Innovation for the digital future

Over 18,000 guests attended Innovfest Unbound 2019

Technological advancements like Artificial Intelligence (AI) have significantly transformed and impacted our lives in the digital age. Innovfest Unbound, the anchor event of the Smart Nations Innovation Week, held at Marina Bay Sands on 27 and 28 June, offered a platform for exploring Asian opportunities and collaboration, and also unveiled more groundbreaking developments for making headway in the digital economy. Organised by NUS Enterprise and Unbound in partnership with the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore, the annual festival, now in its fifth year, attracted more than 18,000 entrepreneurs, investors, corporates and technology start-ups from over 100 countries.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Mr S Iswaran, Minister for Communication and Information and Minister-in-Charge of Trade Relations, detailed how Singapore has made itself future-ready for the digital economy by investing in digital infrastructure like 5G, educating citizens and implementing legal frameworks that protect users without stifling innovation.


(From left:) NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye, Mr Iswaran and Prof Boey listening to a presentation by Craft Health, an NUS start-up

Mr Iswaran said that citizens, industry and the government need to work together towards a common cause of taking advantage of the opportunities that arise from digitalisation. "Amidst the current uncertainties and challenges, such mutually beneficial partnerships and exchanges are needed more than ever. This gathering at Innovfest Unbound 2019 is testament to that spirit of collaboration... I want to invite all of you, from the industry, from Singapore and abroad, to join us in this journey to build a trusted environment where barriers are removed and innovation can flourish to enable our businesses, citizens, and indeed the government to fully realise the potential and benefits of a digital economy," he added.

Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Transport and Ministry of Communications & Information Janil Puthucheary took the opportunity to share the government’s Trusted Data Sharing Framework that offers guidelines on sharing data and improving data flows.

“This is really a whole of nation effort. We in government need to recognise that there are benefits to the development of these types of services but there is a responsibility on us to protect our citizens. We need to engage with the private sector to persuade them to be willing participants and perhaps even seed new business models in that process and we need to educate our public and participate to protect our personal data so that we can arrive at the kind of trusted AI solutions that can help us to transform our Singapore through technology,” he said.


Dr Puthucheary (2nd from right) with Prince Andrew, Duke of York (3rd from right) at the exhibition (Photo: MCI)

At a discussion moderated by NUS Entrepreneurship Centre Director Professor Wong Poh Kam, panellists highlighted that universities can provide many resources such as the necessary infrastructure and technology that start-ups need. Regarding NUS Enterprise’s role in building up Singapore’s start-up ecosystem, Prof Wong said, “Singapore’s domestic market is so small, we also have to think about how to help our start-ups. Our students and our alumni who want to start a company have to go outside Singapore. That’s why besides establishing support facilities in Singapore, we also established Block71 in San Francisco; in Suzhou, China; in three cities in Indonesia… and we’re looking at hopefully extending some support in Vietnam and Thailand. So this is a long-term community support goal that NUS hopes to contribute.”


Prof Wong at his presentation on the NOC programme

Prof Wong, who was involved in the design and development of the NUS Overseas Colleges (NOC) curriculum since its inception, also made a keynote speech on the impact of the NOC programme’s entrepreneurial education. “Educational institutions can play an important role by shaping the environment that influences the individual. However, for entrepreneurship education to be effective it needs to have a significant experiential learning component. In addition, in an increasingly globalised world it is also important for entrepreneurship education to inculcate a global mindset to expose the young to the opportunity and competition in a global market,” he explained.

In another session, Provost Chair Professor and Director of the N.1 Institute for Health Professor Dean Ho gave a presentation on CURATE.AI, an AI platform developed by him and his team that optimises drug dosage for patients. He shared success stories such as a patient whose prostate cancer progression was halted within a week of going on the CURATE.AI study, and transplant recipients whose recovery was shortened by a month.


Prof Ho speaking about CURATE.AI

At the event, the NUS Graduate Research Innovation Program (GRIP) also cemented their partnership with Shenzhen Goldport Capital Management Co. Ltd. and Shenzhen Future Innovation Service Co. Ltd. with a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). This MOU will see the three parties co-invest and incubate start-up graduates from GRIP and provide them with the support and guidance to fast-track into the vast opportunities of the Chinese market.

Due to Singapore’s modest size, it may lack the market for start-ups, said Professor Freddy Boey, NUS Deputy President (Innovation & Enterprise) and Co-chairman of Innovfest Unbound. The GRIP team was thus privileged to connect with the Shenzhen organisations.  “For every GRIP project that we take on-board, Goldport Capital is prepared to put in dollar-for-dollar investment in the Chinese market… if you have a foot in a big market like China your valuation goes up almost automatically,” he explained.

A variety of showcases and pitching events during the two-day event, including one featuring the inaugural group of GRIP start-ups, allowed entrepreneurs to connect with potential investors and partners.

More than 300 exhibitors, ranging from major corporations like Cisco and Singapore Airlines to start-ups took part in the event. Over 30 NUS start-ups were represented, including Treatsure, a mobile reservation platform for surplus food; Craft Health, which offers 3D printed personalised medicine and supplements; Polybee, a drone-operated autonomous pollination system for indoor farms; and Bantu, an online volunteer management system that matches volunteers to social causes.