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From left to right: Yeo Hwee Lee, Director, Software & Solution Services, IBM Software Group, IBM Asia Pacific; Wendy Wong, Senior VP, Corporate Governance & Communications Office, GIC; Sam Witteveen, Founder, Red Dragon AI; Steve Leonard, Founding CEO, SGInnovate; Yap Jia Qing, Founder, Nurture.ai; Aziza Sheerin, Regional Director, General Assembly (GA); Scott Jones, MD, Six Kins; Tan Tin Wee, CEO, NSCC/ Credit: SGInnovate

From left to right: Yeo Hwee Lee, Director, Software & Solution Services, IBM Software Group, IBM Asia Pacific; Wendy Wong, Senior VP, Corporate Governance & Communications Office, GIC; Sam Witteveen, Founder, Red Dragon AI; Steve Leonard, Founding CEO, SGInnovate; Yap Jia Qing, Founder, Nurture.ai; Aziza Sheerin, Regional Director, General Assembly (GA); Scott Jones, MD, Six Kins; Tan Tin Wee, CEO, NSCC/ Credit: SGInnovate

SGInnovate to focus on Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain and MedTech and invest in 20 deep tech startups during 2018

Today SGInnovate announced its ‘Deep Tech Nexus’ Strategy as a direct result of experiences and insights gained in its first year of operation. The Deep Tech Nexus represents SGInnovate’s commitment to add tangible value to the Singapore deep tech startup ecosystem in two key areas – Human Capital and Investment Capital. Three technology areas have been selected for focus during 2018: Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain and MedTech.

Mr. Leonard said, “SGInnovate is itself a startup and, to echo DPM Tharman’s point when he launched us last year, we will keep prototyping and pivoting in the coming years. Building deep tech companies takes time. We feel good about the impact we have already made, and are looking forward with confidence to the year ahead.”

As part of this strategy, SGInnovate has partnered with like-minded industry players and global brands including General Assembly, GIC, IBM, National Supercomputing Centre (NSCC) Singapore, Nurture.ai, NVIDIA, Red Dragon AI and SingularityNET (Details of the partnerships are presented in the last section of the article).

Year One

SGInnovate was launched in November 2016 as a private limited company wholly owned by the Singapore Government, to support and develop the deep tech startup ecosystem in Singapore. It does so by investing in deep tech startups, helping them source talent and finding early adopter customers for them. It aims to leverage off Singapore’s strengths in academia and scientific research and create globally relevant companies by filling a gap in ‘business-building’ capabilities.

By the end of 2017, SGInnovate will have completed equity investments in 15 deep tech startups, played a part in generating 400 potential-customer leads for early-stage companies and built a network of more than 1,000 technical individuals interested in joining early-stage tech companies.

Mr. Steve Leonard, Founding CEO, SGInnovate said that Deep Tech Nexus strategy is built upon insights gained over the first year of operations of SGInnovate.

“Over the past year, we have met and worked with hundreds of researchers, founders, corporates and investors. Being so immersed in the deep tech founder community has given us a rich understanding of the specific challenges facing these entrepreneurs. Tackling these challenges gives our second year of operation great clarity and focus – and this has led to our Deep Tech Nexus Strategy,” he said.

Mr. Leonard outlined certain challenges faced during the first year, primarily attributable to risk aversion and inadequate knowledge on the part of different stakeholders. There wasn’t as much interest from the VC (venture capital) community for investing in very early stage deep tech companies as was expected. Often they are not very familiar with technologies, like say computer vision. Mr. Leonard said that the landscape is improving and one of the goals of SGInnovate’s community events for the coming year would be to generate more opportunities for people to know what’s happening at the cutting edge of technology.

Secondly, many are willing to be teammates no. 3 or 4, but not enough people are willing to take the plunge to be the initial founders of a startup. Most people would like to keep their day jobs, while trying their hand at a startup. Finally, there is scope for improvement in the participation of large corporates, which have a critical role to play in the startup ecosystem. Though most corporates are talking about innovation, setting up innovation labs, there is a lack of connection at the moment with startups. There needs to be greater engagement on that front.

At the same time, there has been more than expected interest in the community events. As part of its deep tech community building efforts, SGInnovate has created and hosted more than 100 events at its premises attracting a total of 9,000 participants. Now SGInnovate’s challenge is to help realise that evident potential. For the coming year, SGInnovate is targeting 150 community events at an average of 2-3 every week, drawing a total of 15,000 participants.

The coming year

Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain and MedTech

Based on market demand, SGInnovate has decided to focus in three technology areas for the coming year: Artificial Intelligence (AI), Blockchain and MedTech. Mr. Leonard said that AI and blockchain kept on coming up in conversations throughout the year.

The first two are transformational technologies that have horizontal applications to many industries.

During 2018, SGInnovate, which is a part of AI.SG, will be intensifying its efforts around AI, aligning with AI Singapore (AI.SG)’s mission to bring together Singapore-based research institutions, AI startups and corporates to enhance and expand Singapore's AI capabilities. SGInnovate will focus its efforts on the AI startups area.  

In the area of MedTech, SGInnovate will adopt a more ‘bespoke’ approach, working closely with companies on a one by one basis. This will happen on a limited scale but the impact of success could be huge.

(OpenGov asked Mr. Leonard during the media Q&A for a clarification regarding whether market demand was more about entrepreneurs, corporates or investors. Mr. Leonard replied that SGInnovate takes an entrepreneur first approach. Its objective is to help them realise their vision. So, SGInnovate would not seek out startups for finding solutions to defined problem statements from corporates or try to build a company which does A, B, C and D as demanded by an investor.

But SGInnovate invests in entities, which have gone through the Entrepreneur First program, which validates that these companies have something of value to potential customers, which is the corporates. Similarly, drawing investor interest is essential for survival. So, it is about striking balance between helping the entrepreneurs express themselves and meeting the requirements of investors and corporates.)

Human capital

SGInnovate’s work in the area of Human Capital will be pursued in three ways:

Strengthening Individual Talent Capabilities through a range of deep tech related learning opportunities. A series of programmes delivered by industry leaders will be undertaken to help people gain knowledge in working with tools at various competency levels in areas such as Machine Learning, Deep Learning and Data Analytics. The goal is to have 1,500 people participate in these programmes over the next two years.

Expanding Deep Tech Talent Network through active engagements locally and internationally to build an ever-increasing network of ambitious and capable people who want to build startups. The goal is to bring 2,000 high-potential talent into contact with high-potential deep tech startups based in Singapore by 2018. One of the initiatives being driven by SGInnovate in expanding the deep tech talent network is its Apprenticeship Programme, where a curated pool of students in STEM disciplines from local and overseas Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) are placed within a select number of Singapore's promising deep technology startups.

Strengthening Deep Tech Communities through a host of deep tech related networking events by bringing together researchers, entrepreneurs and investors to share experiences on a wide range of topics. These events serve as a way to raise the intellectual debate, as well as pursue opportunities to get more people to know more about important future topics. The goal is to have 15,000 participants taking part in over 150 events throughout 2018 across various community meet-ups.

Above image: Training roadmap/ Credit: SGInnovate

Investment Capital

Investing Equity in Early-Stage Deep Tech Startups. The goal is to make direct investments into at least 20 deep tech startups founded in Singapore in 2018 ranging from pre-seed (less than 100,000), seed (100,000 to 1 million) to Series A stages (more than 1 million). SGInnovate will also be managing a portion of the SG Equity fund, and will be co-investing into deep tech startups alongside private-sector VCs including Jungle Ventures, NSI Ventures and Vickers Partners.

Business Building Support where SGInnovate will journey with startups in which it invests, supporting them in growing and scaling their businesses – via connection to business use cases, customer sales, talent acquisition, technical advisory and more.

Collaborative Spaces where deep tech startups, education events and community events can co-exist for mutual benefit. All activities will continue to take place at SGInnovate’s locations at 32 Carpenter Street (more than 16,000 square feet) and BASH (more than 25,000 square feet).

In line with the Deep Tech Nexus Strategy, BASH will be undergoing renovation works and will be operational again in Q1 2018. Some key features of the revitalised BASH will include more enclosed rooms to allow early-stage companies to have privacy (such as AI companies concerned about the confidentiality of their data), expanded training areas to house more education programmes in areas relating to AI, and access to AI-tuned computing resources. In addition, there will be a new area dedicated to the companies formed under the Entrepreneur First (EF) Singapore programme.

List of partnerships

General Assembly: SGInnovate will work with General Assembly to organise workshops and courses in Python, Machine Learning and Data Science, to equip an estimated 250 trainees with fundamental programming skills and principles before moving on to more advanced Deep Learning concepts.

GIC: SGInnovate will work with GIC, which manages to Singapore's foreign reserves, to co-curate and/or co-brand industry events, targeting areas related to AI, machine learning, data analytics and deep tech ecosystem. These events will focus on promoting thought leadership and community building by bringing in subject matter experts to talk about key industry trends, and real-world applications of AI and deep technologies.

IBM: SGInnovate will work with IBM to organise AI training courses for undergraduate students from IT related academic programmes such as computer science and software engineering. The AI career path aims to prepare an estimated 50 students in applying AI in real life.

SGInnovate and IBM would engage with the AI and deep tech ecosystem through co-curated and/or co-branded industry events. These events would focus on industry trends, case studies, real-world applications, etc. of AI and deep technologies, including (but not limited to) blockchain, robotics, machine learning, and medtech. These events will take place regularly, with a target of 10-12 events in 2018.

National Supercomputing Centre (NSCC) Singapore: SGInnovate will work with NSCC to organise training in AI and High Performance Computing. SGInnovate-supported startups and trainees will have access to HPC/AI computing resources, which will include those provisioned under the NSCC-NVIDIA AI.Platform collaboration (comprising DGX-1 Volta V100 and access to Saturn V), as well as NSCC’s existing 1 PetaFLOPS supercomputing called ASPIRE1 (Advanced Supercomputer for Petascale Innovation, Research and Enterprise) that comes with 13 petabytes of high performance storage with global connectivity at up to 100Gbps.

Nurture.ai: SGInnovate will be working with Nurture.ai to build a strong community of enthusiasts and experts who would be trained in AI. Nurture.ai enables this through organising free study groups using Stanford University's course material on deep neural networks, where participants get to discuss the most cutting-edge AI models covered in the lectures, read the relevant research papers with peers and implement these models as open-source code.

SGInnovate is also a partner to the Global NIPS Paper Implementation Challenge organised by Nurture.ai, which has seen more than 600 applications globally so far and 30+ expert mentors including researchers from the Baidu Silicon Valley AI Lab, Amazon Core Machine Learning Research team, NVIDIA, SAP, Stanford University and several authors of papers accepted at the Conference for Neural Information Processing Systems – the most prestigious AI research conference in the world.

NVIDIA: Partnering with NVIDIA Deep Learning Institute (DLI), SGInnovate will be conducting DLI workshops and offering hands-on training for developers, data scientists, and researchers looking to solve the world’s most challenging problems with deep learning. The goal is to train 1,000 developers over the next two years.

Red Dragon AI: SGInnovate will be working with Red Dragon AI to organise various advanced AI training sessions. Using industry standard frameworks such as TensorFlow, Keras & PyTorch, students will learn Deep Learning as applied to a variety of different practical applications including computer vision, natural language and time series information. They will then be applying those skills to make real world AI products and services. At least 100 students will participate in the advanced training sessions over the next year.

With a member count of close to 2,000, Red Dragon AI would be looking to organise multiple TensorFlow, PyTorch & Deep Learning meetups with SGInnovate in the next year. The target is to reach out to more than 1,000 participants.

SingularityNET: Together with SGInnovate, SingularityNET will co-host meetups and provide speakers and technical experts in the areas of blockchain, smart contracts, AI & robotics to drive discussions and inspire new ideas. In 2018, the target is to reach out to a community of over 2,000 people.

Through the partnership, startups within the SGInnovate community will get early access to SingularityNET, with SingularityNET providing technical guidance to enable them to integrate, monetise and scale their AI technologies.

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