to ensure that our solution was suitable for customer application,” said Mr Aashish Mehta, TransferFi’s Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer.

It is the world’s first WPN solution that provides round-the-clock, real-time data collection without the need for power cables. PHOTO: TRANSFERFI

With this successful proof of concept realised through their participation in this OIP challenge, the company is targeting new uses, such as for computer numerical control (CNC) machines. CNC machines are commonly used to manufacture many of the goods found in stores today. The technology will allow machine owners to optimise equipment service life better by accurately tracking and assessing the wear and tear of machine consumables.

The prototype is already attracting interest among CNC machine makers and manufacturing lines, with ongoing talks to use it.

In response to P&G’s need for a real-time asset tracking solution, MyrLabs developed family of hardware devices based on its proprietary Bluetooth-based signal communications protocol, HyperLite. PHOTO: ARTC

Understanding the needs of large MNCs in order to scale

For MyrLabs, its winning entry was a family of hardware devices that can facilitate real-time asset tracking that can be used in indoor labs and harsh environments. 

It met P&G’s need for a solution in the fast-moving consumer goods and energy sectors, where current technologies to track assets are often passive and labour-intensive. They also do not work well over long distances, and are tricky to deploy in harsh industrial environments.

MyrLabs’ solution is based on its proprietary Bluetooth-based signal communications protocol, HyperLite, which allows off-the-shelf mobile devices to communicate with other HyperLite-enabled devices such as asset tags, robots, controllers, and environment sensors. This facilitates faster adoption and scalability. MyrLabs went from conceptualising the solution to eventually producing a batch of 50 tags in a short span of 2 months.

Presented during the ARTC Startup Challenge Demo day, MyrLabs' mobile tag is able to conduct edge-based proximity calculations and separate users in specified-number groups. PHOTO: MYRLABS

“We spent a lot of time trying to figure out P&G’s perspective on ‘what they are actually trying to solve’ rather than 'what they want done',” said Mr Gabriel Yee, founder and managing director of MyrLabs.

“From there, we figured out that their real need is not just asset tracking, but for a solution that has potential to be used across multiple applications beyond asset tracking and for a partner who can and is willing to co-create solutions to suit their needs,” he added.

Winning the challenge on the OIP meant that MyrLabs overcame two of its biggest challenges: getting access to companies that understood its capabilities and attracting funds to overcome the R&D cost barrier.

It also resulted in valuable business insights.

“Through the OIP experience, we learnt that large corporations operate at a different scale and the impact of lower prices on realising actual value is quite insignificant,” said Mr Yee.

“Another challenge that we learnt was how organised large corporations are,” he added. “There are standards for cybersecurity, reliability, product safety, sourcing, and these influence their decision making and considerations.”

Like Zuno, TransferFi and MyrLabs, numerous Singapore start-ups, SMEs and solution providers have used their expertise and innovation to solve problems for a wide range of companies in different sectors through the OIP’s structured process.

“Through these few years of partnership with IMDA's OIP, we are able to reach out to startups focusing in the Advanced Manufacturing Domain to co-build, co-develop and co-deliver Proof-Of-Concepts to our members,” said Mr Andy Lee, ARTC's Director (New Business and Digital). “The collaboration will continue to attract, incubate and scale startups, and allow us to deepen the foundation for startups in this domain.”

Since 2018, the OIP has hosted more than 250 problem statements with more than $8.5 million of prize money. It has also grown its community to more than 11,000 solution providers. 

“The OIP team and the problem owners were very proactive in scheduling discussion sessions to ensure we were all on the same page regarding the challenge brief and the requirements,” said Zuno’s Mr Nair.

“Once we had a definitive idea on what the requirements were, we were able to iteratively develop the platform,” he noted.

Start-ups, SMEs and technology providers can submit their proposals for the OIP’s latest set of challenges, which is open until 28 January 2022. Companies can also pose their business challenges and crowdsource for innovative solutions from more than 11, 000 innovative solvers on the OIP.

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