NUS launches innovation4.0 – the latest focal point for digital innovation

University commits S$25 million over five years to seed, incubate and launch up to 250 deep-tech start-ups 

The National University of Singapore (NUS) has launched the innovation4.0 (i4.0) building, the University’s latest contribution to Singapore’s Smart Nation initiative. The launch ceremony, which was held earlier today, was officiated by Mr Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Finance and Chairman of the National Research Foundation. 

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Mr Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Finance and Chairman of the National Research Foundation, viewing a display on NUSoil-Nutrigel, a start-up idea supported by the NUS Graduate Research Innovation Programme (NUS GRIP), during the launch of the new NUS innovation4.0 building.

This six-storey building is the home of the NUS Smart Nation Research Cluster, providing 15,400 sqm of research, office and interaction spaces. Currently, i4.0 houses 12 interdisciplinary research entities responsible for building the University’s strategic capabilities in artificial intelligence, data science, analytics, modelling, simulation and optimisation, as well as cybersecurity that will drive Singapore’s digital transformation. Up to eight additional research entities are expected to move into the building by the end of 2019. The University’s technology transfer office – NUS Industry Liaison Office (ILO) – is also located in i4.0 to accelerate the transfer of NUS’ digital innovations to the commercial marketplace. 

NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye said, “The inauguration of innovation4.0 today marks the consolidation and further expansion of NUS’ digital innovation activities. This state-of-the-art building not only houses the key R&D initiatives in the NUS Smart Nation Research Cluster, but also the entire value chain needed to bring innovations and solutions from the lab to the market. 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 R&D efforts.”

The building comprises open-concept workstations and plenty of interactive work spaces where innovative ideas for areas such as smart mobility, smart living, digital health, social connectivity, fintech and intelligent logistics would be created, built upon and eventually take flight. Some interesting features of i4.0 include the Makerspace for entrepreneurial activities, smart cafe, and double-volume lobby and atrium lounges which are conveniently located at the ground level. The WiFi connection in i4.0 is also among the fastest in Singapore. 

i4.0 was awarded Green Mark Platinum in 2017 by the Building & Construction Authority. Sustainable building features include smart building controls, energy-efficient lighting and heat exchange, enhanced building envelope with 40 per cent additional daylight fenestration, green wall as well as alfresco landscaped terraces. Refurbishment works in the building commenced in November 2016 and were completed in the first quarter of 2018.
In two years’ time, when all the entities in the building are fully operational, i4.0 will house more than 1,000 researchers, innovators and supporting staff. Please refer to Annex 1 for the list of entities currently located in i4.0. 

NUS Graduate Research Innovation Programme (NUS GRIP)

In conjunction with the launch of i4.0, NUS also announced a new initiative called the NUS Graduate Research Innovation Programme (GRIP) which will tap on the University’s talented graduate students, post-doctoral fellows and research staff to establish and run high potential start-ups based on deep technologies. Through GRIP, which is hosted at i4.0, NUS will commit S$25 million to co-create up to 250 companies over the next five years. 

Prof Tan said, “NUS is highly regarded for our cutting-edge research. Today, we are making an unprecedented commitment to accelerate the movement of our scientific breakthroughs out of the lab and into the market in a concerted manner, so that we can fully unlock the economic and social benefits of NUS’ inventions and discoveries.” 

Managed by the NUS Industry Liaison Office, NUS GRIP expects to award up to 50 projects each year. Successful candidates will embark on an intensive three-month business validation and venture creation programme. They will work alongside seasoned tech company veterans to develop an operational business model, IP licensing and development plan, and go-to-market strategies for their start-up ideas. 

Each NUS GRIP project will be supported by a team of experienced staff to help the inventors design and build their first prototypes. The inventors will also have access to valuable market information to identify their first markets. 

Within three to six months after being selected, and after going through the venture creation process, the team will be evaluated by a panel for the first tranche of investment of S$50,000. This early investment will enable the start-up to continue engaging with its mentors and further develop its prototype. When the start-up subsequently receives a further external investment or innovation grant, the second tranche of S$50,000 will then be invested by NUS. As part of the programme, NUS will also be providing project management advice, prototyping services, as well as lab facilities to speed up the venture creation process. 

The first call for start-up ideas was made in August 2018, and the selection process is currently on-going. The inaugural batch of 25 NUS GRIP participants is expected to be selected by October 2018. Please refer to Annex 2 for some highlights of NUS GRIP projects. 

Prof Tan elaborated, “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.”

Partnership between AI Singapore and Element AI

At the launch of i4.0, Minister Heng also witnessed the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between AI Singapore (AISG) and Element AI, one of the world’s leading applied AI companies. Both organisations intend to explore AI projects that contribute to industry transformation efforts in the areas of Supply Chains and Finance Services. Element AI joins the network of strategic partners AISG builds to help local enterprises discover and define AI applications that could bring about the highest impact for their businesses.