With the slew of startup and tech events happening in the next couple of days, it’s an exciting week for the startup and innovation community in Singapore. Organised by SGInnovate and funded by the National Research Foundation (NRF) in Singapore, the Singapore Week of Innovation & TeCHnology (SWITCH) is a platform where complementing tech and innovation events come together to showcase Singapore’s vibrant entrepreneurial and technology innovation ecosystem.
Related reading: How to start a business in Singapore
Now in its second year, SWITCH is bringing together events such as Slush, a global movement originally founded in Helsinki to change attitudes towards entrepreneurship, and the Women In Tech Conference (Asia) 2017.
Day 1 of SWITCH Singapore kickstarted with an opening address by Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat. This was followed by a panel discussion on “Imagining a New World with Technology” featuring a star-studded line-up including moderator Steve Leonard, Founding CEO of SGInnovate and panelists Mike Descheneaux, President, Silicon Valley Bank; William Bao Bean, General Partner, SOSV; Taizo Son, CEO, Mistletoe; and Ben Goertzel, Chief Scientist, Hanson Robotics.
Here, we outline three key takeaways from Day 1 of SWITCH.
1. Nurturing both tech & entrepreneurial talent is crucial for ensuring that ideas get commercialised
When Leonard asked the panelists what they would be looking at in terms of technology developments in the next couple of years, Son shared that one thing to keep our eye on is updating the education system for children. As Minister Heng rightly stated, innovation is driven by people.
It is therefore promising that the Singapore government has introduced initiatives to nurture tech and entrepreneurial talent. Since it was established last year, SGInnovate has been hard at work bringing together entrepreneurs, industry mentors, venture capitalists and research talent through programmes such as globally established Entrepreneur First (EF). The first cohort of EF has built 12 companies and applied for 9 patents, as well as attracted interest from more than 60 investors.
The pace of change today is the slowest it will ever be. – Mike Descheneaux, President, Silicon Valley Bank
More initiatives are set to come. Minister Heng announced two programmes in particular that are targeted at tertiary level institutions. The first is Lean LaunchPad (LLP), a national entrepreneurship training programmes spearheaded by several universities in Singapore. By pushing researchers to talk to potential users and customers and better understand user needs, Lean LaunchPad aims to increase the number of technologies that go to market. Each of the universities – the National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore Management University (SMU) and the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) – will run thematic tracks focused on different areas of tech, such as robotics and infocomm technology (ICT). 22 teams have been selected for the programme’s first run.
The other initiative that launched yesterday is Pollinate, an incubator that is targeted at students and alumni from Singapore’s polytechnics. Driven by Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Singapore Polytechnic and Temasek Polytechnic, Pollinate will give participants opportunities to collaborate with SMEs to address problems in the SME sector.
2. It’s important to think about the social implications of tech advancements as well
As technology and automation become more advanced and replace human jobs, will we create a class of useless people?
Will social structures change in the future from being governed in a centralised manner to something more self-organising?
These were some of the questions that arose during the panel discussion. Indeed, the social implications of tech developments are something that we should start thinking about. On the question of governance, Son was of the view that society will become more decentralised, with smaller communities.
The panelists acknowledged that the disruption brought about by tech advancements, and AI in particular, will make work redundant. There inevitably will be a class of people that will be left jobless.
Goertzel pointed out, however, that human beings can still carry out intellectual, spiritual and artistic pursuits.
There are a lot of things to do besides carrying out tasks to accumulate resources for your survival. – Ben Goertzel, Chief Scientist, Hanson Robotics
Yet, Singapore is a country where the social security system greatly favours vulnerable individuals who are at the very least engaged in some form of employment. For instance, one source of top-ups to the social security scheme – known as the Central Provident Fund (CPF) – is contributions from one’s employer. It is not clear how the elimination of an entire layer of jobs will be dealt with. Perhaps it’s time for us to start paying attention to the debate on universal basic income as a potential solution to the upcoming vulnerable class of jobless individuals.
3. Collaboration between incumbents and innovators is how magic is made
In response to a question by a member of the audience on how innovative and traditional companies can best work together to push boundaries, Bao Bean shared about the challenges that MNCs and startups face when working together. For starters, the goals of a MNC and a startup are very far apart and they tend to speak a different language. There therefore tends to be a difference in expectations when working together. In his experience working with startups and MNCs, the best approach seems to be to match a startup to an MNC where the startup works with the corporate on something specific and roll that out. Thus far, large corporates that he has worked with include Johnson & Johnson, Nestle and Visa.
Companies are good at executing. Startups are good at experimenting. It’s hard to bring those things together. – Steve Leonard, Founding CEO of SGInnovate
Yet, magic happens precisely at the intersection of experimentation and execution.Come say hi to he Dragons at SWITCH Singapore 2017!
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Attending SWITCH 2017?
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