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Singapore wants to attract deep tech companies, confident of being ASEAN’s startup hub

· Editorials

Diagnosing a brain tumour is a laborious process. Thousands of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) images must be checked before a diagnosis can be made. Singapore startup Hanalytics solved this problem with an AI-based system called BioMindTM which makes diagnosis much faster and easier as well as less prone to human error.

It was developed at a research centre jointly run by Hanalytics and Beijing Tiantan Hospital. BioMindTM has been "trained" on a huge collection of MRI and CT records of the hospital's past diagnoses. BioMindTM uses AI to comb through the MRI images and records to identify where the condition is, what it is and come up with a report. It makes these decisions in a second what an experienced doctor would take 30 minutes to complete. And it has an accuracy of 90 per cent compared with a human doctor’s accuracy of 60 per cent.

Hanalytics is an example of a deep tech startup. Whilst Singapore is home to many hi-tech startups, particularly in the digital commerce space, dimensional changes are taking place in the ecosystem. Increasingly more deep tech startups based on strong scientific discoveries and engineering innovations, are being founded globally. This new wave of commercialisation adds diversity and vibrancy to the innovation ecosystem here here.

Singapore’s R&D strategy has evolved from the early days in the 1990s when the focus was on supporting multinational corporations with research activities here. The Government has invested, and continues to invest in R&D in universities and research agencies. These efforts have been recognised. Earlier this year, Singapore was named the fifth most innovative country in the world in the Global Innovation Index published by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (Wipo), Cornell University and INSEAD. Singapore is the only Asian country in the top 10 most innovative countries.

Part of the recognition is attributed to Singapore’s efforts to attract startups, venture capital firms, investors and entrepreneurs to the country, supported with funding, financial incentives, and a strong research talent base. Singapore now has a very lively and dynamic startup ecosystem. Currently, Singapore is recognised as the startup hub in ASEAN. According to the Singapore VC Association (SVCA), a record US$23.5 billion of investment funds poured into Southeast Asia in 2017, much of which flowed through Singapore.

Given this landscape, Singapore is well positioned to create vibrant and creative companies that can plug into ASEAN and the world. To build more connections between researchers and entrepreneurs and industry and international partners, SWITCH was created to provide a space where researchers, startups and entrepreneurs can network, share and collaborate with venture capitalists and corporations interested in acquiring technology.

This year represented the third edition of SWITCH. It will be held from Sept 17 to 19 at the Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre, with offsite visits to the heart of Singapore’s innovation and ecosystem on Sept 20. More than 11,000 innovation leaders, policy makers, venture capitalists, scientists and business professionals are expected to attend the 15 partner events held at SWITCH.

More than 250 startups will showcase their innovative products and services at SWITCH, which is co-organised by National Research Foundation and Enterprise Singapore this year. Among them is Singapore startup Photovoltaic Foundry (PvFoundry) which has developed new solar panels that pack in more cells than a conventional module, increasing the energy efficiency and power of each panel. PvFoundry has been shortlisted by HDB to provide solar power for its residential blocks.

During SWITCH discussions will take place on angel investing, doing business with China and ASEAN, the rising influence of deep tech startups, encouraging more women to enter the technology industry, the intersection of lifestyle and technology and much more.

Since 2018 is the ASEAN-China year of innovation, discussions between these two regions on technology collaboration are important. For the first time, China tech and innovation giants TechNode and CYZone will organise partner events to discuss issues related to bridging the Chinese and global tech ecosystems. TechNode founder Dr Lu Gang spoke at a recent SWITCH press briefing and said that he recognises that Singapore’s startup ecosystem is booming and that it acts as the gateway to Southeast Asia. This is the place, he said, where you learn what’s really happening in the Asian tech space.

SWITCH also features a global pitching competition. Up to eighty startups will be selected out of 1,000 submissions from 83 countries to pitch at SLINGSHOT@SWITCH, powered by Startup SG. The competition aims to uncover new innovations and attract those companies and their founders to re-locate to Singapore to roll out their business ideas.

If tired of sitting in discussions, participants can sign up for various offsite visits to various organisations leading the way in the startup and entrepreneurship ecosystems. They include visits to NUS Enterprise which has run a successful overseas startup internship programme; supply chain company YCH, engineering consultancy Hope Technik and DBS Bank, which has been named as the world’s best bank this year.

One thing that investors, entrepreneurs and researchers will take away from SWITCH is the new ideas from deep tech industries and the experience of doing business in China and ASEAN. We encourage you to come and be involved in this tech festival.

Grace CHNG is a veteran tech writer and author.

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