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Opening Address for IDA Chairman, Ms Yong Ying-I at Google Big Tent Event

29 October 2013 - Opening Address for IDA Chairman, Ms Yong Ying-I at Google Big Tent Event, Chijmes Hall, 29 October 2013, 3.30pm

Opening Address for IDA Chairman, Ms Yong Ying-I at Google Big Tent Event, Chijmes Hall, 29 October 2013, 3.30pm

Ms Susan Pointer,
Senior Director of Public Policy & Government Relations for Asia Pacific, Middle-East, Sub-Saharan Africa and Russia, Google Inc

Mr Julian Persaud,
Managing Director, South East Asia, Google Inc

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentleman

1. Good afternoon. It gives me great pleasure to open Google Big Tent Singapore. I am sure that the discussion this afternoon on enabling a culture of innovation in Singapore will be robust and thought-provoking, and you will gain new insights from the many perspectives and experiences being shared by different people here today.

The Important Role of Innovation for Singapore

2. Let me start by talking about one of our start-ups, Third Wave Power, which developed a portable multi-function solar charger known as mPowerpad. A first-of-its-kind, the device has many uses - from helping a rural village in Indonesia with limited power supply to providing power to travellers on adventure expeditions. And just as innovation is key to Third Wave Power's financial and environmental goals, innovation is also core to Singapore's competitive success. At Singapore's stage of development, we can no longer compete just by being more efficient or implement better than our competitors. We can only compete if we innovate.

3. Singapore government agencies have been working to energise and support an enabling environment for innovation to take place. We are now seeing a vibrant technology start-up ecosystem take off. Patents granted for instance, has risen around 30 per cent in the last two years, from 2010 to 2012. We have also seen several Singapore start-ups attaining international success; such as Viki, an on-demand video streaming website with user-generated subtitles; and YFind, which focuses on indoor positioning and real time analytics.

Innovation Built Upon Data & Analytics in a Smart Nation

4. IDA sees the data explosion as a big opportunity for Singapore. As you know, we are seeing a massive surge in data being created every day all around the world. To illustrate, if bytes were buckets of water, it will take just 20 weeks to fill the entire oceans of the planet with data.1 Now Singapore already has the infrastructure in place, the connectivity in our hands, a sophisticated customer base with high expectations, to be a Smart Nation. IDA believes that we can give our people, our businesses, our institutions the technology for them to capture, move and interpret data. Beyond better decision-making and performance, people can also to make new connections out of this data - in other words, to innovate new solutions and offerings that can drive economic growth, create good jobs and improve lives.

Government's Role in Supporting an Enabling Environment in a Smart Nation

5. The Singapore Government is encouraging open data and the proactive sharing of government data sets, to spur innovation. As part of this thrust, the Data Innovation Challenge was launched in June this year. The Challenge seeks to bring together the ecosystem comprising the industry, academia, start-ups and research institutes, to stimulate new ideas on what can be done with data. Almost 9,000 data sets from the public and private sectors will gradually be made available for participants to create innovative solutions through a many-minds approach.

6. Innovation in science and in data is also hands-on. IDA is developing a "tinkering environment" by setting up IDA Labs. We want to encourage everyone, regardless of age or roles, to try "tinkering with technology", to test things, make things yourself right within the office space. These IDA Labs will start off as a collaborative space for IDA staff and industry participants, complementing other labs in universities, research institutions and companies, to enable them to get hands-on on tinkering.

7. We hope this "tinkering environment" will achieve four objectives. First, to support local tech companies, through the testing, assessing and promoting of local IT products and solutions. This will build the credibility of our local start-ups and companies' products. Second, these start up tech companies will have opportunities to demo and showcase technology to various government bodies and industry partners. We hope this will spur greater adoption of their technology, giving them new markets and customers. Third, we hope to bring together the ecosystem players to interoperate and develop technology standards, guidelines and reference architectures for the local IT industry. Fourth, we also want to develop tech talents by encouraging passionate students and professionals to experiment.

8. Wearing my other hat as PS/Natl R&D, the National Research Foundation is also encouraging the translation of research developed in the universities and institutions into value creating businesses. There is a sizeable budget (above $1bn for the current 5 year funding period) to support schemes offered by a variety of government agencies in the name of innovation. This includes many schemes to researchers to develop proofs of concepts and prototypes, and others offered by SPRING Singapore, IDA and NRF, amongst others, to fund start-ups at various stages of the journey. Notable programmes in this stable include SPRING's Technology Enterprise Commercialisation Scheme (TECS) and NRF's Technology Incubation Scheme.

9. EndoMaster is one company which benefited from SPRING's TECS. With founders coming from our local universities, the biomedical start-up created a unique endoscopic robot with flexible arms that can remove stomach and colorectal tumours without any surgical cuts. HOYA, a Japanese optics technologies company, announced their investment in EndoMaster this year, which I think is a clear indicator of the innovation's market potential.

10. Digify is another young company that benefited from seed funding. The start-up provides cloud-based secure documents that are strictly controlled. Its services enable customers to secure, capture, and preserve secret information. Any secured document will simply disappear from the machine once read, (like in a move: this file will self-destruct after you finish reading!) Digify is currently seeking more funds to accelerate their product development, and I wish them success.

11. IDA is also building the enabling environment for data innovation in other ways, such as strengthening both our hard infrastructure and soft infrastructure. Let me define what they are. In the area of hard infrastructure, we are working on how to create a nationwide sensor network. Complementing this with our Next Generation Nationwide Broadband Network, we will have the ability to gather and move data nationally. This will provide invaluable information and insights into how things can be improved for the benefit of businesses and citizens.

12. Soft infrastructure is about the capabilities of our people, our tech talent. We need savvy technology practitioners in all businesses and industries, who understand the power of data analytics, who know what to do with data coming out of a national sensor network, and can partner business leaders to innovate new businesses out of this. We will help more people, young and not so young, learn how to analyse big data with tech tools, and to gel this with a business perspective to solve business challenges in organisations through technology and hopefully, will help these people to adopt a risk-taking mindset to try it.

13. I am confident that we have this talent. Our students are strong in mathematics and science. We hope to help students acquire the relevant IT skills and get industry exposure by connecting up with companies. IDA also organises yearly events such as the National Infocomm Competition and the National Infocomm Club Awards to provide challenges that we hope will stimulate interested students to go further in IT.

Call for Stronger Co-Innovation between the Government, Industry, Academia and Research Institutes to Build Singapore into a Smart Nation

14. I'd like to close with 2 points. First, I urge our budding innovators to have the resilience and courage to seek differential competitive advantage. I see a variety of funding proposals from start-ups and I do worry that many are pursuing "me-too" ideas in highly competitive spaces. Instead, do consider pursuing areas that leverage Singapore's competitive strengths, much like how YFind focused on indoor positioning for mobile phones using wifi and Digify focused on security.

15. The second point I would like to make is that I believe Singapore's strength lies in our interconnected ecosystem, and the ability to come together to create innovative and useful solutions for the future. There are many disadvantages to being small, but being able to bring the ecosystem into one Big Tent is our strength and advantage. There is no other nation in the world better placed than Singapore to unify policy, technology and industry towards being a Smart Nation. I hope we can all work together - the industry, researchers, our universities and polys, government and our citizens must come together and collaborate. Let's write the next chapter of the Singapore story together.

16. Thank you, and do enjoy the discussions under this Big Tent.

Note to Editor