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More start-ups tap on A*STAR’s technology programme

Image above – Techniasia

SINGAPORE – At local start-up Feinmetall, employees can learn the tools of the trade using a mobile app and an image recognition technology, instead of having to flip through hefty instruction manuals.

Under the Technology Adoption Programme (TAP) offered by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), the precision engineering firm made use of the image recognition technology to speed up training. Employees simply point their camera phones at the company’s logo on the equipment, and the instructional video will then pop up on their phone.

TAP, which was launched in July 2013, helps start-ups to access technology more easily, by linking up companies lacking in such know-how with service providers or A*STAR’s research institutes.

In the 2013 calendar year, 105 companies across six sectors benefitted from TAP. Last year, the figure rose to 931 companies, after the programme was expanded to cover four more sectors — food services, healthcare, infocomm media and logistics.

Companies can expect a 20 per cent increase in productivity under the programme, said A*STAR chairman Lim Chuan Poh at a press conference today (March 19).

However, he added, the agency would like to do more to enable local start-ups to be like the Mittelstand – the German equivalent of Singapore’s small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

Noting that German SMEs have a turnover that runs into “billions”, Mr Lim said: “We need some SMEs to, over time, be in that category.”

“We have to have a very vibrant start-up scheme — people who have their own ideas, their own research discovery … From there, they start growing, get into new markets, constantly invest in their deep strengths and differentiate from their competitors,” he added.

To offer start-ups a leg-up, A*STAR simplified the process of licensing its own technology to SMEs last year. Instead of a 20-page application form, start-ups will only have to fill in a three-page document to get the licence.

“In the past, we needed to justify why we want to work with them (A*STAR). Now, they just want to know what we want to use their technology for,” said Mr Winson Wee, director of client engagement and projects at Reachfield IT Solutions. His company was awarded a second A*Star licence last year.

Mr Wee said: “Time is the essence. (The simplified process) will help shorten the time taken for the product to hit the market.”

Two-thirds of the 206 commercial licences awarded by A*STAR went to SMEs in the first nine months of the 2014 financial year — up from 56 per cent of 232 licences in the previous financial year.

A*STAR also doubled its research and development (R&D) investment to over S$380 million between April and December 2014 — the first three-quarters of its financial year. More than 1,700 projects were launched during this period.

The growth in the number of projects was largely due to the launch of 19 joint laboratories with industry partners — including DBS and Singtel — last year, five more than the previous financial year.

One of the projects undertaken by a joint lab in 2013 involved a music search technology that allows users to obtain information about a song through an app.

Over 60 per cent of A*STAR’s projects in the 2014 financial year so far are with multinational companies and large local enterprises. The rest are with SMEs.

“R&D needs to be are the forefront of our efforts to remain innovative and stay ahead of the global competition. Our continuing efforts to collaborate with small, medium, and large local enterprises, as well as MNCs, will be important for the future of Singapore,” said Mr Lim.

Moving forward, A*STAR will be focusing on driving R&D in the manufacturing and nutrition sectors. This includes initiatives to determine nutritional requirements for the Asian phenotype, as well as developing sustainable sourcing of food and reduce waste.

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