Speech by Minister S Iswaran at the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce (SICC) Awards Ceremony and Gala Dinner

Speech by Minister S Iswaran at the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce (SICC) Awards Ceremony and Gala Dinner

Dr. Bicky Bhangu, Chairman of SICC

Distinguished guests

Ladies and gentlemen

Members of the Chamber


1. A very good evening to all of you. It is a real pleasure to be here this evening.

2. The annual SICC Awards for Collaborative Innovation was started in 2016. They are designed to celebrate successful commercial collaborations, that lead to new products and services, or expanded capabilities.

3. I had the distinct pleasure of being here in the inaugural ceremony in 2016. I am very happy to be back here in person six years later. In particular, it is good to see the spirit of collaboration between our companies. I would like to congratulate all 16 finalists who provide outstanding examples of such partnerships.

4. I, in particular, want to thank and commend SICC for persevering and supporting this initiative over the years. 

5. I know from experience, as well as from industry feedback, that at the heart of the efforts all these years is the underlying commitment and conviction that collaboration is the most effective way for businesses to innovate. 

6. Yet, we also know that in practice, it is not so easy. For example, some companies are hesitant to share even basic, non-proprietary, information about ongoing projects. These concerns foreclose the possibility of any collaboration.

7. We need to find ways to overcome these concerns and hesitations so that we can promote collaboration.

8. In particular, I want to share with you my thoughts on this. Drawing on our capabilities, we need to look within our organisation, we have to look across the industry and we have to look beyond.

Encouraging collaboration between businesses

9. First, it is about collaboration across our industries and our businesses.

10. As our economy continues to grow and challenges become more challenging and dynamic, the profile of our companies becomes more diverse as well. This gives rise to a range of collaboration possibilities across companies from different sectors and of different sizes.

11. The overriding imperative of our generation is climate change. That, in itself, provides us with the imperative to act to work together and to seek out novel, innovative solutions that can have a lasting impact.

12. One example of the kind of collaboration we are seeing is between HP Singapore and Pixel Automation, two of the finalists this evening. 

a. HP is well-known as a household name. HP has been a longstanding partner in manufacturing in Singapore since 1970. Today, Singapore is home to HP’s regional HQ, and one of their largest manufacturing sites outside of the US.

b. Pixel Automation is an SME which specialises in designing and building customised automation solutions for various industries. Over the years, it has partnered with the Government to develop new technological capabilities, and internationalise its operations. 

13. I am glad to see these two firms come together to collaborate on projects. Tapping on their combined expertise, they managed to automate HP’s manufacturing processes for ink bags, which improved productivity and product consistency.

14. It is also a good example of how a large Multi-National Corporation (MNC) can cooperate with a Small and Medium Enterprise (SME), demonstrating yet again that size is not a barrier for collaboration. What we need is really commitment to innovation and collaboration.

15. I would like to encourage more of such partnerships. Some SMEs have shared that exploring new collaboration opportunities is highly resource-intensive, and takes away bandwidth from day-to-day business operations. I think we all know this, that it is quite easy to think of innovation as a cost centre rather than a profit or revenue centre. But the reality is, while the benefits from such innovation activities are uncertain, the pay offs are real and can be realised in the long term. So, what we need is a commitment on the part of businesses and their partners.

16. In this regard, we also see a role for Government to support collaborations between companies. This is why we have schemes like PACT, which encourages collaboration between firms in order to build up stronger technology capabilities, and develop and test-bed innovative products and ideas. I urge you to explore these schemes, and give us feedback if you feel that there are other areas where help is needed.

Encouraging Companies to Leverage External Expertise

17. The second area is to look beyond our industry and tap on external expertise.

18. This is especially useful when the problems to be solved are novel ones, with no obvious, off-the-shelf solutions or commercial partners readily available. 

19. One of the ways we are seeking to work with the industry is through A*STAR’s Technology for Enterprise Capability Upgrading, or “T-Up” programme. This programme supports the secondment of A*STAR researchers to participating companies for up to two years to serve as a technical advisor. Since its launch in 2003, more than 950 A*STAR Research Scientists and Engineers have been seconded to support over 850 local SMEs.

20. It is an excellent example of how, even as we invest in Research & Development (R&D) at the national level in our research institutions, we want to bring these capabilities into our industry so that there are valuable partnerships that bring these innovation to market to create value and opportunities.

21. Firms can also tap on EnterpriseSG’s enhanced Innovation Advisors Programme, administered by IPI Singapore, to partner industry veterans to develop and bring to market differentiated product offerings. To date, we have brought on board 28 advisors and facilitated 76 projects under this programme. 

22. In this spirit, I also would like to encourage all the business leaders, those here within this hall and also those beyond, to come forward and see how you can contribute to the larger innovation ecosystem, drawing on your individual experience and expertise. 

23. Dr Bicky Bhangu is a good example. He is a member of the Future Economy Council Advanced Manufacturing & Trade Sub-committee, and he has on many occasions shared his insights from his years of experience in Rolls Royce with the Government. This has helped us to better shape our policies as we make a push to develop our Advanced Manufacturing & Trade sectors. I urge more of you to come forward and work with us in the Government.

Encouraging joint success with employees

24. Finally, a key element is to look within, when looking at innovation. In other words, how we can leverage our most important assets – our people – as a key engine of innovation. 

25. Some of the best ideas that can transform a company’s work processes and products, come from the employees who are most familiar with what you do, how you do it, and what else need to be done.

26. Many good companies already do this. One can argue that our very competitive edge depends critically on this – we should stay on this path, continue to invest in our people, and in turn, provide them with the opportunity to come forward and contribute with their ideas. 

27. We can learn from some of these best practices. Google, for example, is well-known for encouraging its employees to spend up to 20% of their time working on what they think will most benefit the company. I know that not everyone here wants to allocate 20% of manpower and time for this purpose. But I think we can make a conscious decision for some parts of our capabilities and resources to be allocated in a regular, systematic way. That is the best way to nurture a culture of innovation.

28. For example, many years back, we were in the midst of economic challenges. One of the things we have in Singapore is the Research and Innovation Council, which our Prime Minister chairs, to work on 5-year budget cycles. At that period, during the global financial crisis, we decided to allocate 15 billion dollars to research and innovation. Many countries around the world, because of the economic challenges, decided to pull back on their spending, which had quite a debilitating effect on their R&D and the work that was done in universities and research institutions.

29. One of the things that differentiated us in Singapore was our ability to stay the course, sustain investments in R&D, and nurture the talent. And when we came out from the crisis, that meant that we had a further differentiated competitive edge in this very important area of work.


30. This is something that all of us should be working together on. The efforts of SICC with these awards is one way of recognising and motivating the efforts and catalysing such collaborations.

31. We are only limited by the creativity and energy of all of us here, in order to make sure that this goes on and reaps even greater fruits in the future.

32. Finally, I want to offer my heartiest congratulations to the finalists. I do hope that you will remain exemplars of collaboration and innovation, and also leads the way in promoting this very important area of endeavor in our economy.

33. Thank you very much for inviting me.

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