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02 Aug 2021 Updated 10 Aug 2021

Open innovation challenges helping local firms develop creative solutions

The Straits Times CHOO YUN TING

 Open innovation challenges helping local firms develop creative solutions

SMEs and start-ups have jointly developed solutions with corporates and government agencies via open innovation calls.PHOTO: ST FILE

An initiative that encourages firms and government agencies to join forces to develop innovative solutions to specific problems and market needs is already reaping benefits for local companies.

One of these is artificial intelligence solutions firm ProSpace, which worked with electronics giant Aztech Technologies on its analytics platform ThermalSense.

ThermalSense, which determines how work spaces are used by detecting body temperature, has helped ProSpace improve its services in the corporate sphere.

This has led to new opportunities with other organisations such as pharmaceutical giant Novartis, medical device firm Medtronic and sovereign wealth fund GIC.

These collaborations arose after ProSpace emerged as one of the four winners of what is known as an open innovation challenge.

The challenge, which was launched by Aztech and telco Singtel in conjunction with Enterprise Singapore (ESG) and other partners in 2018, aims to come up with Internet of Things (IoT) solutions.

ProSpace spent about $300,000 to develop the ThermalSense platform over two years and received a $150,000 government grant that helped the development process, said ProSpace chief executive Steve Ong.

"As a tool, open innovation challenges help to catalyse more demand, and allow companies to develop solutions that are relevant to current needs, especially as economies reopen and gun for recovery," noted Mr Edwin Chow, assistant CEO for innovation and enterprise at ESG.

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) like ProSpace and start-ups have jointly developed solutions with corporates and government agencies via open innovation calls.

The Open Innovation Network portal, which aggregates challenges in Singapore, has listed around 85 of these initiatives since it was set up in 2019 by ESG and the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA).

ESG has awarded $20 million of funding to enterprises to support solution development and pilot deployment in the past five years.

Key figures

  • 48

    Number of open innovation challenges launched last year.

  • $20m

    Funding awarded by Enterprise Singapore to enterprises to support solution development and pilot deployment in the past five years.

  • 85

    Approximate number of open innovation challenges listed on the Open Innovation Network since its launch in 2019.

  • > 400

    Corporates and government agencies seeking solutions through the network.

ESG, IMDA and the National Research Foundation Singapore also set aside around $40 million through National Innovation Challenges to support innovation efforts last year.

While the Government has traditionally led the way for open innovation, more private sector players are starting to participate or even organising their initiatives, noted ESG's Mr Chow.

For example, food brands such as Haidilao Hot Pot, Mr Bean and Polar were among those that collaborated with ESG to launch Asia's Great Snack Challenge 2021 in June to seek creative new recipes.

Consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble also launched its iLab challenge on the Open Innovation Network earlier this year to explore solutions in advertising, retail and supply chains.

Mr Chow said open innovation can unlock local and regional opportunities for SMEs and start-ups, given that global demand will possibly stay weak due to Covid-19 infection waves, travel restrictions and supply chain disruptions.

ESG, along with its subsidiary IPI Singapore and the Abu Dhabi Investment Office, launched an innovation call in May seeking ideas for smart city development. This will allow Singapore firms to pitch and test-bed ideas with the likes of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, the Abu Dhabi Department of Municipalities and Transport, and energy company Masdar.

Last November, five public and private healthcare providers partnered ESG on ways to optimise operations and improve patient care.

Singapore-based start-up EloCare has been selected to co-develop a device to improve medication compliance, which will be deployed by the National Healthcare Group and St Luke's Eldercare.

Meanwhile, local IoT start-up Nextan led a consortium to develop a solution to help national water agency PUB reduce resources required for maintenance, troubleshooting and monitoring of water treatment plants.

Developing the Oware System Architecture meant partnering with different firms, almost all of which operate at a larger scale than Nextan. This gave the company the opportunity to pick up best practices and industry know-how, said operations lead Justin Low.

"We find that open innovation calls allow us to discover specific gaps in the market which we might not be aware of. By stringing together the common requirements that we observed across different companies, we have discovered certain gaps in the market that were not industry-specific," he noted.

Mr Low added that innovation calls force solutions providers like Nextan to take a good look at their offerings and identify what sets them apart.

Its experience in the PUB collaboration helped it build a track record and expand its solution into other undertakings, including a government development in Africa, he added.

Software firm VRcollab, which started working with the Housing Board on a design checking software in 2019, said the experience has allowed it to engage with other developers in the public and private sectors.

It is working with various organisations on other research and development initiatives, which include civil projects in China and defence infrastructure-related work in Europe, said a spokesman for the firm.

Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.