With tech giants like Google, Facebook and Alibaba landing on local shores, Singapore continues to grow in stature as a global tech and innovation hub. Built on high-quality infrastructure and a vibrant ecosystem of over 3,400 start-ups and 600 investors, the city-state was ranked the fifth most innovative city in the World Economic Forum’s 2019 Innovative Cities Index.

Fast forward to 2021, it has now emerged as the second most innovative economy on Bloomberg’s Innovation Index, for showing resilience amidst the tumultuous COVID-19 situation. Singapore’s exceptional ability to stay ahead of the curve, highlighted by these international accolades, reflects how placing innovation first pays off during times of uncertainty.

The country’s efforts to spur innovation form part of a larger vision to build a resilient, sustainable and digital nation. In December 2020 Singapore’s five-year Research, Innovation and Enterprise plan was released, committing S$25 billion in funding research and development efforts to maximise the unique opportunities unveiled by the pandemic.

Indeed, at the launch of the RIE2025,

“The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated technological trends and structural changes that will reshape the global economy and throw up new challenges for societies. Science, technology and innovation will be critical to overcome COVID-19, and in enabling us to emerge stronger.”

Mr Heng Swee Keat

Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister

To further catalyse Singapore’s innovation ecosystem, IMDA is supporting the growth of local companies, providing avenues for collaboration, commercialisation and internationalisation. Accordingly, we have launched various programmes to help businesses embrace innovation, including the Open Innovation Platform (OIP), [email protected],as well as the annual  Techblazer Awards.

Rising to the occasion

IMDA’s OIP is a virtual crowdsourcing platform that bridges hundreds of enterprises according to their needs. No longer do companies have to rely only on internal teams to address their biggest pain points. Instead, companies present their challenges through OIP, opening themselves to a wider spectrum of possible problem solvers for their challenges. In turn, up-and-coming tech providers rise to the occasion—engaging enterprises they might never have reached otherwise and embellishing their portfolio with successful innovation projects.

Such was the case for the Singapore Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers (SACEOS), with their vision to have in-person MICE events make a safe return in the post-pandemic world. To develop an integrated control system for contactless check-ins, SACEOS tapped on Viatick and Trakomatic’s expertise in indoor positioning technology and data analytics. By capturing visitor information in real-time, event organisers are alerted whenever too many people have clustered together in a certain area, paving the way for better safe distancing management and contact tracing.

Similarly, in the area of construction, Boustead Projects engaged TraceSafe to develop SafeSite, a monitoring system to mitigate the risk of viral transmission at construction sites. Worn on helmets, electronic sensing devices buzz should employees come too close to one another, while infrared scanners and other sensors provide temperature and exposure data in real-time.

Meanwhile, IMDA’s [email protected] Digital ([email protected]) programme spotlights promising Singapore-based tech companies to help them establish credentials and build business traction. By positioning these companies as qualified tech providers with the capability to deliver, [email protected] enables their solutions to reach potential Government and large enterprises.

One IMDA-accredited company is ViSenzeA, whose visual search technology revitalised the shopping experience for a global sportswear brand in response to COVID-19 restrictions. Given the need to minimise interactions, ViSenze’s Visual Search provides customers with a self-serve shopping experience.

Through the app, customers can scan items on display with their smartphone cameras and search for size and stock availability. Besides customer convenience, it frees up store personnel to focus on other tasks like implementing safety measures.

To recognise and reward such innovation efforts, IMDA organises the Techblazer Awards each year—the nation’s highest accolade for tech innovation. Notably, SafeEntry by GovTech won the award for Best Adoption by the Public Sector for its role in facilitating digital check-ins during this pandemic period.

Turning the tide

While innovation may initially seem daunting, it is precisely during times of great uncertainty where it shines most. As the aforementioned companies have shown, innovation not only helps enterprises stay afloat, but the solutions generated through such efforts also strengthen Singapore’s resilience as a whole in the ongoing fight against COVID-19.

Indeed, a Microsoft India Development Centre study showed that the pandemic was a tipping point for businesses to reconsider the power of innovation. Ever since the onset of COVID-19 forced them to innovate, only 36 percent of leaders and just over half of the organisations saw innovation as a difficult endeavour—a stark contrast to pre-pandemic numbers, where about 75 percent of organisations perceived innovation as difficult.

Serving as an example to countries worldwide, Singapore’s tradition of innovation fuelled by efforts like the OIP, [email protected] and Techblazer Awards has helped our country to not just weather the storm, but rise above it—exemplifying the crucial role of innovation in resilience.

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