Wednesday 22 April 2015

Singapore offers to be test bed for urban solutions

PM invites technopreneurs across the globe to join Smart Nation journey
By Grace Chng, Senior Correspondent, The Straits Times, 21 Apr 2015

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong has called on leading entrepreneurs and investors from around the world to use Singapore as a test bed for solutions to urban challenges such as healthcare, transport and an ageing population.

While other countries face similar challenges, he said Singapore has an edge as it can quickly test prototypes and scale up projects because of its compact size and ability to get such scaling done.

This was how Singapore pioneered electronic road pricing and carved out a niche in water-purification technologies, which became examples for others to follow, he said. "We are embarking on our Smart Nation journey with the same determination."

Mr Lee was speaking to more than 200 local and foreign investors, entrepreneurs and corporate bigwigs at a dinner last night to launch an event called Founders Forum Smart Nation Singapore, to be held at Raffles Hotel today.

He did his wooing on the verdant grounds of the Istana. Fleshing out Singapore's Smart Nation initiative launched last year to find ways for technology to solve social and economic problems, he said it has three key areas.

These are healthcare for the elderly, transport, and a safe and secure data marketplace.

With technology, the elderly can live independently when sensors, mobile apps and remote monitoring are integrated for them to connect with one another as well as stay in touch with relatives.

For commuters, it can give reliable and timely transport information for them to plan their journeys efficiently.

And for firms, Singapore wants to be a centre where they can easily and safely tap data to get insights on, say, consumer trends.

But for Singapore to make a quantum leap to becoming a Smart Nation, an entrepreneurial culture is crucial, said Mr Lee, adding that it is starting to flourish.

The Launchpad, Singapore's start-up enclave in Ayer Rajah, is "almost full, with start-ups, incubators and venture capitalists".

But he wants even more talent, noting that many Singaporeans hold key engineering positions in Silicon Valley in California.

"We need more of them back home. We have to attract the best and the most dynamic - Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans - to come to tackle ambitious projects and to start up their companies here," Mr Lee said.

The Government is leading the way by upgrading its engineering and IT schemes, and changing the way organisations work by creating small teams to work on interesting problems.

Company founders at the dinner, which is part of a series of events this week to advance Singapore's goal to be a Smart Nation, said Mr Lee's words had inspired them to look at the Republic as a destination for tech innovation and investment.

Ms Viktoriya Tigipko, founding partner of venture capital firm TA Ventures, said her discussions with venture capitalists and entrepreneurs here confirmed Singapore had many opportunities in her interest areas of healthcare for the elderly, transport and financial technology.

"I will fund start-ups here focused on doing business in South-east Asia. Singapore is a good hub for the region, the Government is supportive and there is affordable office space and other services," she said.

Mr Michael Birch, co-founder of social network Bebo, said Singapore is on the right track in making it very apparent that it wants investors and entrepreneurs to come here and do business.

"The Prime Minister's speech is also very clear the Government supports entrepreneurship."

The prestigious Founders Forum ( event is being held in Asia and Singapore for the first time. The Founders...
Posted by IDA Singapore on Monday, April 20, 2015

Turning tech innovators into entrepreneurs
IDA unit in talks with British group to offer six-month course in S'pore
By Grace Chng, Senior Correspondent, The Straits Times, 21 Apr 2015

COMPUTER scientists, engineers and software developers in Singapore will soon be able to take lessons on how to be an entrepreneur.

An intensive six-month course is in the offing to help them turn their innovations into products for the commercial market.

The Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) said that its investment arm, Infocomm Investments, is in talks with Britain-based Entrepreneur First to introduce the programme in Singapore.

Entrepreneur First is an organisation that recruits tech talents and gives them the time and space to experiment with new projects. It then helps them to form a commercial company to sell their innovations.

The tie-up was announced by IDA as the Founders Forum Smart Nation Singapore kicked off at the Istana last night, marking the start of a series of events this week to promote innovations for Singapore to become a smart nation.

The programme is aimed at plugging a gap, as few technical professionals here make the leap into becoming entrepreneurs. The reason, said industry observers, is they are either not business-minded or do not know what it takes to be an entrepreneur.

Entrepreneur First has helped engineers, computer scientists and hackers from across Europe.

At the end of the programme, participants will pitch their innovations to investors for start-up funding.

In the last two years, Entrepreneur First has supported 60 innovators working in fields as diverse as drones, 3D printing, artificial intelligence, Bitcoin and marketplaces, IDA said in a statement.

The innovators have raised US$20 million (S$27 million) in external funding and have built 20 technology companies that are valued at more than US$100 million.

Founders Forum Smart Nation Singapore is a collaboration between IDA and Founders Forum, a London-based organisation for entrepreneurs to discuss new business ideas.

It is the organisation's first meeting in Asia, and will continue today with top tech entrepreneurs, investors and innovators holding discussions about urban trends and problems and how to use technology to solve them.

Some of the bigger names gathered here for the tech event include Sir Mark Walport, the British government's chief scientific adviser; Mr Walter de Brouwer, founder and chief executive of Silicon Valley-based medical technology company Scanadu; and Mr Michael Lynch, founder of technology investment and advisory firm Invoke Capital.

Singapore is excited to welcome these "leaders in tech" to discuss the world's most critical challenges, which the Republic is tackling in its smart nation initiative, said IDA executive deputy chairman Steve Leonard yesterday.

He noted that Singapore has what it takes to become "a great place for tech companies to build solutions that serve the global markets".

The Republic's assets include strong universities, deep investments in research and development, a growing community of tech start-ups, plenty of investment capital and the commitment of the public and private sectors.

Talent shortage ‘among obstacles’ in Smart Nation quest
By Tan Weizhen, TODAY, 22 Apr 2015

Foreign and Singapore companies attending a conference on the Republic’s Smart Nation drive said today (April 21) that they are eager to be part of it, but highlighted several kinks that they felt have to be ironed out for the initiative to take off.

These include a shortage of talent in coding as well as the accessibility and availability of government data.

On Monday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called on the private sector and members of the public to come forward to be part of the vision.

Mr Azmat Yusuf, founder of London-based transport app Citymapper, said overseas technology firms will be drawn here if key conditions are right. “Everyone sees this as an easy place (to do business) ... But they are researching the viability. If the data are available and it looks like more of it is coming, then they will come,” he said.

Mr Yusuf, who took part in a brainstorming session at the Founders Forum Smart Nation Singapore with representatives of other start-ups, added: “Another thing I want to hear from the government agencies is that the environment will not be restrictive — that we can do cool things, such as make everyone’s smartphone or smart watch a sensor. Then we can, for instance, tell how crowded a bus or train station is.”

Dr Jeffrey Rayport, a faculty member in the entrepreneurship unit at Harvard Business School, noted that raw data released by the Government is not immediately useful without an application programming interface (API) to build software applications. “The government digital systems are also uneven. The tax and healthcare systems are advanced, but other aspects of government should be made as digitally sophisticated,” he said.

In his speech on Monday, Mr Lee acknowledged that the Government does not always release data in the best way, although it has an open data portal, He added that the APIs were not as polished and standardised as they should be, but the authorities were working on this.

Singapore entrepreneur Eddie Chau said it could take up to two years for all data from the Government to be rendered usable. Both Mr Chau, who owns a few start-ups, and Ms Viktoriya Tigipko, a venture capitalist from Luxembourg, felt a shortage of talent could hamper the Smart Nation drive. Mr Chau said: “As recently as five years ago, the computer science faculty did not have mobile development courses. Now we are starting to train, but it is not fast enough for the market.”

In a recent study conducted by Microsoft, 1,850 students under 24 were surveyed on their interest in coding in eight countries across the Asia-Pacific, including 250 students in Singapore. The survey showed that 76 per cent of students here want to know more about coding and two-thirds wished that it was offered as a core subject in school. However, less than half of the students, one of the lowest proportions among the countries surveyed, said they have an opportunity to learn coding in school, whether as a core subject or an extracurricular activity.

The Government has said it wants to make it easier for homegrown firms to enter the industry and the Smart Nation transformation will focus on these companies, among other groups.

Overseas firms interviewed said they would consider collaborating with start-ups here. Mr Yusuf said Citymapper is looking to work with third-party taxi booking app GrabTaxi — whose parent firm is based in Malaysia — to integrate taxi information into its app for the Singapore market. Ms Tigipko suggested that for a start, Singapore should import business models from smart cities in Europe, as a way to kick-start the ecosystem. “Singapore should bring in teams which have had successful products, then add local entrepreneurs to these teams. From there, the solutions can be expanded to the whole Asia region.”

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