I was in Singapore last week to find out why the Asian city state ranks number seven in the Global Innovation Index – just behind the USA and well ahead of other regional heavyweights such as Hong Kong and Korea. One thing that impressed me in particular was the level of support offered to start-up companies at all stages of their development, largely through a string of initiatives introduced by the government agency SPRING Singapore. “Our goal is to help SMEs to become more resilient through better funding, by providing access to extended business networks and the infrastructure they need,” said Edwin Chow, SPRING’s executive director for innovation and start-ups.
Chow is acutely aware that start-ups in materials science need extra support to transfer their ideas to market, since the private investment community is wary of taking on long-term projects where there is no certainty of success. “In materials science it takes more time and more money to develop the initial IP into an income-generating business,” he told me. “For digital start-ups it might take three to five years to reach an IPO, for materials-based companies it can take twice as long.”
That’s why SPRING is investing SGD75m (about £38m) to establish five accelerators focused on clean technology, and advanced manufacturing and engineering – which includes subsectors such as additive manufacturing, robotics, biomaterials and nanotechnology. “Accelerators can act as intermediaries to make riskier propositions more attractive for investors,” said Chow. “With this programme we’re offering the comfort of government backing for a certain length of time.”
SPRING is now inviting proposals from accelerators with proven investment expertise in the high-tech sector, and who will work with the agency to identify and evaluate high-potential start-ups. Accelerators selected through the scheme will be expected to match the funding available from SPRING, with the joint investment capped at SGD 4m for each new business.
One of the selection criteria will be a commitment to work closely with start-ups to shorten their time-to-market. As well as business mentoring and enterpreneurship training, accelerators will be tasked with helping new companies to develop customer networks and to secure the necessary infrastructure and resources. According to Chow, successful accelerators will be able to apply for funding to support these value-added incubation activities.
Interested accelerators can find more information online, and proposals should be sent by 6 August 2015 to firstname.lastname@example.org. Successful applicants will be appointed towards the end of 2015 or early 2016.
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A lab-to-market roadmap for early-stage entrepreneurship – Jesko von Windheim and Barry Myers 2014 Transl. Mater. Res. 1 016001