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Speech by Mr Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Finance, at the Leaders In Science Forum, at Matrix Building, Biopolis

16 Aug 2017


Mr Lim Chuan Poh

Chairman A*STAR


Mr Png Cheong Boon

Second Permanent Secretary MTI and CEO JTC


Professor Tan Chorh Chuan

President of NUS and Deputy Chairman A*STAR


Professor Sir John O’Reilly

Chairman NICC Standards (UK)


Distinguished guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,


  1. Good morning.


  1. I am pleased to join you at the Leaders in Science Forum, and to see so many researchers, entrepreneurs and educators taking part in this Forum and the one-north Festival. To our guests from overseas, a very warm welcome to you.


  1. I appreciate the theme of this year’s forum “Innovation Beyond Borders” – it reflects the direction set out by the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE).



  1. Two weeks ago, we had our Future Economy Council meeting where we discussed the changes around us, and their implications.


  1. All around us, we are seeing rapid structural and technological changes – in demographics, in the growth of economies in Asia, and in the possible uses of technology.  If we make the best use of these changes to innovate and create value, we will have an exciting future. I hope that forums and festivals like this one can spark new ideas and new partnerships.


Singapore’s Innovation Journey


  1. Before you launch into a day of invigorating discussions, I thought I would share with you some brief facts on Singapore’s innovation journey thus far, and the steps ahead.


  1. Innovation can be thought of as a chain of specialised activities from research and ideation, to development and commercialisation.  The ultimate goal is to solve real-world problems in new ways, or to imagine new possibilities that others have not yet envisioned, in order to create new and meaningful value for the world. 


  1. In Singapore, the earlier tranches of our national Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) roadmaps have built up our innovation capabilities.


  1. Over the last decade, the number of research scientists and engineers doubled to more than 30,000 today. Our universities and research institutes have also extended their research impact internationally, with nearly half of our publications ranked within the top 10% of publications globally today.


  1. On average, business expenditure on R&D has grown 8% year-on-year from 2010 to 2015 to more than $5 billion annually. Our SMEs’ investments in R&D have grown at a rate of 7% annually over the same period. This is more than double the growth rate of 3% in the five-year period before that. This is very encouraging.


  1. Today, Singapore is well-regarded as a vibrant international research hub. The Government has made sustained investments in this direction, and the research and business communities have put in significant efforts to push the frontiers.


  1. To sustain our innovation journey, we launched the sixth research Innovation and Enterprise, or RIE, roadmap last year with a renewed commitment of S$19b through 2020.  In RIE2020, we will continue to build on excellence in research, and to better support research translation and collaboration.  We aim to grow stronger partnerships between the public and private research institutes, academia and industry partners, to take more innovations to market to meet real-world needs.


  1. Last year, we also started the Industry Transformation Maps, or ITMs, to lay out strategies to promote innovation and productivity growth in the major industries, and we continue to design and launch new ITMs for more sectors.


  1. Industry by industry, each ITM brings together the stakeholders to develop and implement sector transformation over the next few years, through innovation and technology adoption, skills upgrading, and productivity improvements.


  1. We are now working on implementing the CFE recommendations.  Innovation and internationalisation are major themes of the CFE.


  1. We’ve launched or are working on initiatives like the SMEs Go Digital Programme, the Tech Access Programme, the Internationalisation Finance Scheme, and others, to support firms in building capabilities in these areas.


Innovating Beyond Borders


  1. The theme of your Forum – Innovation Beyond Borders –is imaginative, as “beyond borders” can have multiple interpretations. 


  1. It can mean “beyond my personal borders”, which could be an artificial border a person can set between the learning and working phases of his life, or perhaps a border around the skillsets he has or the only kind of work he thinks he can do.  Without breaking out of these borders, we are less likely to learn, adapt and grow.


  1. It can mean “beyond the border around a company’s limited interests”, which may appear to compete with the wider interests of the sector in which it sits. Without breaking out of such borders, a company may not be able to collaborate with other companies to generate new possibilities.


  1. Or, it can mean “beyond the border around a single industry”, which blocks the ability of industry to identify and seize opportunities for cross-sector cooperation and capability-building.  


  1. I’ve spoken about these elsewhere, so for today, I will speak a little bit more about what we are doing to help our companies innovate beyond national borders.


  1. Our public agencies, research institutions and universities provide a range of support to take our companies beyond borders, to access overseas resources, networks and markets.


  1. First, for smaller enterprises which may have limited resources for R&D or those that want to accelerate product development, IPI, a SPRING Singapore affiliate, helps source for overseas and local intellectual properties which suit their needs. Around half of the 750 technologies in the IPI Portal are from overseas technology providers. During the last 5 years, IPI facilitated over 500 technology matches, of which 40% involved overseas providers. At the same time, using patent analytics, the IP Office of Singapore, or IPOS, helps companies get better insights into the value of their IP and emerging technology white spaces in the international market, on which they can capitalise.


  1. To deepen our overseas networks, we are setting up the Global Innovation Alliance to form partnerships between local enterprises and overseas business communities in major innovation hubs and markets with a focus on technology and innovation. Last month, Minister Lim Hng Kiang launched BLOCK71 Jakarta, a co-working space for tech startups, to catalyse partnerships among startups from Singapore and Indonesia. SGInnovate also connects local deep-tech startups with overseas entrepreneurs who can provide mentorship and support in launching products that cater to their respective markets.


  1. Third, for companies looking to expand overseas and promote their innovations internationally, IE Singapore’s Global Company Partnership Grant and Market Readiness Assistance schemes help defray costs of expansion and manpower development. For pre-seed startups with great ideas but who face difficulties bringing these overseas, our Innovation and Enterprise Offices, or IEOs, – such as the NUS Industry Liaison Office and NTUitive and A*STAR’s commercialisation arm, ETPL, are additional avenues of support.


  1. An example of this is ETPL’s “Venture co-creation” initiative, where ETPL works with private venture creators to identify viable business opportunities for the startup entrepreneur. At the same time, A*STAR provides the startup with IP licenses and helps to strengthen their technological capability. ETPL has started to work with a venture creator, Origgin, on startups that are keen on entering the Chinese or Southeast Asian markets.


  1. One of their projects is the co-creation of, a startup that is developing an Artificial Intelligence (AI) system which will be embedded into business applications. Using the AI, businesses can improve consumer experience and increase sales engagements by providing services such as chatbot and appointment scheduling functions. is also developing applications that can help the financial sector counter money-laundering and financing of terrorism.


  1. We hope that these efforts will help build a strong innovation ecosystem where entrepreneurs have the capabilities to develop new solutions and create new value across sectoral and geographical borders.


Moving Forward


  1. This year, we were ranked as one of the top innovative economies in Asia and among the top ten innovative economies in the world, by both the Global Innovation Index and the Bloomberg Innovation Index. This is an encouraging validation of the collective efforts of the Government, research community and industry. But we can always do better. 


  1. We must continue to forge closer partnerships and strengthen our innovation ecosystem, so that our people and firms can innovate rapidly and meaningfully to create new value and keep Singapore competitive and relevant to the world.


  1. Let me end with sharing a conversation I had with a leader in research and innovation a few weeks back.  I asked him why many universities are creating more inter-disciplinary or cross-disciplinary centres of research.  He said the problem has to do with the way knowledge and research are organised. To get deep into an area of research, you have to know more and more about one area, and less and less about other areas. But the real world is messy, and does not fit neatly into one specific discipline. Often, to innovate, we have to bring together knowledge and insights across different areas, and to keep an open mind about new possibilities.  We have to bring all the knowledge and insights we can muster, and not be confined to one particular thread.


  1. So it may be that even cross-disciplinary or inter-disciplinary work is not adequate. If innovation is about new combinations and new possibilities, we will need a sense of wonder and curiosity, in envisioning a new world of possibilities. I hope this forum and festival will build on this sense of wonder and curiosity, and spark many new possibilities.


  1. Thank you.