Speech by Dr Koh Poh Koon, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Trade and Industry, at A*ccelerate Now on 9 November 2018 at Fusionopolis One
09 Nov 2018
Mr Lim Chuan Poh, Chairman A*STAR
Mr Raj Thampuran, Managing Director A*STAR
Mr Philip Lim, CEO of A*ccelerate [pronounced: “accelerate”]
- Good morning. It is my pleasure to join you at today’s event, A*CCELERATE NOW – marking a new chapter for A*STAR in delivering impact from research and innovation.
- Research, innovation and enterprise are cornerstones of Singapore’s national strategy to develop a knowledge-based, innovation-driven economy and society. From 2016 to 2020, the government has set aside S$19 billion for research, innovation and enterprise activities. This supports the efforts by A*STAR, Institutes of Higher Learning, hospitals and other public sector researchers to build knowledge and develop differentiated capabilities to address national challenges, and build up the innovation capacity of our companies to drive economic growth.
Importance of translating R&D into economic outcomes
- As Minister Chan Chun Sing mentioned a few weeks ago, one of our key challenges today is translating the intellectual capital developed by our public sector researchers into economic outcomes that will benefit the country.
- This is by no means a trivial task. R&D programmes often take place in a complex environment where programme design and implementation is challenging and success is difficult to measure. The problems which R&D programmes are intended to tackle are often the most challenging questions faced by industry and society. As expected of any scientific endeavour, R&D will necessarily entail significant experimentation and risks of failure. Precisely because this is such a difficult business, many countries, including Singapore, have directed our most capable and committed minds towards R&D. We do this in the hopes that groundbreaking work will be created, that will generate economic opportunities and improve the lives for the rest of us.
- Unlike three decades ago, when Singapore first commenced investing in R&D, we are at a high base today. A few global rankings have placed Singapore as one of the leading innovation nations in the world.
- For example, Singapore was ranked the most innovative country within Asia Pacific in the 2018 Global Innovation Index, and ranked third in the Bloomberg Innovation Index.
- Now that Singapore is no longer in the catch-up phase, the work for A*ccelerate is all the more challenging, and expectations are all the higher.
Role of A*ccelerate
- As the commercialisation arm of A*STAR, ETPL, which is now A*ccelerate, plays a major role in translating intellectual capital from A*STAR researchers to industry. As Minister Chan said, it is not just about research institutes conducting research on their own, or businesses innovating on their own. We need to connect them. One way is to a develop core “bilingual” professionals who are proficient in the language of both technology and business. Innovation and Enterprise Offices (IEOs), such as A*ccelerate, which are equally at ease when debating the latest developments in monoclonal antibodies, as well as when discussing IP strategies, can make key contributions here.
- A*STAR and ETPL have worked very hard to connect the dots. In the last five years, over 1,000 A*STAR licences have been taken up by companies. There is also a significant rise in the number of licences taken up by local companies, from 130 in FY2013 to 197 in FY2017. As a result, 74% of A*STAR licenses now go to local enterprises.
- Going forward, my hope is to see IEOs like A*ccelerate lead the way and strive to become one of the top commercialization offices in the world. In this regard, A*ccelerate will need to meet the high expectations in delivering on three key roles in the Singapore innovation ecosystem.
i) Supporting A*STAR researchers from lab to market
- First, A*ccelerate must continue to work closely with the rest of A*STAR to shepherd good ideas from A*STAR labs to market.
- Over the years, A*STAR has promoted entrepreneurship by supporting its budding technopreneurs within A*STAR’s research institutes to spin-off their inventions. As part of this, ETPL helped researchers translate their R&D to outcomes through simplified licensing, consultations and the know-how to commercialise their inventions, giving them a headstart on their spin-off journey that will eventually become investable, high quality enterprises.
- One example is Lucence Diagnostics, an A*STAR spin-off founded in 2016 by Dr Tan Min-Han, former principal research scientist at A*STAR’s Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN). Lucence offers a range of diagnostic tests, including its flagship liquid biopsy tests used in cancer diagnostics. Dr Tan subsequently acquired the intellectual property rights - six IPs out of his A*STAR lab and commercialised the diagnostics services. This September, Lucence received an honourable mention for its commercialisation strategy in the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore’s (IPOS) annual awards. Just two weeks ago, Lucence launched the FibroPhyllo Tissue test, the world’s first molecular test to distinguish breast fibroadenoma, the most common benign breast tumor, from phyllodes tumor, a less common tumor that could be malignant. Based on the technology invented by the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) and A*STAR, this test will help doctors decide how to treat an indeterminate fibroepithelial breast lump that has been detected.
- I am also pleased to know that A*STAR’s startups have raised a total of over S$210 million since the start of RIE2020. This is a result of A*STAR’s focus to nurture startups that are investable and have the potential to deliver economic and social outcomes.
- I look forward to many more success stories from A*ccelerate.
ii) Supporting local enterprises in innovation
- Second, A*ccelerate will need to continue to work closely with industry, particularly our SMEs and startups that can benefit from A*STAR’s research outcomes. Traditional business models are being replaced by disruptive technologies, with compressed business cycles driving up competition both locally and overseas.
- Over the years, A*STAR and ETPL have worked hard to support local enterprises. For example, ETPL introduced an initiative called “Venture Co-Creation” (VCC) last year, to bring in private sector partners and investors as venture creators to co-create deep tech start-ups. This initiative allows venture creators to take a more hands-on approach in guiding entrepreneurs through mentorship, business development advice, funds injection, as well as introduction to investor and client networks. More importantly, they help to open doors for ventures to enter regional and global markets. Under this partnership, A*STAR also provides intellectual property and technology development capabilities, to accelerate commercialisation of key technology sectors including artificial intelligence (AI), big data and analytics, advanced material research, as well as supply chain and logistics optimization.
- I am happy to note that two companies, JCS Venture Lab and Origgin are already onboard. It is also significant that JCS Venture Lab is a subsidiary of JCS Group, a local SME. Established in 1990 with a reputation in ultrasonic cleaning, JCS Venture Lab is now co-creating innovative products and businesses as part of JCS Group’s growth and transformation strategy.
- Later today, A*ccelerate will enter new agreements with investors such as Startup-O, Hafnium Hafaway, Marvelstone, Trendlines and Dymon Asia Ventures. These partnerships will bring the total commitment for venture co-creation to over S$85 million to accelerate deep tech startups in the areas of Internet-of-Things (IIoT), artificial intelligence, among others.
- At the same time, A*STAR and ETPL have also supported platform technologies to catalyse sectoral growth. For example, A*STAR announced the spin-off of Advanced Micro Foundry (AMF), which is a commercial micro foundry capable of high-mix low-volume manufacturing specializing in silicon based semiconductor components. The spin-off is currently valued at over US$300 million. One of its core technologies is silicon photonics components which is a result of A*STAR’s long standing investments in this area since the early 2000s. Playing in the high-value niche product segment, the micro foundry will strengthen Singapore’s electronics industry and create highly skilled jobs for Singaporeans.
- A*STAR and ETPL have also worked with local enterprises to create marketable products and services. For example, A*STAR worked with SIIX-AGT [pronounced “six A-G-T”] Medtech Pte Ltd, a local medtech company specialising in applications for surgical robots and power-assisted technology, to develop an autonomous robot platform that can manoeuvre intelligently indoors. A*STAR’s technology enabled SIIX-AGT to launch a model in September, with another in the pipeline for 2019. SIIX-AGT continues to collaborate with A*STAR in the industry trend of electrification of devices and adoption of autonomous robots.
- Let me congratulate A*ccelerate for the good work. As Singapore positions ourselves for the future economy, let me also encourage you to strive harder to scale up your impact on the local economy in the coming years.
iii) Nurturing Innovation and Enterprise talent in Singapore
- Third, and perhaps most importantly, A*ccelerate should enhance its role in connecting A*STAR and industry through the professionalization of our “bilingual” Innovation and Enterprise (I&E) talent, in order to strengthen the links between Research, Innovation and Enterprise.
- One such talent is Dr Sidney Yee, CEO at Diagnostics Development (DxD) Hub and Executive Vice President at ETPL. A trained chemist, research scholar, as well as a serial entrepreneur with extensive experience in starting companies and investments, Dr Yee works with her team at DxD Hub to productise innovative diagnostic technologies and leads the A*STAR's incubation and start-up management division, A*StartCentral.
- Under Dr Yee’s leadership, the DxD Hub has engaged close to 100 partners along the productisation chain through 40 projects involving the private and public sectors to develop impactful products, such as the Gastric Cancer Diagnostics Kit with local startup MiRXES. Collectively, these projects have contributed to the development of an effective diagnostic devices ecosystem in Singapore.
- Dr Yee has also played an instrumental role in the planning and establishment of A*StartCentral, a first-of-its-kind "open innovation lab" and tech incubator in Singapore. Since its launch in 2016, A*StartCentral has supported over 50 A*STAR spin-offs, licensees and promising companies which have emerged from across other research institutes and abroad, and facilitated $115 million of investment for deep-tech startups. It seeks to nurture the growth of the nascent medtech and biotech sectors here, and foster a robust, sophisticated medtech and biotech community.
- I am heartened to note there are many more of such talent within the ecosystem with the passion and the drive to connect with people and organisations to share ideas, inventions and expertise. As the commercialisation arm of A*STAR, A*ccelerate can take the lead to nurture more of such “bilingual” talent—and because no man is an island, this will be a long term effort which A*STAR, NRF, MOE, MTI, IPOS and our universities will need to do together.
- Let me once again congratulate A*ccelerate for your good effort over the years. The road ahead will not be an easy one – international competition will be stiffer, and public expectations will only increase. I am confident that A*ccelerate and A*STAR will be able to rise to the occasion and create greater impact for our economy and society.
- Best of luck, and I wish you a fruitful day ahead.
- Thank you.