“Being resourceful and having grit is the entrepreneurial way. Even when circumstances are not favourable, entrepreneurs will persist and find a way to make things work. These are skills that can be applied if you’re an employee or a business founder,” said Mr Jeffrey Tiong, founder of Patsnap, an IP analytic and management platform, and one of many prominent start-ups to have emerged from NUS Enterprise’s incubation efforts.
Recalling the founding of Patsnap 10 years ago, Jeffrey shared how he learnt skills like innovation, creativity and willingness to explore new opportunities when he participated in the NUS Overseas Colleges (NOC) programme between 2005 and 2006. He had spent one year in Philadelphia, US, interning with a medical technology company and studying at The Wharton School in the University of Pennsylvania.
For Jeffrey, entrepreneurial skills are useful even if you do not build companies. "For students who have the tendency or mindset of starting a business, the NOC helps move the needle, giving them the encouragement to take the final step. For those who already know they want to start a business, they can use the time overseas to network and build resources to start their venture," he said.
NOC’s success has recently inspired the government to take a leaf from it and introduce the Global Innovation Alliance (GIA), where Institutes of Higher Learning and companies will link up with overseas partners to provide internships or work attachments. The GIA was a key recommendation in the Committee on Future Economy report that outlines Singapore’s future economic blueprint.
Jeffrey thinks the GIA is a good idea. He suggested that participants should be selected from different backgrounds and experience. From his experience at Patsnap, diversity sparks innovation.
"Our management teams come from five nationalities and at last count our people are from 17 nationalities. Their varied backgrounds and culture offer different perspectives useful for our business. Individually we would have never thought of them.”
Entrepreneurship only came to Jeffrey after his NOC stint. “When I was young, the concept of a businessman was not so good. I observed that businessmen had to spend late nights, often drinking with customers. It didn’t appeal to me. I wanted to be an engineer,” he shared.
Jeffrey was in the US when YouTube was acquired by Google for US$1.65 billion. The news grabbed headlines, said Jeffrey, adding that “everyone said, anyone can just start a start-up and be equally successful”.
He was fired up and founded Patsnap after he graduated from NUS in 2007. The idea for the company came from his internship as a patent engineer with a medical technology firm in Philadelphia that was acquiring patents and creatively using them to create new products.
“Patsnap has few competitors. Traditionally other companies would offer patent intelligence for lawyers and patent engineers. From day one, Patsnap built a service for R&D people who don’t know how to read IP (intellectual property) information in legal documents. Our information is in business English so that scientists, engineers and business professionals can read the intelligence and make crucial business decisions,” said Jeffrey.
Initially, Patsnap set out to provide patent intelligence but it evolved to offer holistic innovation intelligence. In addition to patent filings and documentation, its intelligence reports include information gathered from scientific and professional publications, government research grants and clinical trials.
“Previously, a customer would manually search different data sources for information. Now Patsnap can aggregate all the information on one page on a digital dashboard, making it easy for our customers to make the smart correlation,” explained Jeffrey.
Patsnap is also turning to the latest technologies in artificial intelligence and machine learning to enhance its subscription-based service.
On 7 Mar, Patsnap announced that it will be investing $22 million in a research and development centre in Singapore. This centre is supported by the Singapore Economic Development Board. Since 2014, it has raised more than S$22 million in three fund raising rounds for product development and business expansion from six investors including Sequoia China, Shunwei Capital, Vertex Ventures and Summit Partners.
It employs nearly 500 people, based mostly in China, London and Singapore. Its revenue is doubling every year and has reached double digit millions. More than half its customers are in the US followed by a fast growing number in China. Jeffrey aims to list Patsnap in a US-based stock exchange.
By Grace Chng, a veteran tech writer who has been covering innovation and entrepreneurship since the first dotcom era in the 1990s