Southeast Asia’s largest innovation festival innovfest unbound, organised by NUS Enterprise and unbound in partnership with the Info-communications Media Development Authority, returned to Marina Bay Sands from 5 to 6 June, connecting close to 14,000 entrepreneurs, corporates, investors, government agencies and technology start-ups from over 100 countries to share insights on the region’s most innovative developments. The festival is the anchor event of the Smart Nation Innovations Week.
Delivering the welcome address, Guest-of-Honour Mr S Iswaran, Minister for Communications and Information said that innovfest unbound provides an excellent opportunity to exchange ideas, strengthen partnerships and share experiences, while showcasing Singapore to the world. “Like many companies and entrepreneurs that are featured this week, Singapore has had to think and operate like a start-up to survive as a small open city-state. We have had to be nimble, act quickly, and constantly seek new markets to grow and improve our people's lives. In our next phase of development, we aim to be one of the world's leading Smart Nations,” he said. To do this, the government would focus on leveraging technology such as artificial intelligence (AI), harnessing data and enhancing international networks.
Dr Lily Chan, CEO of NUS Enterprise and co-chair of innovfest unbound added that the event acts as a “catalyst to encourage and empower the next generation of entrepreneurs, leaders and game changers; helping to drive innovation and enterprise across the region”.
Participants of the two-day festival were able to learn more about trends shaping the world of technology through key pillars focusing on the following topics: AI; e-Commerce and Payment; Internet of Things; Immersive Media and Storytelling; The Digital Consumer and Generation Z; Future Talent; and Open Innovation.
In addition, more than 300 speakers from established players such as Airbnb, Bosch, Facebook, Johnson & Johnson, Netflix, Nissan, Sephora, The Coca-Cola Company, Twitter and Walmart shared their experiences with the audience through insightful talks and panel discussions.
Grab co-founder and CEO Mr Anthony Tan was a popular speaker, no doubt due in part to recent shake-ups in the ride-hailing industry. He captured the audience’s attention with his vision to impact over 100 million micro-entrepreneurs and his announcement — in conjunction with Grab’s sixth birthday — of the official launch of Grab Ventures, an accelerator programme to develop technology start-ups. “We can show the world that start-ups from Southeast Asia can solve real world problems like poverty, hunger and environmental problems…for Southeast Asians, for the people in this room,” said Mr Tan.
Indonesian rival Go-Jek’s Chief Marketing Officer Mr Piotr Jakubowski also took to the stage, sharing that Go-Jek is transforming itself to shatter artificial limitations and write its own playbook because “innovation requires you to take these best practices that you have, throw them out the door, roll up your sleeves and actually get to work”.
NUS Senior Deputy President and Provost Professor Ho Teck Hua gave an informative talk espousing the benefits of AI in drug discovery, talent search, smart robotics and providing human-like assistance. While highlighting the immense power of AI in learning and accumulation of knowledge, Prof Ho was quick to point out that he did not think AI would completely replace humans in the near future. “AI has huge potential for narrowly defined areas, they can do it really well, but to be able to do a range of things well? Unlikely. Not within the next 30 or 40 years,” he said.
The festival also saw the official launch of Port Innovation Ecosystem Reimagined @ Block71 (PIER71) by Dr Lam Pin Min, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Transport and Ministry of Health. The industry-wide acceleration programme, a joint initiative by NUS Enterprise and the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA Singapore), aims to grow a vibrant maritime entrepreneurial and innovation ecosystem to drive competitiveness in line with the Sea Transport Industry Transformation Map.
NUS Enterprise extended its support to PIER71 start-ups by signing four Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with start-up hubs INNOSPACE and Rainmaking Innovation, and maritime companies Wärtsilä and Wilhelmsen to improve access to resources for young firms in the industry. This was followed by an engaging conversation with start-up founders Mr Alvin Ea of B2B container haulage platform Haulio, Mr Shamir Rahim of transport management provider VersaFleet, and Mr Aaron Gong of MyBot, moderated by Mr Steen Lund from the Singapore Shipping Association. The speakers touched on how new technology can enhance the traditionally manual maritime industry, with Alvin saying “it’s an industry that is very hidden, but it’s a hidden pot of gold”.
Two other MOUs were signed at innovfest unbound — between the University and Innosparks, an ST Engineering Open Lab, to co-create a technology incubation programme for NUS graduate students and spin-off companies; as well as between NUS and Gardens by the Bay to test-bed autonomous scooters within the Garden’s premises and explore their potential for enhanced visitor experience.
Guests also had an exclusive peek at more than 350 of Asia’s hottest technological products and start-ups, which included NUS start-ups such as Luggage Teleport, an on-demand luggage delivery service; Park N Parcel, a convenient parcel delivery service; and Swirl.GO, a capsule dispensing system for premium soft serve ice cream. Said Founder and CEO of Swirl.GO Mr Jeremy Tan, “innovfest unbound offered us a chance to gain wide exposure for our start-up among innovators, investors and potential collaborators and drive the next stage of our business growth, all in a single event.”