29 November 2017

Need help with emerging technologies? SGInnovate is working to offer more of it

Source: SGInnovate. From left: Yeo Hwee Lee, Director, Software & Solution Services, IBM Software Group, IBM Asia Pacific; Wendy Wong, Senior VP, Corporate Governance & Communications Office, GIC; Sam Witteveen, Founder, Red Dragon AI; Steve Leonard, Founding CEO, SGInnovate; Yap Jia Qing, Founder, Nurture.ai; Aziza Sheerin, Regional Director, General Assembly (GA); Scott Jones, MD, Six Kins;  and Tan Tin Wee, CEO, NSCC. 

SGInnovate today announced its Deep Tech Nexus Strategy as a direct result of experiences and insights gained in its first year of operation. The Deep Tech Nexus represents SGInnovate’s commitment to add tangible value to the Singapore deep technology (deep tech) startup ecosystem in two key areas – human capital and investment capital.

Deep tech is about building technology-intensive solutions that are based on advanced scientific research, have high barriers of entry and are essentially difficult to replicate. Examples of deep tech would be using artificial intelligence (AI) or robotics to address issues in areas such as healthcare or transportation.

“SGInnovate was formed in 2016 because we believe Singapore can create globally-relevant deep tech products and companies. Singapore has great strengths in academia and scientific research, but we saw a gap in the critical ‘business-building’ capabilities needed to create a viable deep tech company.

“Over the past year, we have met and worked with hundreds of researchers, founders, corporates and investors. Being so immersed in the deep tech founder community has given us a rich understanding of the specific challenges facing these entrepreneurs. Tackling these challenges gives our second year of operation great clarity and focus – and this has led to our Deep Tech Nexus Strategy,” said Steve Leonard, Founding CEO, SGInnovate.

SGInnovate’s focus areas are in transformational technologies that have horizontal applications to many industries, as well as medtech which will impact the healthcare industry. Two such transformational technologies that now – or soon will – affect most industries include AI and Blockchain. For 2018, SGInnovate will be intensifying its efforts around AI, aligning with AI Singapore (AISG)’s mission to bring together Singapore-based research institutions, AI startups and corporates to enhance and expand Singapore's AI capabilities. SGInnovate will focus its efforts on the AI startups.

SGInnovate’s work in the area of human capital will be pursued in three ways:

- Strengthening individual talent capabilities through a range of deep tech-related learning opportunities, delivered by SGInnovate partners. A series of programmes delivered by industry leaders will be undertaken to help people gain knowledge in working with tools at various competency levels in areas such as machine learning, deep learning and data analytics.  The goal is to have 1,500 people participate in these programmes over the next two years.

- Expanding the deep tech talent network through active engagements locally and internationally to build a network of ambitious and capable people who want to build startups. The goal is to bring 2,000 high-potential talent into contact with high-potential deep tech startups based in Singapore by 2018. 

One of the initiatives being driven by SGInnovate in expanding the deep tech talent network is its Apprenticeship Programme, where a curated pool of students in STEM disciplines from local and overseas institutes of higher learning (IHLs) are placed within a select number of Singapore's promising deep tech startups.

- Boosting deep tech communities through a range of deep tech-related networking events, bringing together researchers, entrepreneurs and investors to share experiences on a wide range of topics. SGInnovate says that these events serve as a way to raise the intellectual debate, as well as pursue opportunities to get more people to know more about important future topics. The goal is to have 15,000 participants taking part in over 150 events throughout 2018 across various community meetups.
SGInnovate’s work in the area of investment capital will be pursued by:

- Investing equity in early-stage deep tech startups. The goal is to make direct investments into at least 20 deep tech startups founded in Singapore in 2018, including investments made at the pre-seed, seed and series A stages. SGInnovate will also be managing a portion of the SG Equity fund, and will be co-investing into deep tech startups alongside private-sector venture capitalists (VCs) including Jungle Ventures, NSI Ventures and Vickers Partners.

- Business-building support, such as helping startups in which it has invested in to grow and scale through activities such as customer sales and talent recruiting, connection to business use cases, technical advisory and more.

- Collaborative spaces where deep tech startups, education events and community events can coexist for mutual benefit. All activities will continue to take place at SGInnovate’s locations at 32 Carpenter Street, which has more than 16,000 sq ft of space, and BASH (which stands for Build Amazing Start-ups Here) at 79 Ayer Rajah Crescent with more than 25,000 sq ft. 

To better serve demand under the Deep Tech Nexus Strategy, BASH will be undergoing renovation works and will be operational again in Q118. Some key features of the revitalised BASH will include more enclosed rooms to allow early-stage companies to have privacy, expanded training areas to house more education programmes in areas relating to AI, and access to AI-tuned computing resources. In addition, there will be a new area dedicated to the companies formed under the Entrepreneur First (EF) Singapore programme. 
As part of the Deep Tech Nexus Strategy, SGInnovate has partnered with likeminded industry players and global brands including General Assembly (GA), GIC, IBM, National Supercomputing Centre (NSCC) Singapore, Nurture.ai, NVIDIA, Red Dragon AI and SingularityNET – all of which will play instrumental roles in strengthening the deep tech startup ecosystem in Singapore.

Training more people on AI

SGInnovate will work with NSCC to organise training in AI and high performance computing (HPC). SGInnovate will also be working with Red Dragon AI to organise advanced AI training sessions. Using industry-standard frameworks such as TensorFlow, Keras and PyTorch, students will learn how deep learning is applied to different practical applications including computer vision, natural language and time series information. They will then be applying those skills to make real world AI products and services. At least 100 students will participate in the advanced training sessions over the next year. 

“It’s good to see SGInnovate taking a lead in nurturing AI and the deep tech community in Singapore. Their unique position of being independent from the government and educational institutions has allowed them to see what startups really need and respond quickly. Teaching the Deep Learning Developer Course has allowed us to see that there is a wealth of talent in Singapore that just needs real world training to unlock the ability to make AI products and services," said Sam Witteveen, Founder, Red Dragon AI. 

GA, which offers training and assessments in web development, data science, and digital marketing among other topics, is working with SGInnovate to organise workshops and courses in Python, machine learning and data science, to equip trainees with fundamental programming skills and principles before moving on to more advanced deep learning concepts. 

“Skill sets in data analytics and machine learning are sought after by both startups and large organisations alike,” shared General Assembly’s Regional Director, Aziza Sheerin. "It is critical that Singapore builds talent capabilities in these areas to remain competitive. SGInnovate is launching an exciting initiative focusing on deep learning, and General Assembly looks forward to collaborating with them on workshops and courses to train 250 individuals in Python, machine learning, and data science in 2018.” 

Partnering with NVIDIA Deep Learning Institute (DLI), SGInnovate will be conducting DLI workshops and offering hands-on training for developers, data scientists, and researchers looking to solve the world’s most challenging problems with deep learning. "Deep learning is growing at an accelerated pace and we are delighted to partner SGInnovate in driving AI in Singapore. We hope to help build the talent pool by training 1,000 developers within the next two years,” said Raymond Teh, VP of APAC sales and marketing, NVIDIA. 

SGInnovate is working with IBM on strengthening both talent and communities. The two entities are organising AI training courses for undergraduate students from IT-related academic programmes such as computer science and software engineering. The AI career path aims to prepare an estimated 50 students in applying AI in real life. 
Helping AI communities grow

Together with SGInnovate, SingularityNET, a decentralised, open marketplace for exchanging AI services, will co-host meetups and provide speakers and technical experts in the areas of Blockchain, smart contracts, AI and robotics to drive discussions and inspire new ideas. In 2018, the target is to reach out to a community of over 2,000 people.

SGInnovate and IBM are also engaging with the AI and deep tech-ecosystem through co-curated and/or co-branded industry events. These events would focus on industry trends, case studies, real-world applications, etc. of AI and deep technologies, including (but not limited to) Blockchain, robotics, machine learning, and medtech. There is a target of 10-12 events in 2018.

Red Dragon AI's co-founders Witteveen and Dr Martin Andrews started the TensorFlow and Deep Learning Meetup group, which has in under a year become Singapore’s biggest active data science community. Google selected both co-founders as only two of fifteen Google Developer Experts for machine learning in the world. With a member count of close to 2,000, Red Dragon AI is looking to organise multiple TensorFlow, PyTorch and deep learning Meetups with SGInnovate in the next year. The target is to reach out to more than 1,000 participants. 

SGInnovate will be working with Nurture.ai, a web-based AI community, to build a strong community of enthusiasts and experts who would be trained in AI. Nurture.ai enables this through organising free study groups using Stanford University's course material on deep neural networks, where participants get to discuss the most cutting-edge AI models covered in the lectures, read the relevant research papers with peers and implement these models as open-source code. 

"With SGInnovate's wide networks in the deep tech space and their portfolio of promising AI startups, the partnership would be a great boost to Nurture.ai's efforts in empowering the AI community in Singapore to implement the most state-of-the-art AI research into well-documented, easily useable code," said Yap Jia Qing, Founder, Nurture.ai. 
Business support

Through the partnership with SingularityNET, startups within the SGInnovate community will get early access to the SingularityNET marketplace, with SingularityNET providing technical guidance to enable them to integrate, monetise and scale their AI technologies.  

“This partnership will create new opportunities for Singapore startups to leverage and cooperate with SingularityNET – and in this way for Singapore to play a leading role in the currently unfolding transition of AI technology to its next stage of development. In the next few years we will see a transition from narrow AI to artificial general intelligence, and from disparate AI tools to a coordinated network of AI functionality. This partnership will help catalyse the involvement of Singapore researchers, developers and companies in this critical transition in AI capability and application,” said Dr Ben Goertzel, Co-Founder & CEO of SingularityNET, and Chief Scientist of Hanson Robotics.

SGInnovate-supported startups and trainees will have access to NSCC's HPC/AI computing resources, which will include those provisioned under the NSCC NVIDIA AI.Platform collaboration (comprising a NVIDIA DGX-1 Volta V100 supercomputer and access to an NVIDIA DGX SATURNV supercomputing platform), as well as NSCC’s existing 1-PetaFLOPS supercomputer, ASPIRE1 (standing for Advanced Supercomputer for Petascale Innovation, Research and Enterprise) that comes with 13 petabytes of high performance storage and global connectivity of up to 100Gbps. 
Furthering AI research

SGInnovate is also a partner to the Global NIPS Paper Implementation Challenge organised by Nurture.ai, which has seen more than 600 applications globally so far and 30+ expert mentors including researchers from the Baidu Silicon Valley AI Lab, Amazon Core Machine Learning Research team, NVIDIA, SAP, Stanford University and several authors of papers accepted at the Conference for Neural Information Processing Systems – the most prestigious AI research conference in the world.  

Source: SGInnovate. The training roadmap for skilling up AI professionals.
Source: SGInnovate. The training roadmap for strengthening individual talent capabilities on AI through a range of deep tech-related learning opportunities.

 SGInnovate is co-curating and/or co-branding industry events, with GIC, one of the world’s largest fund management companies. Targeted areas for the events are related to AI, machine learning, data analytics and the deep tech-ecosystem. These events will focus on promoting thought leadership and community building by bringing in subject matter experts to talk about key industry trends, and real-world applications of AI and deep technologies. 

By the end of 2017, SGInnovate will have completed equity investments in 15 deep tech startups, played a part in generating 400 potential-customer leads for early-stage companies and built a network of more than 1,000 technical individuals interested in joining early-stage tech companies. In addition, as part of its deep tech community building efforts, SGInnovate has created and hosted more than 100 events at its premises attracting a total of 9,000 participants.

Leonard added, “SGInnovate is itself a startup and, to echo DPM Tharman’s point when he launched us last year, we will keep prototyping and pivoting in the coming years. Building deep tech companies takes time. We feel good about the impact we have already made, and are looking forward with confidence to the year ahead.”

Tharman Shanmugaratnam is Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) and Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies in the Singapore Cabinet. He is also Chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).

SGInnovate's mission is to enable ambitious and capable individuals and teams to imagine, start, build, and scale globally-relevant technologies. It is a private-limited company wholly owned by the Singapore government.