A support system for tech start-ups. -- ST ILLUSTRATION: LUIS MISTADES
WHAT most people would consider the cutting edge in technology is turning out to be familiar territory for Singapore's start-ups.
About 5,000 new technology start-ups have been registered every year since 2006, and many are coming up with high-tech products and services that are in demand all over the world.
Most benefit from the strong start-up support system here which gives them a leg-up by connecting the entrepreneurs with tech researchers, helping them to commercialise their technology and to obtain funding.
The backbone of this support system is made up of three organisations - Spring Singapore, the Action Community for Entrepreneurship (Ace) and Exploit Technologies.
Put simply, Spring provides funding, Exploit Technologies helps commercialise technology and Ace helps connect enterprises seeking innovative technologies with researchers at institutes of higher learning such as Nanyang Technological University and the National University of Singapore.
Spring's Technology Enterprise Commercialisation Scheme (TECS) provides seed funding so tech start-ups can turn innovative ideas into potentially market-changing products and services.
Under the scheme, Spring has provided $44 million to support about 120 projects undertaken by such firms.
'Start-ups interested in TECS funding have to demonstrate a strong technical and scientific approach, be aware of technological challenges and demonstrate an ability to overcome these in order to successfully execute their projects,' said Spring deputy chief executive Tan Kai Hoe.
'As the objective of TECS is to help a technology start-up realise the market value of its idea, the project has to be impactful and lead to commercially viable products or services.'
As the Agency for Science, Technology and Research's (A*Star) technology transfer arm, Exploit Technologies helps to turn cutting-edge ideas from its 14 research institutes into useful solutions ready for the marketplace.
It matches the technologies that have been created by A*Star researchers with entrepreneurs looking for a competitive edge.
They then forge collaborations between the researchers and these entrepreneurs. The partners can then develop prototypes, conduct further research and bring the technology closer to the market.
Exploit Technologies also supports budding A*Star technopreneurs by nurturing and educating them, and providing them access to funding and mentors so they can grow sustainable businesses.
'For the last 10 years, Exploit Technologies has been consolidating the large patent portfolio of A*Star, driving impactful licensing through strategic funding, and organising events to increase start-up funding and inspire more entrepreneurial mindsets in Singapore,' said chief executive Philip Lim.
iRadSolutions, which has received help from Exploit Technologies, began as a project at A*Star's Biomedical Imaging Lab before being spun off into a company.
It makes computer-assisted diagnosis, medical imaging and reporting technologies that can be used in radiology labs.
iRadSolutions chief executive A. Thiru said Exploit Technologies began helping his team even before they had formed the company.
'We worked closely with them when we were still researchers trying our hand out at crafting a business plan,' he added.
'They engaged an experienced business mentor for us, introduced us to investors from China and assisted us in cross-cultural negotiations and regulatory issues.'
Ace, which formed a Tech-Connect Task Force, has been working closely with Exploit Technologies to encourage firms to tap the technologies available at Singapore's universities and research institutes.
'Ace is actively creating the appropriate channels to assist enterprises to connect with good ideas and potential partners and investors,' said Ace deputy chairman Steven Fang, who is also CEO of Singapore-listed firm Cordlife.
When Ace and Exploit Technologies co-organised an inaugural Investor Forum recently, a group of technology start-ups had the opportunity to pitch to more than 20 local and foreign investors.
The start-ups included Endomaster, which won the 'Best Pitch' award for its robotic-assisted technology for endoscopy surgery.
'Through these efforts, we hope to bring technology ideas and entrepreneurs closer, and to support the licensing and spin-off of technology companies,' said Dr Fang.