The 2018 roadmap for SGInnovate, the private startup agency owned by the Singapore government, will focus on increasing investments and empowering people, specifically targetting the Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain and MedTech industries.
The agency plans to grow the AI and Blockchain facilities at scale whereas it will approach MedTech with a more bespoke strategy, only focussing on a few companies in a given year.
The announcement was made a little over one year after the official launch of SGInnovate. Dubbed ‘Deep Tech Nexus’ the programme is designed around two core strategies — a renewed focus on Human Capital as well as Investment Capital.
“We took the cumulation of everything we’ve been working on this year…working with our teammates…and we said lets boil it down to these two areas,” said Steve Leonard, the Founding CEO of SGInnovate at a press conference.
For human capital, it means helping people improve their skills, strengthening the deep tech community and expanding the talent network. When referring to investment capital, Leonard said it meant writing checks, building business support and helping build collaborative spaces.
Leonard also announced the co-working space BASH will be undergoing significant renovations and will shift its tenant focus to the three industries highlighted above. This means current tenants will be moving out.
As part of the 2018 roadmap, SGInnovate has partnered with General Assembly, GIC, IBM, National Supercomputing Centre Singapore (NSCC), Nurture.ai, NVIDIA, Red Dragon AI and SingularityNET to offer various programmes to the startups.
For example, General Assembly (GA) plans to help Founders learn Python, Machine Learning and Data Science. Aziza Sheerin, the GA Regional Director for Singapore told e27 that Leonard was supportive when the company set up in the city two-and-a-half years ago and GA is attracted to the vision SGInnovate has lined out for 2018.
“Both startups and corporations need talent in Data Science and Machine Learning, and that is lacking in Singapore. We want to help build it up,” she said.
More details on investment capital
The most obvious step for focussing on investment capital is writing checks. Leonard outlined three strategies for investments and noted that in all three cases the agency will focus on co-investment.
SGInnovate will invest below S$100,000 (US$74,300) into people or teams it wants to help get off the runway. This might mean a Co-founder duo whereby that money can decide whether or not the company even exists.
The agency will also invest between S$100,000 (US$74,300) and S$1 million (US$744,000) to either participate (or possibly lead) Seed rounds. Finally, it will invest over S$1 million (US$744,000) as a member of Series A rounds.
Last year, SGInnovate invested in 15 startups. In 2018, it wants to see a slight uptick and invest in about 20 companies over the year.
SGInnovate is known for its focus on ‘deep tech’, which often implies patents. Leonard said business realities (like a startup’s ability to defend a patent suit) means having IP rights is not required for investment. Rather, it focusses on science-based companies that have a high barrier to entry.
Leonard also focussed on customer acquisition. While investment is key to get off the ground, it is pointless if the startup can’t start getting customers. For example, SingularityNET will provide programmes to help Founders build their network and business opportunities.
More details on human capital
One of the strongest parts of the SGInnovate plan for 2018 is the education portion of the roadmap. Besides GA, other companies like GIC, IBM, NSCC, Nurture.ai and Red Dragon AI have programmes to help Founders improve their skills.
The ‘training roadmap’ starts with beginner-level course that teach Python and Machine Learning fundamentals. It progresses into Data Science and Deep Learning before finishing with advanced-level courses of the topics.
Sam Witteveen, the Co-founder of Red Dragon AI, a Deep Learning company, said they just finished the second cohort.
“We taught them everything from computer vision to natural language processing. We had people working on analysing data, DSO (Defense Science Organisation) guys. And we had people like Singapore Tourism to do something to recognise Singaporean food,” he said.
Last year, SGInnovate’s event series saw 9,000 participants over the year. Each event hosted between 75-100 people so it ads up to around two events per week. The agency wants to maintain, if not increase, that pace.