Speech by Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Minister for Finance, at Start-Up@Singapore 2008 Awards Ceremony, 31 May 2008, 5.00 pm at Matrix Biopolis Auditorium02 Jun 2008
Professor Tan Eng Chye,
Deputy President (Academic Affairs) & Provost of NUS,
Professor Wong Poh Kam,
Director, NUS Entrepreneurship Centre,
Mr Yeo Keng Joon,
Managing Partner, Global Biotech Singapore,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. A very good evening to all. It gives me great pleasure to be here for the Start-Up@Singapore awards ceremony.
2. When this competition started in 1999, it was solely a business plan competition. Over the years, however, it has evolved to become a whole crucible for innovation. Start-Up@Singapore now plays a leading role in nurturing entrepreneurs by providing them with a wide range of resources, such as educational seminars, team building workshops, mentorship opportunities and networking sessions - all helping them make the transition from paper to product.
3. This could not have been possible without strong support by the private sector and the business community. I am told that over 200 entrepreneurs, professionals and academics were involved in the 3-stage judging process. Over 50 mentors with wide industry experience were matched with teams from industries similar to theirs in order to help teams realise their business ideas.
4. Many of the past winners have gone on to become successful start-ups. tenCube, the winner in 2006, has benefited many with their solutions for phone security. They also have received numerous international accolades. The winner in 2001, FriarTuck, has gone on to develop scheduling solutions for the Wharton Business School, University of St Andrews and Singapore Airlines. More notably, they have also provided scheduling solutions for NASA scientists and engineers for the Mars Rover landing in 2004.
5. These are indeed very commendable achievements; evidence that our young innovators have what it takes to make a name for themselves on the world stage. We certainly hope to hear more success stories from this year's winners, especially since we have seen the largest ever number of participants and teams in the competition's history. My heartiest congratulations go out to the winning teams. But even for those that have not won, I would like to commend you for having taken the first step to innovate and think of new ideas.
6. It is this spirit of innovation that holds the key to Singapore's continued success in the globalised economy. This is why we want to do all we can to promote a vibrant entrepreneurial sector, and make innovation pervasive in Singapore, in our universities, and in firms small and big.
7. In this year's Budget, we introduced a comprehensive set of measures to help our companies to engage in R&D. These included enhanced incentives for start-ups who are engaged in R&D. `R&D Incentives for Start-Up Enterprises', or RISE, allows start-ups that engage in R&D but who are yet to be profitable to convert their losses into cash grants. We also made it easier for start-ups to attract talent by introducing an enhanced Equity Remuneration Incentive Scheme, because we recognise that it is at that crucial early stage that start-ups need exceptional talents most, but are least able to pay attractive cash salaries. Stock options and ownership plans could become useful talent attraction tools for them, just as they have been for companies in Silicon Valley and Taiwan. Under this scheme, employees who receive stock options from start-up companies can be exempted from tax on 75% of their gains from these stock options.
8. The Public Sector is also playing an increased role, through the Public Service Innovation Framework. We have appointed a Chief Innovation Officer at every Ministry to promote innovation and greater public-private collaborations. They will lead the search for new ideas, either through developing ideas in their own organisations or bringing in ideas from the private sector. He or she would also create opportunities to work with private sector companies and research institutions to develop innovative products and services.
9. More recently, we launched the National Framework for Innovation and Enterprise as the next step to exploit research efforts at our Institutions of higher learning and bring their innovations to the market.
10. Our tertiary institutions are key to the whole chain of innovation that we are developing, from developing seed ideas to final products. These institutions are natural cross-roads for a diverse range of intellectual talents. They are also actively promoting multi-disciplinary interactions and links to industry and enterprises.
11. If we take a look around the major innovation centres around the world, we see very strong links between the research institutions and enterprises. I visited a good example last week, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Not only is it a university that has won many Nobel prizes, its performance in technology transfer is inspiring. Each year, products that have their origins in Hebrew University generate over US$1 billion annual sales. The technologies are wide-ranging, from food to medicine. This link between research institutions and enterprise is important, and we need to have more of that in Singapore.
12. Over the course of the year, we will be rolling out a number of initiatives that would support academic entrepreneurship and help researchers in transferring their knowledge into commercial applications.
13. In all, what we are attempting to create in Singapore is a system of innovation players mutually supportive of and closely linked to each other. Those of you present here are in the thick of it. I am honoured to be present among such a group of enthusiastic and inspiring individuals this evening. Let us all work together to encourage more entrepreneurs to step forward, try out new ideas, and take risks.