A Launchpad for Dreams

Bright ideas and bold visions filled the air at the first-ever LaunchPad Unveiled at JTC LaunchPad @One North.

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“A man’s reach must exceed his grasp,”  declared Minister Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan, echoing a line from reknown historical English poet and playwright Robert Browning at the inaugural LaunchPad Unveiled showcase.

Delivering his address as Guest-of-Honour at JTC LaunchPad @One North to a packed audience of entrepreneurs, investors and members of the startup ecosystem, the Environment and Water Resources Minister and Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation initiative unveiled his vision of the future.

“What are the big challenges facing Singapore in 10-20 years?” was Dr Balakrishnan’s overarching theme. And according to him, three main issues loomed large on the horizon.

1)The Issue of Sustainability

Climate change, energy competition and dwindling resources herald the decline of extractive economies. This signals the need to seek out more sustainable alternatives in the long run.

2) Jobs at Risk

In the next 20 to 30 years, 20% to 30% of routine white collar jobs are going to be at risk because of innovation.

3)The Search for a Fair and Just Society

At present, we live in a world beset by social injustices and extremism. How do we create a better world?

“That’s where entrepreneurship comes in,” he continued. “It puts the above three challenges in context and offers solutions.” But, “you have to reach high,” he adds, describing an entrepreneur as someone who “must be able to grasp – to take an idea, bring it to the market and be successful.”

Part of the global value chain

"In Singapore, we’re providing a launchpad, an ecosystem and smart money,” said Dr Balakrishnan. He readily admits “we are not Silicon Valley, which is one of a kind and irreplicable anywhere else in the world. But even so, can we still play in this game – this value chain that spans the world? “Absolutely,” he asserts, and, even goes on to ask, “can we do better?”

The LaunchPad Unveiled initiative he was speaking at serves as a platform for startups to showcase their innovations to the public and create opportunities for collaboration.

Joshua Soh, executive director at ACE, which co-organised the event, revealed that the Action Community for Entrepreneurship seeks to open up other markets internationally through market access agreements, “so that startups can land when they enter other markets and vice versa.”

ACE also serves the local entrepreneurial community and aids internalization efforts through initiatives like the ACE Ideation Center, which aims to serve the community round the clock by partnering with even more sponsors.

“We are committed to hardware, connectivity and infrastructure,” affirmed Dr Balakrishnan. “But do we have the people with the skills to connect ideas or enough engineers to execute all our plans?”

“There is currently a shortage,” he admitted wistfully. “That’s why we are going to invest heavily in the educational effort and build critical mass till we become self-sustaining.”

“Money isn’t the key limiting factor –it’s smart money,” he continued. “The world is changing and a huge revolution is going on to make the world a better, faster place. And the success of startups here is crucial for Singapore’s success in the long run as we are filling a gap in a global value chain.”

Singapore: A launchpad for dreams

The LaunchPad complex is quite an anomaly within Singapore’s entrepreneurial landscape. Made up of three different blocks, it collectively forms a hub of 500 startups and 35 incubators in fields as varied as media, infocommunications, engineering and biomedical sciences.

“Your calling card can be the fact that you’ve tested it in Singapore,” assured Dr Balakrishnan, emphasising that concepts and ideas have always transcended borders with ease. “As we move from a world of mass production to a world of mass customization, it’s never been more important to focus on design and marketing. We need to get beyond engineering and technicals and develop a strong asthetic sense.”

“Singapore is a great place to start,” confirmed Oliver Duric, founder of Grezzy, a startup from the Singapore BizSpark Residency Programme that develops integrated activity trackers. Grezzy, which is also currently hosted in the Microsoft Innovation Center, was described by Duric as an attempt to first “solve his own problems by asking “what can you do to live healthy and how can you track all of that?”

“We are evolving and we understand that this industry respects innovation,” said Joy Quek, Windows & Surface Business Group Lead at Microsoft Singapore, describing how the launch of Windows 10 was a free upgrade in 90 countries – and achieving 14 million downloads in day one.

“Smart homes in our smart nation for smart living -that’s the big picture,” quipped May Lim, Technical Evangelist at Microsoft as she carries out a demonstration of a remotely controlled mailbox with ease.

Innovation our responsibility

Innovation is everyone’s responsibility,” agreed Cade Tan, VP of the Innovation Group at DBS. “In order to reinvent ourselves, we need to awaken the entrepreneurs within.”

In the past, the education system in Singapore taught you not to question too much,” Tan admitted. “But now, you’ve got to be nimble, agile, fast – and that’s best achieved by effecting culture and mindset change through entrepreneurship.”

Several initiatives are concurrently in progress. There’s the DBS Hackathon –which scouts for top talent and pairs them to promising startups and DBS Hotspot, a pre-accelerator program that aims to “get good concepts to a better place before hand.” There’s also the highly successful DBS Venture Debt and The Bay Area Series of seminars by DBS BusinessClass.

“Our ‘lean startup’ model focuses on experimentation, while ‘human centered design’ revolves around understanding your customer,” Tan continued, describing how DBS aims to create a culture of collaboration and to learn from industries outside of the financial sector.

At the end of the day, Smart Nation is about people and improving their lives through technology,” concluded Dr Balakrishnan. “A better quality of life is the foremost priority while technology and tools are just levers.”

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