A new home for innovation

05 September 2018 | Research
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Mr Heng (3rd from left), together with Prof Tan (far left) and Senior Vice President (Graduate Education & Research Translation) Prof Freddy Boey (2nd from right) viewing the research of one of the GRIP awardees

The NUS Smart Nation Research Cluster has a new home. Officially launched on 4 September by Guest-of-Honour Minister for Finance and Chairman of the National Research Foundation Singapore Mr Heng Swee Keat, the new building — innovation4.0 (i4.0) — is the University’s latest contribution to Singapore’s Smart Nation Initiative.

The launch of the building marks the consolidation and further expansion of NUS’ digital innovation activities, said NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye.  “We envisage that i4.0 will become a thriving ecosystem that encourages collaboration and synergy. The highly motivated community of digital innovators at i4.0 will further promote the creation of new ideas and generate spin-offs from our digital research and development efforts,” he added.

The six-storey state-of-the-art building currently houses 12 interdisciplinary research entities focusing on three key areas — Big Data, Analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI); Security, Privacy and Risk; as well as Modelling, Simulation and Visualisation. By the end of 2019, eight more research entities are expected to join them and in two years’ time, when all the entities are fully operational, i4.0 will be home to more than 1,000 researchers, innovators and supporting staff. The building also features a dedicated Makerspace where up to 100 entrepreneurs from digital-related start-ups and spin-offs can work together and develop ideas.

“The dream is that this will be the preferred location in Southeast Asia for the digital technology of the future,” said Senior Deputy President and Provost Professor Ho Teck Hua, who leads the NUS Smart Nation Research Cluster.

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From left: NUS Deputy President (Research and Technology) Prof Chen Tsuhan, Prof Tan, Mr Heng, Prof Ho and Prof Boey at the official launch of i4.0

Mr Heng noted in his speech the strategic location of i4.0 — in close proximity to NUS Computing, NUS Business and NUS Enterprise — and commented that this brings together people of different backgrounds, expertise and perspectives to push boundaries “and in the process create new sparks and find new frontiers”.

“By co-locating complementary programmes in i4.0, the entire value chain to unlock innovation and create value from our digital assets can now be found at a single location…I am confident that the building, which is purpose-built and strategically located, will provide a unique environment for like-minded partners to interact and discover ways to make an impact that might not have been possible otherwise,” he said.

We envisage that i4.0 will become a thriving ecosystem that encourages collaboration and synergy. The highly motivated community of digital innovators at i4.0 will further promote the creation of new ideas and generate spin-offs from our digital research and development efforts.

The University also took the launch opportunity to introduce the Graduate Research Innovation Programme (GRIP) managed by the NUS Industry Liaison Office (ILO), which also recently relocated to i4.0 to assist in accelerating the commercialisation of research results. Hoping to tap on the University’s talented pool of graduate students, post-doctoral fellows and research staff to develop high potential start-ups based on deep technologies, NUS will commit $25 million to co-create up to 250 companies over the next five years.

Successful candidates under the Programme will embark on an intensive three-month business validation and venture creation programme. They will have the opportunity to work alongside seasoned technology company veterans to develop their start-up ideas, including creating an operational business model and go-to marketing strategies. A team of experienced ILO staff will also be on hand to assist in areas such as prototyping and the filing and disclosure of patents.

After the three-month venture creation programme, the innovators will be evaluated by a panel and vie for a first tranche of investment of $50,000, which will enable them to continue engaging with their mentors and develop their prototype. Upon receiving a further external investment or innovation grant, a second tranche of $50,000 will be invested by NUS.

“Mentorship and funding are crucial for early-stage start-ups. NUS GRIP aims to guide and support our talented graduate students and researchers as they kick-start their ventures. We hope to create a strong pipeline of research-based technology companies that will introduce innovative applications and technologies to Singapore and the global markets. Each of these tech-based start-ups would create innovation-based jobs, benefitting the Singapore economy in the long run,” commented Prof Tan.

Some projects that have been selected under GRIP include a digital in-vitro fertilisation unit, a device that uses breath analysis to diagnose heart failure, a gel that can help to retain water in soil, as well as a multisource video streaming solution.

The event also saw the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between national AI programme AI Singapore, hosted at i4.0, and Element AI, one of the world’s leading applied AI companies. This partnership, Element AI’s first in the ASEAN region, hopes to explore AI projects that contribute to industry transformation efforts in the areas of Supply Chains and Financial Services.

See press release.

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The building comprises open-concept workstations to facilitate collaboration and the sharing of ideas