NUS invests $1.5m in 15 deep-tech start-ups

22 January 2019 | Entrepreneurship
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From left: Dr Zhu and Dr Tan, creators of NUSoil

Twenty start-ups under the new Graduate Research Innovation Programme (GRIP) pitched their ideas to potential investors at a Lift-Off event organised by the NUS Industry Liaison Office on 19 January. The teams, shortlisted from more than 90 applications received, showcased working prototypes featuring a broad range of deep technologies in three key tracks: engineering, biomedical, as well as information and communications technology (ICT) and lifestyle.

Of these, fifteen teams were selected to receive an initial tranche of $50,000 each in seed funding by NUS.

“The 15 start-ups selected for funding have all shown strong market and business potential. We are pleased to give them a big push in their start-up journey and, in turn, accelerate the transfer of these innovations to the market, both locally and globally,” said Professor Freddy Boey, NUS Senior Vice President (Graduate Education & Research Translation). In the long run, he hopes that they will become successful deep-tech companies and create innovation-based jobs and entrepreneurs for the Singapore economy.

Among those selected in the biomedical category is NUSoil, a soil supplement that helps plants survive in drought conditions. Created by Research Fellows from the NUS Environmental Research Institute Dr Tan Wee Kee and Dr Zhu Jingling, the patented suberabsorbent hydrogel — InnoGroTM — is made from okara, the by-product of the soy food industry, and acts as a mini-reservoir to retain water and nutrients closer to the roots of plants for longer periods of time, before gradually biodegrading in a controlled manner to release water and nutrients.

Under the engineering track, NewGen Gas, created by Research Fellow Dr Maninder Khurana from NUS Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, offers a low-cost and safe way of storing natural gas in the form of gas hydrates called solidified natural gas. The hydrates can be stored at zero degree Celsius and at atmospheric pressure, eliminating the need for cryogenic conditions of liquefied natural gas or high pressure risks of compressed natural gas, and potentially reducing storage costs by 50 per cent.

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Dr Khurana developed NewGen Gas

Another team selected was Vox Dei under the ICT and lifestyle track. PhD student Jennifer Dodgson and Research Associate Pei Junjie, both from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at NUS, developed a software that is able to analyse large amounts of text quickly and accurately to spot categories, concepts and trends and make meaningful connections. Unlike existing text analysis methods like latent semantic indexing and natural language processing, Vox Dei utilises a simple algorithm and only requires the processing power of a typical notebook.

Other selected projects included an AI-based system to administer epidural injections efficiently, a wireless Autonomous Underwater and Surface Vehicle for maritime applications, and a software that promises high-quality video streaming.

The 15 start-ups selected for funding have all shown strong market and business potential. We are pleased to give them a big push in their start-up journey and, in turn, accelerate the transfer of these innovations to the market, both locally and globally.

The start-ups participated in an intensive three-month business validation and venture creation programme, working alongside seasoned tech company veterans to develop an operational business model, IP licensing and developmental plan, and go-to-market strategies. They also worked closely with Master Engineers to develop working prototypes.

This early investment will enable the start-ups to fine-tune their prototypes as they attempt to secure a further $50,000 in external funding, a prerequisite to receiving a second tranche of $50,000 by NUS. Meanwhile, the University will continue to provide project management advice, access to prototyping services and lab facilities, and support in raising additional funding.

“NUS GRIP has opened up an arena beyond science that encourages me to step out of my comfort zone. The training is very enriching and fulfilling. The funding from GRIP relieves us from the immediate monetary constraints and allows us to focus on translating lab-based ideas to marketable ventures,” commented Dr Tan of the programme.

NUS GRIP was launched in September 2018, with the University committing $25 million to co-create up to 250 start-ups with talented graduate students, post-doctoral fellows and research staff over a five-year period.

See press release.