InnovFest 2023: Pushing the boundaries of ideas, innovation and impact for Asia and the world

InnovFest x Elevating Founders, the highly anticipated flagship tech innovation conference in Asia, returned as the official start-up event of Asia Tech x Singapore (ATxSG) from 7 to 9 June 2023, bringing together university start-ups, entrepreneurs, and other ecosystem players from around the globe.

Organised by NUS Enterprise, in partnership with Informa Tech, InnovFest stands out as the largest tech event of its kind in the region. With a focus on pushing the boundaries of ideas, innovation and impact for Asia and the world, this year’s event delved into the latest in technology and innovation advancements across three key themes: Health and Human Potential, Energy and Environment, and Future of Food.

“InnovFest is an exceptional event that brings together so many start-ups, entrepreneurs and universities. By showcasing these promising start-ups from across the region, the event successfully bridges the gap between academic and research strengths and real-world problem-solving, and commercialisation opportunities. This not only benefits the participating start-ups, but also propels the region’s start-up ecosystem to new heights,” said Professor Chee Yeow Meng, Chair of InnovFest Organising Committee and NUS Vice President (Innovation and Enterprise).

InnovFest: By the numbers

5,500+ visitors from across the world

50+ speakers, panelists and thought leaders sharing their knowledge

100+ companies and solutions for Health, Energy and Environment, Future of Food and Industry 5.0 from across Asia showcasing their innovations and technologies

From dreamers to innovators: The rise of young start-ups and entrepreneurs

In his welcome address at the event, Deputy President (Innovation and Enterprise) Professor Chen Tsuhan, said, “NUS Enterprise has been organising InnovFest since 2009. We continue to hold this event because start-ups push the boundaries of ideas, innovation and impact for Asia and the world. Our role at NUS Enterprise is to support their vision and help them translate innovative ideas into reality.”

Prof Chen also highlighted NUS Enterprise’s commitment to supporting young start-ups and entrepreneurs through diverse programmes and initiatives, such as the Smart Port Challenge, an annual flagship programme under PIER71TM. In addition, NUS Enterprise will form two new partnerships with the Indonesian Endowment Fund for Education agency, Lembaga Pengelola Dana Pendidikan and the Vietnam National Innovation Centre to collaborate on entrepreneurship education and start-up support.

From innovators to economic disruptors: Start-ups paving the way for growth

Guest-of-honour, Dr Janil Puthucheary, Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information, highlighted the significant role that universities like NUS play in helping start-ups internationalise through partnership opportunities. These partnerships provide access to new skills, knowledge, overseas markets, funding opportunities and other resources, which are particularly valuable in a small country like Singapore.

“Since 2001, NUS Enterprise has nurtured close to 3,000 start-ups and created 11 unicorns. NUS-affiliated start-ups are currently valued at US$29 billion, equivalent to about one-third of the total valuation of Singapore's start-up ecosystem,” said Dr Janil in his opening speech.

He added, “The development of the start-up ecosystem is important to the region’s growth, and InnovFest serves as an important example of NUS Enterprise’s commitment to nurturing and supporting university start-ups. By providing platforms for exposure to regional communities and facilitating partnerships and collaborations, InnovFest plays a significant role in the establishment as well as the development of a robust and thriving start-up ecosystem here in Singapore.”

Dr Janil affirmed that the Government also has a part to play in helping start-ups scale and grow globally, such as through their Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) 2025 Plan. They will continue to foster Singapore’s vibrant start-up ecosystem by leveraging the four key pieces that are already in place: Big Ideas, Talents, Capital, and Infrastructure. With these initiatives, Singapore is set to become an even more dynamic hub for entrepreneurial ventures.

The tech revolution: Empowering future generations through digital transformation

Opening keynote speaker, Ms Joyce Lee, Global CIO & Global Vice President, Pharmaceuticals at Johnson & Johnson, discussed the power of digital transformation and its impact on the entrepreneurial landscape. As technology continues to advance, it creates exciting new opportunities for start-ups to explore uncharted territories. To this end, she encouraged start-ups to be adventurous in trying new ideas, exploring different industries, and working in diverse cultures and communities to foster a global perspective.

Within the healthcare sector, Ms Lee recognised the immense potential for innovation amidst technological advancements. “There are still many unmet needs,” she noted, highlighting the existing gaps that remain to be filled. “There are several key trends in recent years that shape healthcare, and these trends will continue to disrupt and play a key role in healthcare and transform the future.” She also encouraged the audience to think about how they can play a role in shaping the future of healthcare — “a future where diseases are a thing of the past”.

Tech for good: Rethinking food security, health, sustainability and more

The latest cohort of tech start-ups from BLOCK71 Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam, as well as industry leaders from the region, shared insights on how businesses are turning to technology to solve problems in the areas such as Climate, Health, and Green Energy:

Who are the newest start-ups from BLOCK71 Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam?

BLOCK71’s Global Start-up Runway is a year-long programme designed to help the most promising start-ups leverage BLOCK71 and their partners’ global network and scale high-impact solutions in Asia. This year, a diverse range of start-up founders spanning fintech, food tech to cybersecurity had the chance to present their groundbreaking solutions to a panel of venture capitalists as part of the “BLOCK71 Global Runway: Southeast Asia Demo Day”. The start-ups were e-Payment platform CeePay, smart business tech company Chain, research and data science consultancy Datality Lab, food tech company Meatless Kingdom, cybersecurity solutions company PolyDigi, generative AI company Soca AI, food sustainability company Spiralife and adaptive learning platform ZenKlass.

Together, these eight tech start-ups supported by NUS Enterprise, showcased the incredible potential that arises when passion and purpose converge, leaving an indelible mark on the region's entrepreneurial landscape.

How can we advance the frontiers of human potential?

In the ever-changing digital landscape, technologies continue to reshape industries, revolutionise work processes, and unlock the vast potential within us. What is the profound impact of these technologies on our lives? How do they empower us to achieve greater productivity, creativity and innovation?

NUS Associate Vice President (Enterprise) Associate Professor Benjamin Tee, shared valuable insights on the increasing use of technological innovation, specifically artificial intelligence (AI) in the healthcare field. From administrative tasks to clinical decision support, AI enhances system efficiency and improves patient outcomes. However, along with the benefits, there are risks and ethical concerns that arise if AI is not safely designed and implemented.

Addressing these concerns, Assoc Prof Benjamin Tee discussed the challenge of ensuring that the data sets fed into AI models are comprehensive enough to cover all possible scenarios, even those that may be in the minority. He added, “Another challenge is that AI is a probabilistic model. It does not work a lot on logic even though it can guess logic.” It is, therefore, crucial to utilise these tools while understanding their inherent limitations, just like any other technology.  

Mr Bryan Chua, CTO for Strategic Customers, Microsoft, stressed the importance of responsible AI practices. He highlighted the need for AI systems to treat all individuals fairly, perform reliably and safely, as well as undergo thorough testing in various scenarios to eliminate any potential for discriminatory actions.

How can nature-based climate solutions (NCS) address climate change and biodiversity loss?

Nature-based climate solutions (NCS) are climate mitigation strategies that harness natural processes to reduce or remove greenhouse gases. These solutions can be categorised into three groups: protecting, restoring and improving the management of agriculture and forestry. Given the pressing issues of climate change and biodiversity loss, how can we strike a delicate balance between sustainability and development?

During his keynote session, Professor Koh Lian Pin, Director of the NUS Centre for Nature-based Climate Solutions, shared examples of NCS such as protecting threatened forests and mangroves and reforesting city green spaces. It is worth noting that tropical regions, including Southeast Asia, hold significant potential for implementing such solutions to address climate impacts. However, they also come with trade-offs that can limit their overall effectiveness.

Prof Koh emphasised the need for a holistic understanding of the benefits and limitations of nature-based solutions to better inform climate policies. “To deal with these risks and constraints, we need to continue to invest in better science and methodologies to improve our monitoring, reporting and verification of these carbon projects… At NUS, we are embarking on a new research programme to do exactly that — to develop new methodologies and science to inform the development of new standards when it comes to NCS,” he added.


By NUS Enterprise