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  1. Leadership
January 19, 2022

How co-innovation and corporate support is empowering Singapore’s start-up community

A range of corporate programmes, co-innovation platforms and support schemes for corporations, start-ups and public sector bodies in Singapore have created a launchpad for regional growth for innovators.

By lead monitor

The impressive development of Singapore’s tech ecosystems has generated a steady stream of B2B start-up innovation in key areas associated with the digital economy such as fintech, cybersecurity, cloud management and software-as-a-service.

A core facet of this ongoing success is a culture of co-innovation, where start-ups have the opportunity to tap into a wide range of corporate investment and mentorship programmes. Large enterprises in Singapore have a proven appetite for enthusiastically seeking out external input and innovation – supported by a range of grants, and a network of private sector facilitators, such as innovation platforms, incubators and accelerators.

Singapore, including its impressive business district, is firmly established as a destination of choice for corporate-led partnership programmes, led by multinationals. (Photo by Urbanscape/Shutterstock)

Indeed, Singapore is firmly established as a destination of choice for corporate-led partnership programmes, led by multinationals such as the Facebook Accelerator, the Cisco Innovation Centre, and SAP.IO. Such an environment has enabled tech innovators to scale at speed; upon joining Facebook’s platform, for instance, Jumper AI – developer of an AI-enabled omnichannel conversational solution – quickly secured 50 new enterprise clients, including Disney, Unilever and Samsung, and experienced 20x month-on-month revenue growth. For its part, Facebook, garnered access to a clever solution that it has now fully integrated with its Messenger API, Instagram Direct Messaging and FB Live, among other platforms. The success of Jumper AI led to its recent acquisition by major cloud communications player Vonage.

Enabling innovation at scale and speed

The clear value of such initiatives has seen a range of other multinationals follow suit. In February of last year, for example, Dell Technologies unveiled its $50m Global Innovation Hub, committed to fast-tracking the adoption of digital solutions and driving digital innovations developed in Singapore for its global partners and customers.

Then, in October, Medtronic, a global leader in healthcare technology, announced that it would be investing $50m in the development of healthcare technology over the next five years. This investment will be delivered through the Medtronic Open Innovation Platform, which will allow for strategic collaboration in the development of technologies across the healthcare sector with particular emphasis on medtech and digital health in the APAC region. “Over the past few years, we have seen a growing pool of medtech and digital health start-ups in Asia Pacific, and close to 200 local start-ups,” Goh Wan Yee, SVP and head of healthcare at the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) observed at the time of the announcement.

“Singapore has been a strategic hub for Medtronic with a manufacturing facility, its APAC regional headquarters, and now an epicentre for the Open Innovation Platform,” Chris Lee, the company’s president for Asia Pacific, also observed at the time. “Building on the entrepreneurial spirit that we share with other companies, including our Medtronic OIP start-ups, serves as a launchpad for us to grow new ideas, empower an innovative ecosystem and translate collaboration into actionable outcomes.”

In February of last year, Dell Technologies unveiled its $50 million Global Innovation Hub, committed to fast-tracking the adoption of digital solutions and driving digital innovations developed in Singapore.

The benefits of such platforms for the start-up sector are clear to see. A community of corporate partners provides the opportunity for entrepreneurs to experiment, test, learn and build in the context of addressing real-world problems. Indeed, where the boutique set-up inherent within start-up culture allows for thriving creativity, corporate infrastructure is often necessary for pooling marketing resources, building client networks and fostering international relationships.

For corporations, the advantages of such investment and partnerships are also becoming indisputable, with start-ups bringing creative solutions in-house and enabling enterprises to improve their product suite, better serve their customer base, and introduce lean, agile working models and new perspectives into the heart of their businesses.

Making a public case for co-innovation

It is estimated that between 2017 and 2027, 50% of companies on the S&P 500 will be replaced. Hence, it is no surprise that in an innovation report published by PwC, 61% of companies surveyed were embracing open innovation. This need to encourage and facilitate partnerships is even more urgent for Singapore, due to the large pool of global corporations residing in the city-state.

The Global Innovation Alliance (GIA), a joint initiative between Enterprise Singapore and EDB, has created a network of Singapore and overseas partners in major innovation hubs and key demand markets across the globe. GIA acceleration programmes connect companies to overseas business and tech communities, both supporting Singaporean start-ups and SMEs to expand abroad, and empowering international start-ups looking to scale up from their Singapore launchpad.

Indeed, the Singapore government is also constantly on the lookout for innovative solutions for its own ends, embracing close collaboration with start-ups and launching a range of innovation competitions to solve public sector challenges.

One such challenge was the inspecting of older, high-rise buildings requiring inspection. To address it, Singapore’s Building Construction Authority and Housing Development Board initiated an innovation call for solutions in drone inspection technology that would make the process safer and more efficient.

Singapore-based venture builder Blue InCube Ventures forged a partnership between its start-up Claritas Technology and German drone applications developer Third Element Aviation to answer this call. Awarded a Capability Development Grant by Enterprise Singapore for the project, Third Element Aviation helmed the development of the drone system, while Claritas focused on developing an AI-enabled inspection management platform, defects analytics and advanced sensors.

Despite the pandemic, which meant that much of its work had to be carried out from Europe, the success of the partnership has given Third Element Aviation the opportunity to access a potential market of 4,000 buildings each year, and secure a strong foothold in the South East Asian market.

Such examples from the public and private sectors demonstrate that the combination of a vibrant start-up ecosystem, a large pool of innovative corporates, and supportive policies make for an optimal environment when it comes to empowering, scaling and commercialising impactful technologies.

To learn more, read EDB’s guide to how Singapore’s tech ecosystem is helping drive South East Asia’s booming internet economy.

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