Singapore a hot spot for global R&D centres
A conducive business environment and the Smart Nation drive make Singapore an attractive location for global innovation hubs
What do a candy and snack maker, an electronics company and a travel booking agent have in common?
Mondelez International, Dyson and Expedia all set up research and development (R&D) innovation centres here in the past year.
They are not the only ones - Panasonic recently announced the opening of its global R&D centre here on April 7 to spearhead new products and emerging refrigeration technologies.
Healthcare service provider Zuellig Pharma also joined in earlier this month, with its Zuellig Health Solutions centre to develop more effective treatment and disease management plans, manage healthcare costs and prevent or delay the onset of diseases.
Singapore is now ranked among the top 10 locations for innovation centres worldwide, according to technology consulting and outsourcing services provider Capgemini.
Capgemini launched its own innovation centre, named the Applied Innovation Exchange (AIE), here last month to focus on areas such as data analytics, visualisation, artificial intelligence and cognitive computing.
Its research showed that the surge in the number of innovation centres in Asia between March and October 2016 meant that 29 per cent of all innovation centres in the world are hosted on the continent.
This puts Asia ahead of Europe and a rival to Silicon Valley as a home for global innovation centres.
The Committee for the Future Economy report recommended that Singapore develop and foster greater innovation by working with global companies and innovation hubs.
Expedia's general manager for South-east Asia and India, Mr Simon Fiquet, told The New Paper it chose Singapore because the Republic could act as a headquarters for the company to reach out to the rest of Asia.
Launched two weeks ago, the Expedia Innovation Lab is located at South Beach Road.
TNP visited the lab last week and observed how researchers used sensors and eye trackers to monitor participants' emotions and behaviour as they used Expedia's website.
Mr Fiquet said the research in two labs in Seattle and London allowed the company to develop innovative solutions to improve their interface.
For example, Scratchpad, a tool that keeps a record of viewed properties for users to come back to, was developed in the London innovation centre after researchers noticed users scribbling notes on paper as they were using the site.
"We hope that by studying behaviours of Singaporeans and Asians, we can improve our products even further with more innovations.
"At the same time, we hope to provide opportunities and training for Singaporeans to learn from our innovative practices and take what they learnt to improve the industry here," Mr Fiquet said.
Many of the innovation centres here were set up with the support of the Economic Development Board (EDB).
According to EDB's assistant managing director Kiren Kumar, at least 10 companies have set up strategic innovation activities here in the last two years.
The ease of conducting business here and Singapore's push for digital technologies - in line with the Smart Nation drive - were pull factors for Capgemini, said Mr Michael Wesbury, its executive vice-president and chief operating officer of Asia-Pacific and the Middle East.
Mr Wesbury said the AIE will help grow local talent through its mentorship, training and graduate programmes.
Mr Scott Maguire, Dyon's global engineering director, told TNP that Singapore's large concentration of English-speaking engineering graduates is a trait not easily found elsewhere, especially in Asia.
Dyson launched its Singapore Technology Centre in February, and it is investing another £330 million (S$577 million) in R&D here.
This will create 200 jobs, mostly for research scientists and engineers, over the next five years.
Mr Maguire said: "We are excited about the Government's plans around the Smart Nation initiative... This symbolises the country's commitment to using science and R&D to drive the economy."