Incubators are fast becoming major players in Singapore’s start-up ecosystem, helping entrepreneurs create sustainable companies.
Different incubators can have quite different missions – some exist purely to encourage entrepreneurship, for example, while others focus on generating returns. But most offer expert mentorship and access to resources such as financial, legal and marketing services.
The best incubators don’t just help nascent companies to survive their early stages, they also add value to those companies – thus benefitting the surrounding ecosystem. SPRINGnews profiles three of Singapore’s most dynamic incubators.
#1. OneMaker Group: Building A Community Of ‘Makers’
A consortium of six companies, Singapore-based OneMaker Group aims to nurture start-ups focused on hardware product development and boost Singapore’s design innovation scene.
“Our vision is to reshape the manufacturing landscape by boosting an entire alternative economy of ‘makers’ – carpenters, plumbers and artisans of all types, as well as designers – and creating more skills-based jobs” says OneMaker Group’s Lead Executive Officer Mr Robin Oh.
“The DIY culture is thriving in other countries, like the United States, and people get paid good money for it. But Singapore lacks individuals with DIY skills. It is almost as if it is not encouraged here, and that needs to change.”
Enter The Prototyping Lab@NDC. Jointly launched by SPRING Singapore and DesignSingapore Council, and operated by OneMaker Group, it paves the way for more individuals and start-ups in Singapore to turn new ideas into reality through a more hands-on approach.
Strategically located within the National Design Centre, the lab offers a wide range of resources, from conventional hand tools and power tools to digital fabrication machines, at affordable rates.
“SPRING and DesignSingapore Council have basically provided a ‘makerspace’ for us to engage the community and bring individuals and start-ups together,” says Mr Oh.
Through the lab, OneMaker Group seeks to attract more innovative minds and help them develop new products for the market. It currently conducts workshops and courses in the fields of digital and traditional fabrication, and computer programming.
“Through these workshops, courses and other initiatives, we hope that individuals will be able to come together, share their knowledge and help each other. So it’s not a one-way help programme, as is typically the case with most incubators,” says Mr Oh. “We believe this approach, where we build a community of like-minded individuals, is more sustainable in the long run.”
Mr Oh adds, “SPRING and DesignSingapore Council’s support have definitely made it possible for us to gain exposure in the local start-up scene and reach out to and nurture the passion of aspiring entrepreneurs.”
#2. Biofactory: End-to-end Commercialisation Support
A biomedical incubator located at JTC LaunchPad @ one-north, Biofactory aims to create successful biomedical and medical technology companies based on Singapore-developed technologies.
“We’re seeking start-ups with solutions to some of the issues facing the healthcare sector, and we firmly believe that technology is an effective catalyst for change,” says Biofactory’s Director Mr Theodore Tan.
Before deciding whether to help a start-up, Biofactory conducts a preliminary technology assessment of the company’s proposed product or concept.
“We look at factors such as whether the start-up’s proposed product will fulfil an unmet public health need, and whether it might outperform its competitors,” says Mr Tan.
If the start-up passes this assessment, Biofactory offers end-to-end technical, product development and infrastructure support. Mr Tan notes, “And we look after the funding of the start-ups after we take them on.” For example, the incubator has helped one of its start-ups – TNR Diagnostics – take its idea out of the lab and into the European market.
Biofactory also focuses on getting its start-ups’ products into the market first, before approaching investors for funding. “The aim is to get the companies generating revenue because that gives them options,” says Mr Tan. “They can then grow organically or they are much more likely to attract investors at that point. Investors, after all, want to see a track record and a path to profitability – so this approach makes more sense.”
SPRING has helped Biofactory in many ways, including giving the incubator international exposure. “SPRING supports our trips to MEDICA – the world’s largest medical trade fair, held annually in Düsseldorf, Germany – allowing us to gain insights into the current and future trends in the medical industry and placing us in a better position to advise start-ups,” says Mr Tan.
The incubator aims to nurture more Singapore-based biomedical start- ups and create a community of bio- entrepreneurs.
“We want to create a new future for Singapore, as the biomedical hub of Southeast Asia. We want it to be known as the Germany or Switzerland of Southeast Asia – and the first step would be to start commercialising more of our local technologies,” says Mr Tan.
#3. 3M: Offering A Global Reach
Known for its long and successful history of innovation across diverse fields, global conglomerate 3M recently launched its Innovation Incubator in Singapore. The incubator focuses on collaborating with start-ups and SMEs to build solutions across a range of sectors, from electrical and electronics, industrial, safety and graphics to healthcare and consumer.
3M has seen a growing quality of start-ups in Singapore’s materials and science landscape. “We aim to foster these young companies by providing technical and business mentorship,” says Ms Kavitha Karthikeyan, 3M’s Business Manager.
“We conduct pilot project collaborations with them, which involves putting them together with a team of 3M technical experts and business leaders. This enhances their capabilities and lays the foundation for long-term success.”
The incubator offers mentorship across a wide range of fields, from commercialisation best practices to pricing strategy.
“We believe each start-up is unique, with its own strengths and weaknesses, and with different needs,” says Ms Michelle Bellanca, Director of 3M New Ventures.
The incubator also conducts complimentary boot camps for selected start-ups, where participants go through three intensive days of business analysis, coaching and self-reflection. Each start-up also gets the opportunity to pitch their innovation to a panel of senior 3M executives.
“In addition, we also provide start-ups access to and a chance to work with our 3M businesses, not just in Asia but around the world,” says Ms Bellanca. “This allows them to grow outside of Singapore and even beyond Asia – something only a multinational company like 3M can offer.”
3M was able to kick-start its incubator and reach out to aspiring entrepreneurs with the support of SPRING Singapore’s Incubator Development Program (IDP). “We will continue to leverage SPRING’s support to further develop the start-up landscape in Singapore,” says Ms Bellanca.
“Singapore is an attractive place for materials and science start-ups seeking intellectual property protection. The city-state nurtures talented start-ups in a diverse, multicultural environment, and we look forward to playing a bigger part in enhancing this ecosystem.”
Intermediaries and partners can provide start-ups the right environment, advice and connections to incubate from the ideation stage to commercialisation stage.
Incubators can receive support from SPRING via the Incubator Development Programme (IDP). For more information, visit www.spring.gov.sg/idp.