Singapore's Open Innovation by IMDA - powering an Innovation Ecosystem
Smart Cities are about improving the lives of citizens through technology and innovation. Local Innovation stakeholders like businesses, tech solvers and start-ups are typically best placed to provide cost efficient and relevant solutions to specific challenges. They simultaneously contribute to economic growth in their city, raising overall wellbeing in the community.
Government initiatives promoting collaborations amongst the different innovation stakeholders can help speed up and scale the generation and adoption of new technologies. The innovation ecosystem is able to achieve more, collaborate efficiently and be future-ready.
In the absence of government support, the growth in innovation ecosystems is largely focused on a few clusters based on industries well-funded by VCs. The pathway to commercialization is far from clear and the fear of failure inhibits disruptive approaches to innovation.
At IMDA’s 26,000 square feet innovation space, PIXEL, tech innovators can tap on cutting edge equipment for rapid prototyping before making use of the Usability Testing Lab to gather feedback from potential users. Incubation suites and hot-desking facilities are also offered to start-ups requiring a place where they can work on their next digital solution. Beyond physical facilities, IMDA links tech innovators with experienced industry mentors and extends subsidies for project-based coaching in areas of design thinking, UIUX and digital storytelling.
The Infocomm Media Authority (IMDA) of Singapore plays the role of an ecosystem enabler, promoting structural collaboration between innovation and technology stakeholders across diverse industries.
One of their programs, the Open Innovation Platform (OIP), helps enterprises share their business challenges with a pool of 6,000+ tech solvers ready to offer their expertise in the development of innovative solutions. The first step in the OIP’s structured innovation process is a problem refinement workshop to distil business challenges into an understandable impactful statement that is launched on the platform. Next, each problem owner gets support to produce a marketing video to provide details on their business challenge. Tech innovators then get to meet with problem owners at Innovation Thursday events, which lay the foundations for future collaborations.
Outside of this, IMDA additionally supports to ensure problem owners are matched with the right tech innovator given their needs.
A constant work in progress
Like any new idea, the IMDA’s innovation program had its share of sceptics. However, once the very first batch of companies came on board, the benefits became clear and the success stories started to drive greater interest in the span of months.
Compared to other grants and subsidies offered elsewhere, IMDA’s innovation programs require companies to invest some capital, whether for prize money for their challenge statements or as a partial payment of a project-based consultation fee. This requirement helps identify those who are truly vested in transforming their businesses with innovation.
Some of the key lessons learnt during the evolution of IMDA’s OIP are:
1. Innovation isn’t confined to sectors or industries
Innovation can take place in all industries (from media to traditional sectors) and sometimes come from the least likely of places. Problem Owners and Tech Solvers from vastly different backgrounds and industries, come together exploring new approaches to existing problems. For instance, it provided an opportunity for the company Fish Farmer, Singapore’s largest producer of marine fish, to monitor the state of their growing stock (number, size and condition) using tech solutions – a task previously thought of as impossible within their industry. When fully implemented, the company will be able to gauge if they are on track to achieving their target yield without having to haul their fishes out of the water – a process that can prove draining for both workers and stock alike.
2. Real-world problems require real-world exposure
Tech solvers need to gain exposure to real-world challenges, which the OIP provides via a unique co-innovation process with the problem owners, who in turn can access the most innovative solutions. This catalyzes the development of market-ready solutions, that can be scaled and commercialized across entire industries. For example, the global tracking solution from Singapore Airlines’ (SIA) collaboration with Internet of Things (IoT) enabler UnaBiz. In order to track unit load devices (ULDs) used to carry cargo on aircraft, the two companies worked together to develop a cost-effective and energy efficient solution expected to be deployable in at least 60 countries around the world.
3. A Government enabler can facilitate a win-win-win situation
Corporates look for more efficient ways of doing business. Start-ups need to work on real problems to develop market-ready solutions. Research institutes (RIs) have to work with partners to commercial applications of their work. Usually, collaboration requires a lot of effort and it helps to have an industry enabler like IMDA to bring everyone together and assure the group of unbiased support. When the solution provider UnaBiz was embarking on their project, IMDA offered extended consultancy services on Intellectual property issues as part of the OIP support, which proved to be particularly helpful for both companies.
4. Risk and reward do not have to be positively correlated
Innovation, while key for competitiveness, requires resources and implies risk. Crowdsourcing platforms such as the OIP allow companies to access a wide pool of solution providers and innovators with multidisciplinary capabilities at minimal cost – the cost of the prize and piloting the solution. The OIP system ensures that the prize funds from problem owners are disbursed only after a proof-of-concept or prototype is developed, while tech solvers can be certain of the monetary resources and further business opportunities upon the completion of the project.
5. It doesn’t always end with a solution
Awarding of a winner for each challenge is merely the beginning. The proof-of-concept developed and the prize money disbursed are the first steps in a longer term pathway to wide scale implementation, which can range between 12 to 18 months depending on the complexity of each project. Even for tech solvers who do not make the cut for the challenges they applied for, the OIP has provided valuable networking opportunities among its 6,000+ community members, which can open new doors to larger projects.
Only the beginning
Given the promising results, it is easy to overlook how IMDA’s innovation programs have been around for less than five years – a newcomer compared to established powerhouses such as Switzerland and the Netherlands. Yet, all ecosystems need to start somewhere. Only with strong governmental support can innovation begin to take root and reap rewards for various stakeholders over time. By applying these lessons to their unique cultures and environments, countries can take the first step in making innovation an integral part of their economies.
This blog has been authored by the team at The Open Innovation Platform, IMDA
The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) leads Singapore’s digital transformation with infocomm media. To do this, IMDA will develop a dynamic digital economy and a cohesive digital society, driven by an exceptional infocomm media (ICM) ecosystem – by developing talent, strengthening business capabilities, and enhancing Singapore's ICM infrastructure. IMDA also regulates the telecommunications and media sectors to safeguard consumer interests while fostering a pro-business environment, and enhances Singapore’s data protection regime through the Personal Data Protection Commission.
An initiative of IMDA, the Open Innovation Platform (OIP) is a virtual crowd-sourcing platform that bridges real business challenges and digitalisation opportunities of enterprises to tech firms. For more information, visit https://www.openinnovation.sg/.