Business ideas can spring up anytime, anywhere. Both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs had their “Eureka!” moments in their garages. Now the Nanyang Technological University’s (NTU) Innovation Centre will be that place where entrepreneurs and innovators of the future can bounce ideas, clear the hurdles and look for partners.
NTU’s Associate Provost for Innovation, Mr Jeffrey Nadison says, “Our Innovation Centre is designed as a space where aspiring start-ups work, play and exchange ideas freely. The Innovation Centre is a new and exciting place for aspiring entrepreneurs to transform their business ideas into successful enterprises of the future. Our comprehensive services and broad support makes it an attractive space for innovators to work, play and exchange ideas freely, chat with experienced business mentors and get validation from early-stage investors. All this happens under one roof in NTU.”
The Innovation Centre is spread over 10,000 square metres at the former Nanyang University’s Faculty of Science building constructed in 1955. The Centre has undergone extensive refurbishment to offer a more holistic innovation and entrepreneurship environment, setting it to become a new hotspot for budding business talents. The Centre houses four Open Innovation Labs, incubation offices, a new 108-seat theatre cum auditorium, Singapore’s first entrepreneur café and a host of facilities to encourage collaboration and creativity.
The four Open Innovation Labs offer specialised facilities for life sciences, mechanical, electronic and mobile technologies. These labs provide a comprehensive environment to test concepts, develop rapid prototypes and bring them to a whole new level. “The idea is to offer space for tinkering. It will enable entrepreneurs to experiment and produce rapid prototypes at little cost and great speed, so that they can learn from their mistakes and refine their product concepts,” Mr Nadison says.
“The Centre also brings NTU a step closer towards achieving our goal of becoming a global leader in innovation and academic entrepreneurship,” Mr Nadison adds. Innovation is one of the five key areas in which NTU plans to make its mark internationally under the NTU 2015 strategic plan, together with sustainability, new media, healthcare, and to be a knowledge hub of East and West.
Aspiring entrepreneurs will be offered practical hands-on programmes involving highly customised training and mentoring to transform them into a full-fledged entrepreneur. In addition, NTU will match selected entrepreneurs with mentors and experts in the financial, legal, and business communities to teach them how to take their innovative ideas to market. The programme includes intensive educational training ranging from how to run a business and build a management team, branding, negotiation and presentation skills. Participants will also be taught how to fine-tune their business plans and take their companies to the next level.
To foster closer dialogue amongst aspiring entrepreneurs, industry experts and potential investors, the Innovation Centre houses the new Pitchstop Café and Bar. The Pitchstop offers a multi-faceted social space for live performances, business events and seminars, as well as business matchmaking and pitching sessions.
Officiating at a ceremony this afternoon, NTU President Professor Su Guaning unveiled a 600-kilogramme agatised wood sculpture from Sumatra, which graces NTU’s “Innovator’s Nest”, located at the heart of the Innovation Centre. The wood, which has been transformed to stone and aged between 5 to 20 million-years old, represents the qualities of endurance, perseverance and good fortune that are central to the spirit of enterprise and serves as an inspiration to future entrepreneurs.
Also unveiled in the presence of renowned artist Lim Tze Peng, is a new interactive digital wall that serves as a platform for Singapore-based artists to promote themselves and sell their works. Mr Lim, aged 92, who was Singapore’s Cultural Medallion winner in 2003, is best recognised for his works that display a bold integration of ink painting with his mastery in calligraphy. By leveraging the latest motion-sensing technology, the wall also enables visitors to view artworks by Mr Lim and other artists in the NTU Museum’s collection and elsewhere. The interactive wall is a manifestation of the continuum between creative arts, innovation and enterprise.
NTU’s Innovation Centre currently houses the Nanyang Innovation and Enterprise Office, NTU Ventures Pte Ltd, and the University’s wholly owned technology companies that also act as business accelerators for new start-ups – namely the Institute of Environmental Science and Engineering Pte Ltd, SysteMed Pte Ltd, and TechBiz Xccelerator. The Nanyang Innovation and Enterprise Office has its roots in the Innovation & Technology Transfer Office established in 2000 to fuel NTU’s drive to foster innovation.
With the new facilities at the Innovation Centre, the Nanyang Innovation and Enterprise Office is expected to further intensify NTU’s entrepreneurial drive, following the successful spin-off of 14 research companies. NTU has also helped to develop 63 student start-up companies that employ 220 people, and 27 pre-company student projects involving 50 students. In addition, NTU has contributed more than 600 technology disclosures and secured 152 patents and 23 licence agreements. The Centre is also the hub for entrepreneur-centric student activity groups and clubs, including a development hub for social entrepreneurship.
One successful student start-up is Smoov Pte Ltd, whose three founders and former NTU students – Steve Wah, Zave Huang and Low Guanghao – were united by their love of the mobile platform. The company was formed in early 2008 with an initial capital of $60,000 and incubated at the Innovation Centre in its early days.
Steve notes, “NTU Ventures believed in us and supported us. They even helped us secure additional funding and housed us during those critical years.” Today, Smoov is valued at $6 million, and has clinched multiple accolades from the industry, such as the Asia Pacific ICT Award for Best in Communications last year.
Incubator managers appointed by Singapore’s National Research Foundation under its Technology Incubation Scheme have also set up their headquarters at the Innovation Centre to facilitate their role of nurturing early-stage high-tech start-up companies. Collaboration with such third parties, with strong potential for synergy, add value to the business of creating new spin-offs and also complement NTU’s efforts to promote entrepreneurship at home and abroad.