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: Centres of innovation help SMEs launch new products through tech

Centres of innovation help SMEs launch new products through tech

Ms Lam Soo Sing found that baby food sold in supermarkets in Singapore was catered mostly for the Western palate, and often had shorter expiration dates as it was imported.

To plug the market gap, Ms Lam, 47, director of organic food wholesaler and retailer Organic7days, together with founder Alice Foo, started a project with the Food Innovation Resource Centre (Firc) in 2019 to develop ready-to-eat baby food with Asian flavours.

Organic7days, which was set up in 2013, now has baby food pouches in flavours such as ABC stew, Hainanese beef stew and lotus root with chicken and huaishan (Chinese yam root).

Firc is one of the centres of innovation (COIs), an initiative started in 2006 to support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with technology innovation to help them grow. Three new COIs have been established by Enterprise Singapore in the built environment, beauty and personal care and urban agriculture sectors.

This was announced by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat at the opening of the Singapore Week of Innovation and Technology (Switch) 2022, which focuses on Singapore's innovation ecosystem and provides support in innovation to SMEs. Switch ends on Friday.

The new COIs support over 300 projects with SMEs, and support up to 1,500 SMEs in Singapore to test and develop technology projects. They bring the total number of COIs to 11, each with a distinct industry focus.

Their addition is in line with the Budget 2022 plan to expand resources at centres engaging in technology, innovation and enterprise activities across polytechnics and Institutes of Technical Education. In partnership with polytechnics and research institutes, COIs give SMEs access to resources like laboratory facilities and training and consultancy servicess.

Ms Lam said: "Firc provided us with a team of food scientists and nutritionists who gave us advice on the ingredients to tweak in our baby food recipes. They also let us have taste tests on the different baby food recipes... which helped us a lot."

The company is now working on another flavour, salmon and pumpkin with goji berries, and biscuits with a healthier twist. "As a mother of three, I always hope that the food available in the market can be healthier for babies, which is why we wanted to work on these products," said Ms Lam, who has two sons, aged 11 and nine, and a daughter aged five.

Artificial intelligence solutions technology company Longway AI Technologies also enjoyed a boost through working with COIs. The company founded in 2018 started in 2021 to develop a non-intrusive prototype safety monitoring system for the elderly. It worked with the Centre of Innovation for Electronics and Internet of Things (COI-EIoT) at Nanyang Polytechnic.

Using AI and closed-circuit television, the system can detect when an elderly person may need physical help to get to the restroom or to navigate around an eldercare home. "We tapped the COI-EIoT's expertise to create a preliminary AI-based engine which can detect unassisted elderly people in need of assistance, to try and prevent fall incidents from happening," said Longway founder Calvin Ng.

The 24-hour, real-time predictive monitoring system triggers an alert when it detects an unassisted elderly person standing up and walking in a daycare centre or eldercare home, so staff nearby can be alerted and can intervene quickly.

Mr Tan Boon Kim, EnterpriseSG executive director for start-up and innovation ecosystem, said: "More SMEs can tap COIs to lower their barriers to entry for innovation by leveraging the tech expertise and facilities available at our polytechnics and research institutes."

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