Linking up for the future

BUSINESS TIMES
2013-08-01 04:00:00.0


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Opportunities abound for Singapore and Switzerland to cooperate in promoting entrepreneurship, innovation and R&D. By VINCENT WEE THE TRADITIONAL image of Switzerland is not one of a centre of entrepreneurship, innovation and start-ups. This is something the Swiss have been working hard to change, and by all accounts they have been remarkably successful at it, through a combination of state funding and public sector initiatives. While the country has a strong technological base and has been known for its developments in high-technology and research and development (R&D) for some time, the environment for start-ups needed some encouragement. Switzerland is keen to develop its start-up and small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) sector and a substantial amount of funding is available from the government. The Commission for Technology and Innovation (CTI), for example, offers support, funded by the central government, ranging from start-up coaching to investment through its CTI Invest arm, which links investors with entrepreneurs. Alongside CTI are many other smaller programmes aimed at helping projects coming out of universities and research institutions. Much like in Singapore, entrepreneurship is grown and developed within well-regarded institutions such as the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology in Zurich (ETHZ) and Lausanne (EPFL) and the University of St Gallen, one of Europe's leading business schools. It is believed that there are more than 150 start-ups connected to ETZH. There is a wide range of funding available, from the federal government to university-backed schemes and private enterprise loans. Examples of national funding programmes include VentureKick, an organisation that gives relatively small-scale initial funding, and which has handed out over 220 almost no-strings attached grants of up to 130,000 Swiss francs to select spin-offs since 2007. The government's VentureLab, offered by CTI, provides targeted training modules to entrepreneurs from Swiss universities. A strong research-led thread runs through the Swiss entrepreneurial scene. Once again, similar to Singapore, perhaps reflecting the risk-averse culture of both countries, Swiss entrepreneurs tend not to drop out of school to work on their start-ups. This has worked well for the Swiss in that they have an inherent strength in developing high-tech, research-driven products. While not totally eschewing current trends, this puts them in a good position compared to other start-ups that have tended to focus on the social media phenomenon. The emphasis on a combination of world-class education and strong funding infrastructure means the proportion of high-tech, research-led products is much higher in Switzerland compared to other capitals such as Silicon Valley, London or Berlin. Singapore, meanwhile, is also trying to build up its innovation and research and development capabilities. This has been a good match and provides many opportunities for the two countries to cooperate. There are already existing tie-ups, mainly between educational institution. Some ways in which they have done so are, for example, Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology (SIMTech), a research institute of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), signing a three-year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in 2009 with the Centre Suisse d'Electronique et de Microtechnique SA (CSEM), Switzerland, to carry out joint research projects and facilitate the exchange of research and scientific staff members to advance the development of microfluidics technology. The technology has been adopted for increasingly diverse uses such as ink-jet printing, lab-on-a-chip, biomedical research and diagnostics, chemical processing, water monitoring and the harnessing of alternative energy. The collaboration between the two institutes builds on the collective and complementary research capabilities in microfluidics technology and microsystem technology of SIMTech and CSEM, respectively. Research collaboration areas cover microsystem technology, environmental monitoring, microfluidics and lab-on-a-chip developments. This is an example of excellent collaborative opportunities between the two countries with the multi-disciplinary approach using the strengths of both institutes to boost the advancement of microfluidics technology. A continuing example of the cooperation is an annual workshop which just took place in May. Organised by Swiss promotion agency swissnex Singapore and SIMTech, delegates from Singapore and Switzerland, including some prominent industry leaders, joined the workshop and provided critical technological insights and the latest updates on the global microfluidics industry, as well as the current development in microfluidic applications. Some other key areas of collaboration involve the work of swissnex Singapore as well as the Singapore-ETH Centre and St Gallen Institute of Management in Asia. Switzerland continues to retain the top position on the latest Global Innovation Index, which comes as no surprise as education, research and innovation are seen as priorities in the 10 cantonal research universities, eight universities of applied sciences that offer practice-oriented education, as well as two federal institutes of technology that continue to attract students of high calibre. As a platform of the Embassy of Switzerland, swissnex Singapore promotes this excellence in Singapore and connects relevant stakeholders between the two countries. This may be exemplified by the partnerships established and fostered between the Board of Higher Education of the Canton of Vaud (DGES) and local institutions, which laid the foundations and has since culminated in a Summer University programme involving a variety of topics and various tertiary institutions, as well as strategic alliances between the latter. As an innovative door-opener and matchmaker, swissnex Singapore organises a wide range of events that will potentially allow stakeholders to discover synergies and nurture partnerships in a conducive interdisciplinary environment. This is especially relevant in Singapore, which functions as a hub for the region. Some of these events include high-level networking events, workshops as well as Swiss pavilions in major international fairs such as the World Cities Summit. Most of these activities are made possible thanks to mandates with Swiss stakeholders and strong connections with local and Swiss entities based in Singapore, such as long-standing partners St Gallen Institute of Management in Asia and the Singapore-ETH Centre. To know more about swissnex Singapore and its activities, please visit the website http://www.swissnexsingapore.org or find it on Facebook and LinkedIn