SINGAPORE: A new co-working space to help local companies innovate and develop products will be launched in the Jurong Innovation District (JID), announced Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon on Tuesday (Mar 3).
The SIMTech Innovation Factory – an initiative by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) in partnership with Enterprise Singapore – will be operationally ready at JID’s CleanTech Park by next year.
Speaking at the Ministry of Trade and Industry’s (MTI) Committee of Supply (COS) debate, Dr Koh described the space as one that will help local firms “ideate and design their own unique products”.
For a start, it will provide design and prototyping support for applications such as inspection equipment, medical technology (medtech) devices and electromechanical modules.
“It will be equipped with the necessary tools for companies to prototype their designs, and will have resident design and technology experts to help companies through their innovation journey," said Dr Koh, noting that this will be very helpful for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
“After successfully designing their own products, companies can then go to one of the two A*STAR model factory facilities for pilot production,” he added.
The co-working space will be the latest addition to the JID, which is being developed as a hub for advanced manufacturing.
The district is expected to create 95,000 jobs in research and advanced manufacturing activities over the next 20 years.
Dr Koh on Tuesday also provided more details about a previously announced S$300 million top-up to the Startup SG Equity co-investment scheme that is aimed at catalysing investments into deep-tech start-ups.
Deep-tech start-ups include companies in emerging technology areas such as medtech, advanced manufacturing and agri-food.
To ensure these start-ups have the necessary resources to bring their products to market, Dr Koh announced that the maximum amount each start-up can receive will be doubled to S$8 million.
He also said that a portion of the S$300 million will be allocated towards investing in global venture capital (VC) funds, through a new “fund-of-funds” approach.
“This not only increases the availability of investment funds, but also attracts experienced VCs into the Singapore ecosystem,” said Dr Koh, adding that start-ups can then tap on the knowledge and networks of these VCs to accelerate growth.
These enhancements will take effect from second quarter.
Relevant tax incentives will also be extended by five years to encourage funds and fund managers to invest a larger proportion of their funds in Singapore-based start-ups, said Dr Koh.
This includes enhancements such as expanding the investment types and streamlining the requirements to invest in the local enterprises.
SUPPORT EMERGING SECTORS
In a speech centered on fostering innovation as a key to maintaining Singapore’s competitive advantage, Dr Koh also touched on support for emerging sectors.
He said a new regulatory sandbox will be set up for high-tech farms at the Agri-Food Innovation Park (AFIP) in Sungei Kadut, as part of the Government’s relook at regulations while growing new sectors.
This will allow authorities to review regulations for tenants at AFIP "more quickly, in a more streamlined manner”, while lessons learnt from the sandbox can also be extended to the wider farming industry, he added.
Capturing new economic spin-offs can also come from developing new sustainable solutions. One area of growing interest is the idea of a circular economy, which seeks to improve resource efficiency and recycles resources in a loop to maximise their value, said Dr Koh.
JTC is thus partnering companies on Jurong Island and other agencies, such as national water agency PUB and the National Environment Agency (NEA), to conduct a Jurong Island Circular Economy Study.
Dr Koh said the study will “map out flows of water, energy and waste on the island and identify system-level gaps”.
“This will allow companies to come together to develop solutions to address these gaps, testbed solutions on Jurong Island and then export these solutions globally,” he added.
Individual firms across different industries can also benefit from the circular economy concept, he said, citing how Enterprise Singapore has helped to connect food businesses with technology solution providers to convert food waste into higher-value products.
PRESS ON WITH ECONOMIC TRANSFORMATION EFFORTS
Apart from innovation, the MTI ministers on Tuesday laid out three other longer-term goals – diversifying global links, transforming its enterprises and forming partnerships – for the Singapore economy.
These are necessary even as Singapore tackles near-term challenges arising from COVID-19, said Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing.
The minister warned that COVID-19’s eventual economic impact could be worse than 2003’s severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) with China now accounting for more than 19 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) and 27 per cent of global manufacturing value added.
“The quantitative and qualitative impact of China’s slowdown and the potential of a global pandemic cannot be underestimated,” Mr Chan said in Parliament.
The Government has since announced a S$4 billion special package as part of Budget 2020, to soothe concerns of livelihoods amid the COVID-19 outbreak. But beyond that, Singapore “must also aspire to emerge stronger, be one of the first to recover and seize the new opportunities,” said Mr Chan.
He went on to highlight two long-term driving forces – a re-ordering of global supply chains and technological advancements – that warrant attention, and mooted the expansion and upgrading of Singapore’s 25 free trade agreements (FTAs) as a way of adapting to changing supply chains.
This includes the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership this year “if all goes well”, he said.
Trade pacts also need to be adapted to emerging technologies, he added, citing substantial conclusion of the negotiations on the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement with New Zealand and Chile earlier this year.
Businesses will need to take advantage of these FTAs, said Mr Chan. As such, help will be “significantly” ramped up through the Market Readiness Assistance grant, SMEs Go Digital programme and other enhancements announced in Budget 2020.
Senior Minister of State Chee Hong Tat elaborated on help for enterprises to develop leaders and transform business processes.
For instance, the newly announced Enterprise Leadership for Transformation (ELT) is a three-year pilot programme that supports business leaders of promising SMEs to reach the next stage of growth.
The ELT will be designed and delivered together with partners, such as institutes of higher learning, professional firms and banks, said Mr Chee. Each cycle lasts about a year and will include business coaching and practical learning components.
Participating local enterprises will receive up to 90 per cent funding support for their fees, he added.
Enterprise Singapore said in a separate release that it aims to onboard 900 SME business leaders over the next three years. The programme will start in the third quarter and more details will be shared in the second quarter when registration begins.
Rounding out MTI’s roadmap for Singapore’s economy was Senior Parliamentary Tan Wu Meng, who spoke about how trade associations and chambers (TACs) will get funding to hire experienced professionals.
To be piloted by Enterprise Singapore, the two-year Executive-in-Residence programme will help TACs engage experienced executives to guide companies in business transformation and growth. Participating TACs will help to identify, engage and match executives with companies based on their needs, he said.
“(TACs) are a store of social capital with institutional memory, shared experience, and industry networks,” said Dr Tan. “They help the Government to better understand the needs of our business community, and partner us to develop industry.”
TACs can also tap on the Local Enterprise and Association Development programme to upgrade their workforce and capability, he added.