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Speech by SMS Koh Poh Koon at Indoor Ag-Con Asia 2019

Speech by SMS Koh Poh Koon at Indoor Ag-Con Asia 2019

Ms Nicola Kerslake, Founder, Newbean Capital

Distinguished guests, 

Ladies and gentlemen,

1. Good morning. It is a pleasure to be back for the 4th Annual Indoor Ag-Con Asia conference. 

2. The Indoor Ag-Con Asia is an important knowledge-sharing and networking platform for the indoor agriculture industry. It connects agri-tech companies with industry stakeholders like global agriculture experts, researchers and investors; and provides opportunities for partnerships, innovation, financing and market access, which are vital for business growth. Over the years, the Indoor Ag-Con Asia has grown from strength to strength. Last year’s conference saw an increase in participation of over 20 percent from the year before, and this year’s conference will be even larger.

Agri-Tech Developments in the Past Year

3. In the past year, we have seen promising developments in the agri-tech sector, many of them driven by our own Singapore players. For example, insect farming company, Protenga, has partnered with the National University of Singapore to improve the genetics of black soldier flies for animal feed. It has incorporated data sensors into its farms to help determine the right feeding frequency and amount, thereby increasing the quality and volume of produce. Last July, Indoor vertical farming company, VertiVegies, inked a strategic and technical investment agreement with Chinese indoor farming company, SananBio, to build a 20,000 square metre plant factory in Lim Chu Kang. It is interesting to note that VertiVegies and SananBio first met at last year’s edition of Indoor Ag-con Asia in this same venue.

4. Where arable land is scarce, innovating how we produce food is critical in helping us overcome our farming constraints and better contribute to our food sustainability and traceability efforts. Investments in agri-tech can also help to reduce our reliance on food imports and allow us to enjoy seasonal produce while lowering our carbon footprint. From the Protenga and VertiVegies examples, it is clear that innovation and partnerships are key factors that drive the growth of this nascent sector. 

5. Singapore is in a strong position to catalyse technological and business innovations, which can transform agriculture and aquaculture in the Asia Pacific. The 2018 Global Innovation Index ranked Singapore top of the list in Southeast Asia, East Asia and Oceania. Singapore’s innovation climate, strong talent-base and strategic location provide the right ingredients to achieve our goal of becoming an urban agriculture and aquaculture technology hub in the region. 

6. The Singapore Government has been actively undertaking efforts to develop the agri-tech industry in several ways. Allow me to briefly outline four areas. First, we are developing relevant research capabilities in areas such as seed formulation and fish nutrition, advanced biotech-based protein production and food safety science. Second, we are establishing a high-tech physical cluster in Kranji to support operations in urban agriculture and aquaculture. Third, we are strengthening the capabilities of our local enterprises to grow and internationalise through efforts like technology matching, where we link up system solution providers with farms. And finally, we are building a vibrant agri-tech startup environment to uncover more talent, anchor experts, partners, investors and accelerators into our ecosystem, and expand the pool of knowledge and resources.

Building a Vibrant Support Startup Ecosystem for Agri-Tech Startups

7. There are two main aspects to growing the agri-tech startup space, which is the focus of today’ conference, I wish to highlight two points this morning.  First, in order to deepen the network of experts to help our agri-tech startups grow, it is critical to build a vibrant support ecosystem, which includes anchoring global venture capitalists and accelerators here, as well as improving access to both private and public equity funds for our startups. Second, besides building up the ecosystem to support existing startups, we also need to grow the number of startups in this sector. Let me elaborate on the first point.

8. Access to capital and expertise has frequently been cited as one of the key hurdles to seeding and scaling up startups, particularly in emerging sectors which are heavily reliant on technology and innovation. I am pleased to announce that Enterprise Singapore, through its investment arm SEEDS Capital, has appointed seven co-investment partners  under Startup SG Equity. SEEDS Capital seeks to spur the growth of emerging and strategic sectors such as agri-tech, by stimulating smart investments into innovative local startups with strong intellectual content and scalability.

9. On top of injecting liquidity into the ecosystem, these co-investment partners will provide hands-on assistance, mentorship and connections with potential clients in their networks to fast-track product commercialisation. Together with SEEDS Capital, these co-investors seek to catalyse a total of more than S$90 million investments into early stage tech startups with disruptive solutions in agriculture and food technologies. 

10. I understand that the call for co-investment partners attracted a pool of 18 global applicants. This is a very heartening response given the sector is still relatively nascent, and is a testament to the strong interest and growing opportunities in Asia Pacific’s agri- and food-tech scene. The seven co-investment partners were selected based on their capabilities in nurturing startups, access to funding and commercialisation resources, and good track records. 

11. Beyond Startup SG Equity, we also aim to anchor global accelerators through Startup SG Accelerator. Accelerators play a critical role in nurturing our local agri-tech startups and assisting them in fundraising, tech sourcing, product development, commercialisation and internationalisation.

12. I am happy to announce that Enterprise Singapore will be supporting food and agriculture venture capitalist, The Yield Lab, on their twelve-month Asia Pacific agri-accelerator programme in Singapore, starting from this year. The Yield Lab’s mission is to revolutionise global agri-tech systems in order to sustainably feed the world. The programme in Singapore will focus on grooming entrepreneurs with technologies in crop production and plant science, animal health and welfare, and precision agriculture. The agri-tech startups that take part in the programme will receive one-on-one mentorship, and gain access to The Yield Lab’s network of agriculture scientists, investors and businesses worldwide. In addition, The Yield Lab has committed to investing US$100,000 into seed stage technology companies and making Series A investments into opportunities arising from its accelerator graduates.

13. Moving forward, we will continue to anchor more global accelerators to support our startups at their various stages of growth. Anchoring global venture capitalists and accelerators, and expanding local pool of co-investment partners are welcome additions to the existing suite of financial support measures for our agri-tech companies.

Multiplying the Pipeline of Startups 

14. Even as we deepen the support infrastructure for agri-tech startups through better access to capital, we also need to grow the number of startups in this sector.

15. Later today, five startups will be competing in the finals of the Indoor Ag-Ignite startup pitch competition, jointly supported by Enterprise Singapore and Newbean Capital Singapore. This second edition of the competition attracted about 20 entries from nine countries. For the first time, applicants pitched their ideas and projects via video chat in the preliminary judging round.

16. Today, three winning teams will each be offered a S$50,000 Startup SG grant, which they can utilise to accelerate commercialisation efforts and convert into equity shares at the next round of fundraising. I would like to wish all five finalists the best of luck. Regardless of the results, I hope that you found great value to be part of a network of like-minded entrepreneurs who aspire to transform Asia’s agriculture landscape.

Conclusion

17. Singapore’s journey to become a leader in agriculture technology is still in the early days, and there is much more for us to do. I encourage industry representatives and leaders present today to carry on your good work in leading the development of solutions and standards for the sector, to provide fertile ground for the germination of new ideas, technology matching and transfer, capability development.

18. I wish you an enriching conference, and hope you will be able to take some time out to experience the sights, sounds and tastes of Singapore. 

19. Thank you.
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