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Two new initiatives launched by tertiary educational institutions in Singapore to cultivate technopreneurial talent

Speaking at the opening of Singapore Week of Innovation & Technology (SWITCH)– Founding A New World on September 18, 2017, Mr. Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Finance, announced two initiatives by local tertiary institutions to further cultivate technopreneurial talent.

Mr. Heng also talked about SGInnovate’s Entrepreneur First Singapore or EF Singapore, a pre-seed programme that works with scientists and engineers, who are aspiring entrepreneurs, to help them start their first tech companies. Within 6 months, 11 teams from the first EF Singapore cohort have applied for 9 patents and attracted interest from more than 60 investors.

National Lean LaunchPad

The first is the National Lean LaunchPad, a national entrepreneurial training programme for researchers adapted from the i-Corps programme by the US National Science Foundation, which prepares scientists and engineers to extend their focus beyond the university laboratory.

Over 10 weeks, research scientists and engineers learn about the technology commercialisation process, including customer discovery and market validation, by directly engaging with potential users and customers.

These skills in evidence-based validation and business model refinement are expected to improve researchers’ chances of developing their innovations into prototypes, real-world products and companies.

Mr. Heng gave an example of a start-up from NUS’ pilot programme, called Cardiogenomics, which developed a cardiac risk assessment algorithm to predict coronary artery disease risk. Through the Lean LaunchPad experience, the team moved out of the lab to conduct interviews with patients, doctors and hospitals to test their business assumptions, leading them to re-define their customer segments and service delivery.

The team has since developed the risk assessment service and test-kit CardioCAD, which is being used in some specialist clinics in Singapore.

Mr. Heng said, “We look forward to many more success stories from Lean LaunchPad, which rolled out fully across the National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University, the Singapore Management University and the Singapore University of Technology and Design this August.”

Each university will run thematic tracks focusing on specific technology domains, including the life sciences, robotics, physical sciences and water technology. A total of 22 teams have been selected for the first run.

Pollinate

The second initiative is an incubator called Pollinate, a collaboration between Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Singapore Polytechnic and Temasek Polytechnic. It is being officially launched today at Block 71 in LaunchPad@one-north, a technology start-up hub in Singapore. This collaboration enables polytechnic students and alumni to benefit from incubation, entrepreneurship events, competitions and workshops held on a larger scale.

Pollinate is targeted at startups and campus teams from polytechnic students and their alumni, who are ready for growth hacking (a term used in the innovation/tech/startup world to describe the process of rapid experimentation across marketing channels and product development to identify the most efficient ways to grow a business) and market adoption. 

The incubator also hopes to woo start-ups by non-polytechnic graduates, as well as those from overseas. Currently, two out of the 14 start-ups here are foreign-owned. There are plans to partner with overseas incubators in places such as Silicon Valley so that start-ups here can expand to overseas markets.

The key features of Pollinate are: a) Shared Service Pods, which will offer services such as user analytics and digital marketing to serve the needs of startups. These services will be offered by students. b) Incubator Exchange Programme, which leverages polytechnics’ extensive overseas industry networks in the startup ecosystem to facilitate incubatees’ access to foreign markets and vice versa. c) University Alliance, whereby Pollinate will partner universities in Singapore to offer complementary programmes, activities and events to startups, for example, through the National Lean Launchpad Singapore programme. d) Industry Innovation, where Pollinate will serve as a platform for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to collaborate with startups to solve industry challenges and help foster innovation within the SME sector. 

Incubated start-ups looking to take their product to the next level can gain access to a pipeline of student, faculty and alumni talent, who will also offer shared services in user analytics and digital marketing, uniquely available at the Pollinate incubator. For start-ups exploring pathways to commercialisation, the incubator leverages the polytechnics’ extensive industry networks, opening access to co-development opportunities and new markets.

The incubator is funded by NRF for the first three years and is an accredited Mentor Partner to SPRING's Startup SG Founders' Grant.

“As Singapore moves toward the future economy, it is exciting to see our tertiary institutions also coming up with innovative modes of training and education for the new skills paradigm. We will continue to support and cultivate a generation of inventors, builders and tech visionaries, who will transform the companies of today, and drive those of tomorrow,” Mr. Heng said.

Featured image: Michael Cannon/ CC BY-SA 2.0

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